The Trans-Atlantic alliance is stronger today than at any time in its history, answering a question Vice President Kamala Harris posed at last year's Munich Security Conference.
Harris spoke to the conference again this year, reaffirming U.S. determination to support Ukraine in its struggle against Russian invaders. "As President [Joe] Biden often says, 'The United States will support Ukraine for as long as it takes.' We will not waver," she said.
Last year, Harris warned Europe of Russia's imminent invasion of neighboring Ukraine. She posed a number of questions, including could Russia be stopped and how would NATO and the world respond. "Colleagues, today, a year later, we know Kyiv is still standing," the vice president said. "Russia is weakened, the Trans-Atlantic alliance is stronger than ever. And, most importantly, the spirit of the Ukrainian people endures."
Harris said the United States and the world have moral and strategic interests in supporting Ukraine. These combine to make supporting the embattled country important to people around the globe.
She noted that right from the start, Russian forces have engaged in horrendous atrocities and war crimes. "Let us be clear, Russian forces have pursued a widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population [with] gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape and deportation, execution-style killings, beatings and electrocutions," she said. "Russian authorities have forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of people from Ukraine to Russia, including children."
Harris, a lawyer who formerly served as California's Attorney General, said the United States "has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity. And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors, who are complicit in these crimes, you will be held to account."
She said the United States supports the judicial process in Ukraine and international investigations. "Justice must be served," she said. "Let us all agree on behalf of all the victims — both known and unknown — justice must be served. Such is our moral interest."
The world also has strategic interests in the fight in Ukraine. "No nation is safe in a world where one country can violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another, where crimes against humanity are committed with impunity, where a country with imperialist ambitions can go unchecked," she said. "Our response to the Russian invasion is a demonstration of our collective commitment to uphold international rules and norms, which since the end of World War II, have provided unprecedented security and prosperity not only for the American people, not only for the people of Europe, but people around the world."
These principles are simple: Nations have a right to peacefully exist, borders must not be changed by force and "that there are inalienable human rights, which governments must respect and that the rule of law must be preserved," Harris said.
Most nations have condemned Russia's unprovoked war on Ukraine. Like-minded nations have rallied to the defense of these principles – these rules and norms, she said. "We have remained strong and we must stay strong. Because if Putin were to succeed with his attack on these fundamental principles, other nations could feel emboldened to follow his violent example," she said. "Other authoritarian powers could seek to bend the world to their will, through coercion, disinformation, and even brute force. The international order upon which we all rely, could be at risk."
Some authoritarian nations have actively supported Russia and she spoke of North Korea and Iran actively sending weapons that Russian forces are using to kill Ukrainian civilians.
"We are also troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began," she said. "Looking ahead, any steps by China to provide lethal support to Russia would only reward aggression, continue the killing and further undermine a rules-based order."
Harris told the international audience that American support to Ukraine has strong bipartisan agreement. She said the American people "are in awe of the resolve of the people of Ukraine, in awe of their resilience and righteousness, their willingness to fight for freedom and liberty, and the extraordinary tenacity and leadership of President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy."
Harris said that a year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he would divide NATO. "In this, he has failed. The NATO alliance is stronger now than ever before, and the United States commitment to NATO and to its Article Five is ironclad," Harris said. "Just look at our track record over the past year. Just look at our multilateral cooperation. Together, we have provided historic assistance to Ukraine. Together, we have dealt Russia a strategic failure. Together we have imposed unprecedented costs on Russia."
This unity must continue even as Ukraine confronts dark days. "The daily agony of war will persist," she said. "The global ripple effects will continue to be felt by countries near and far — from Africa, to Southeast Asia, to the Caribbean. But if Putin thinks he can wait us out, he is badly mistaken. Time is not on his side."
The resolve and persistence of the Ukrainian people will continue to be tested, she said. Putin's efforts to undermine Trans-Atlantic unity will also continue. But all are up to the challenges, she said.
Harris said America will continue to lead, to defend human freedom and dignity and to stand up for the rules-based infrastructure. "We believe in the fundamental importance of sovereignty and rule of law," she said. "I do believe … when future generations look back at this moment, they will see that we understood the task before us and rose to this occasion."