LONDON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for a new chapter in the long history between the United States and Britain, saying that global economic, military and climate challenges require “remaking ourselves to meet the demands of a new era.”
Even as he spoke of how much the world has changed since the allies emerged victorious from World War II, Obama told a joint session of Parliament that U.S.-British cooperation — in military, diplomatic, economic and humanitarian efforts — remains essential to ensuring global security.
“As new threats spread across borders and oceans, we must dismantle terrorist networks and stop the spread of nuclear weapons, confront climate change and combat famine and disease,” Obama said. “And as a revolution races through the streets of the Middle East and North Africa, the entire world has a stake in the aspirations of a generation that longs to determine its own destiny.”
Obama said that, despite the need for both countries to reduce public debt that could “sap the strength and vitality of our economies,” the United States and Britain must continue to remain engaged in a world in which Brazil, India, China and other developing countries are becoming important forces.
“It’s become fashionable in some quarters to question whether the rise of these nations will accompany the decline of American and European influence around the world,” Obama said. “That argument is wrong. The time for our leadership is now.”
Although he did not make new policy declarations or articulate a different relationship between the United States and its European allies, Obama celebrated a partnership that, in the past decade, has waged war in three Muslim nations and suffered through the global economic downturn.
His challenge was to argue that much of the sacrifice, in lives and money, has made a difference in creating a more stable, safer world — and that the partnership must continue its missions in Afghanistan and Libya, despite the strain on national treasuries. He said the countries “have arrived at a pivotal moment once more.”
Obama delivered his address in the historic Westminster Hall, becoming the first U.S. president to speak there.
The gray-stone Gothic building, with a high vaulted ceiling of wooden beams, dates to 1099 and served as the banquet hall for the coronation of many English kings, including Richard I. It is where Winston Churchill’s body lay in state.
In introducing Obama, the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said, “Few places reach so far into the heart of our nation,” referring to the hall. Obama spoke at the front of the long hall, a floor-to-ceiling stained-glass window his backdrop. More than 1,000 lawmakers, government officials and other invited dignitaries gathered to listen.
Obama leaves today for Deauville, France, and the Group of Eight summit.