And this issue of transparency is directly relevant to a third aspect of American leadership, and that is our effort to strengthen and enforce international order.
After World War II, America had the wisdom to shape institutions to keep the peace and support human progress -- from NATO and the United Nations, to the World Bank and IMF. These institutions are not perfect, but they have been a force multiplier. They reducing the need for unilateral American action and increase restraint among other nations.
Now, just as the world has changed, this architecture must change as well. At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy spoke about the need for a peace based upon a gradual evolution in human institutions. And evolving these international institutions to meet the demands of today must be a critical part of American leadership.
Now, there are lot of folks, a lot of skeptics who often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions, like the U.N. or respecting international law, is a sign of weakness. I think they're wrong. Let me offer just two examples why.
In Ukraine, Russia's recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe. But this isn't the Cold War. Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions, Europe and the G-7 joined with us to impose sanctions, NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies, the IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine's economy, OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine.
And this mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.
This weekend, Ukrainians voted by the millions. Yesterday, I spoke to their next president. We don't know how the situation will play out, and there will remain grave challenges ahead, but standing with our allies on behalf of international order, working with international institutions, has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future -- without us firing a shot.
Similarly, despite frequent warnings from the United States and Israel and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years. But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government. And now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully. The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement, one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force. And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side.
The point is, this is American leadership. This is American strength.
In each case, we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge. Now we need to do more to strengthen the institutions that can anticipate and prevent problems from spreading.
For example, NATO is the strongest alliance the world has ever known but we're now working with NATO allies to meet new missions both within Europe, where our eastern allies must be reassured, but also beyond Europe's borders, where our NATO allies must pull their weight to counterterrorism and respond to failed states and train a network of partners.
Likewise, the U.N. provides a platform to keep the peace in states torn apart by conflict. Now, we need to make sure that those nations who provide peacekeepers have the training and equipment to actually keep the peace so that we can prevent the type of killing we've seen in Congo and Sudan. We are going to deepen our investment in countries that support these peacekeeping missions because having other nations maintain order in their own neighborhoods lessens the need for us to put our own troops in harm's way. It's a smart investment. It's the right way to lead. (Applause.)
Keep in mind, not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict. We have a serious problem with cyberattacks, which is why we're working to shape and enforce rules of the road to secure our networks and our citizens. In the Asia Pacific, we're supporting Southeast Asian nations as they negotiate a code of conduct with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea, and we're working to resolve these disputes through international law.
That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change, a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food, which is why, next year, I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.
You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else. We can't call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it is taking place. We can't try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by the United States Senate, despite the fact that our top military leaders say the treaty advances our national security. That's not leadership. That's retreat. That's not strength; that's weakness. It would be utterly foreign to leaders like Roosevelt and Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.
I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.
And that's why I will continue to push to close Gitmo, because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. (Applause.) That's why we're putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence -- because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we're conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens. (Applause.) America does not simply stand for stability or the absence of conflict, no matter what the cost; we stand for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere -- which brings me to the fourth and final element of American leadership: our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.
America's support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism; it is a matter of national security. Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war. Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods. Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.
A new century has brought no end to tyranny. In capitals around the globe -- including, unfortunately, some of America's partners -- there has been a crackdown on civil society. The cancer of corruption has enriched too many governments and their cronies and enraged citizens from remote villages to iconic squares.
And watching these trends, or the violent upheavals in parts of the Arab world, it's easy to be cynical. But remember that because of America's efforts -- because of American diplomacy and foreign assistance, as well as the sacrifices of our military -- more people live under elected governments today than at any time in human history. Technology is empowering civil society in ways that no iron fist can control. New breakthroughs are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. And even the upheaval of the Arab world reflects the rejection of an authoritarian order that was anything but stable, and now offers the long-term prospect of more responsive and effective governance.
In countries like Egypt, we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests, from peace treaties to Israel to shared efforts against violent extremism. So we have not cut off cooperation with the new government, but we can and will persistently press for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded.
And meanwhile, look at a country like Burma, which only a few years ago was an intractable dictatorship and hostile to the United States. Forty million people. Thanks to the enormous courage of the people in that country, and because we took the diplomatic initiative, American leadership, we have seen political reforms opening a once- closed society; a movement by Burmese leadership away from partnership with North Korea in favor of engagement with America and our allies.
We're now supporting reform and badly needed national reconciliation through assistance and investment, through coaxing and, at times, public criticism. And progress there could be reversed, but if Burma succeeds we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot -- American leadership.
In each of these cases, we should not expect change to happen overnight. That's why we form alliances -- not only with governments, but also with ordinary people. For unlike other nations, America is not afraid of individual empowerment. We are strengthened by it. We're strengthened by civil society. We're strengthened by a free press. We're strengthened by striving entrepreneurs and small businesses. We're strengthened by educational exchange and opportunity for all people and women and girls. That's who we are. That's what we represent. (Applause.)
I saw that through a trip to Africa last year, where American assistance has made possible the prospect of an AIDS-free generation, while helping Africans care themselves for their sick. We're helping farmers get their products to market to feed populations once endangered by famine. We aim to double access to electricity in sub- Saharan Africa so people are connected to the promise of the global economy. And all this creates new partners and shrinks the space for terrorism and conflict.
Now, tragically, no American security operation can eradicate the threat posed by an extremist group like Boko Haram -- the group that kidnapped those girls.
And that's we have to focus not just on rescuing those girls right away, but also on supporting Nigerian efforts to educate its youth. This should be one of the hard-earned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where our military became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development. They understood that foreign assistance is not an afterthought -- something nice to do apart from our national defense, apart from our national security. It is part of what makes us strong.
Now, ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty. We have to be prepared for the worst, prepared for every contingency, but American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be -- a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters, where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in the direction of justice. And we cannot do that without you.
Class of 2014, you have taken this time to prepare on the quiet banks of the Hudson. You leave this place to carry forward a legacy that no other military in human history can claim. You do so as part of a team that extends beyond your units or even our Armed Forces, for in the course of your service, you will work as a team with diplomats and development experts.
You'll get to know allies and train partners. And you will embody what it means for America to lead the world.
Next week I will go to Normandy to honor the men who stormed the beaches there. And while it's hard for many Americans to comprehend the courage and sense of duty that guided those who boarded small ships, it's familiar to you. At West Point, you define what it means to be a patriot.
Three years ago Gavin White graduated from this academy. He then served in Afghanistan. Like the soldiers who came before him, Gavin was in a foreign land, helping people he'd never met, putting himself in harm's way for the sake of his community and his family and the folks back home. Gavin lost one of his legs in an attack. I met him last year at Walter Reed. He was wounded but just as determined as the day that he arrived here at West Point. And he developed a simple goal. Today his sister Morgan will graduate. And true to his promise, Gavin will be there to stand and exchange salutes with her. (Cheers, applause.)
We have been through a long season of war. We have faced trials that were not foreseen and we've seen divisions about how to move forward. But there is something in Gavin's character, there is something in the American character, that will always triumph.
Leaving here, you carry with you the respect of your fellow citizens. You will represent a nation with history and hope on our side. Your charge now is not only to protect our country, but to do what is right and just. As your commander in chief, I know you will. May God bless you. May God bless our men and women in uniform. And may God bless the United States of America. (Cheers, applause.)