We see that progress here at NES -- a school founded with Western support that is now distinctly Russian; a place of learning and inquiry where the test of an idea is not whether it is Russian or American or European, but whether it works. Above all, we see that progress in all of you -- young people with a young century to shape as you see fit.
Your lifetime coincides with this era of transition. But think about the fundamental questions asked when this school was founded. What kind of future is Russia going to have? What kind of future are Russia and America going to have together? What world order will replace the Cold War? Those questions still don't have clear answers, and so now they must be answered by you -- by your generation in Russia, in America, and around the world. You get to decide. And while I cannot answer those questions for you, I can speak plainly about the future that America is seeking.
To begin with, let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia. This belief is rooted in our respect for the Russian people, and a shared history between our nations that goes beyond competition. Despite our past rivalry, our people were allies in the greatest struggle of the last century. Recently, I noted this when I was in Normandy -- for just as men from Boston and Birmingham risked all that they had to storm those beaches and scale those cliffs, Soviet soldiers from places like Kazan and Kiev endured unimaginable hardships to repeal -- to repel an invasion, and turn the tide in the east. As President John Kennedy said, "No nation in history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union in the Second World War."
So as we honor this past, we also recognize the future benefit that will come from a strong and vibrant Russia. Think of the issues that will define your lives: security from nuclear weapons and extremism; access to markets and opportunity; health and the environment; an international system that protects sovereignty and human rights, while promoting stability and prosperity. These challenges demand global partnership, and that partnership will be stronger if Russia occupies its rightful place as a great power.
Yet unfortunately, there is sometimes a sense that old assumptions must prevail, old ways of thinking; a conception of power that is rooted in the past rather than in the future. There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another. And there is a 19th century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another.
These assumptions are wrong. In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over. As I said in Cairo, given our independence, any world order that -- given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or one group of people over another will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game -- progress must be shared.
That's why I have called for a "reset" in relations between the United States and Russia. This must be more than a fresh start between the Kremlin and the White House -- though that is important and I've had excellent discussions with both your President and your Prime Minister. It must be a sustained effort among the American and Russian people to identify mutual interests, and expand dialogue and cooperation that can pave the way to progress.
This will not be easy. It's difficult to forge a lasting partnership between former adversaries, it's hard to change habits that have been ingrained in our governments and our bureaucracies for decades. But I believe that on the fundamental issues that will shape this century, Americans and Russians share common interests that form a basis for cooperation. It is not for me to define Russia's national interests, but I can tell you about America's national interests, and I believe that you will see that we share common ground.
First, America has an interest in reversing the spread of nuclear weapons and preventing their use.
In the last century, generations of Americans and Russians inherited the power to destroy nations, and the understanding that using that power would bring about our own destruction. In 2009, our inheritance is different. You and I don't have to ask whether American and Russian leaders will respect a balance of terror -- we understand the horrific consequences of any war between our two countries. But we do have to ask this question: We have to ask whether extremists who have killed innocent civilians in New York and in Moscow will show that same restraint. We have to ask whether 10 or 20 or 50 nuclear-armed nations will protect their arsenals and refrain from using them.
This is the core of the nuclear challenge in the 21st century. The notion that prestige comes from holding these weapons, or that we can protect ourselves by picking and choosing which nations can have these weapons, is an illusion. In the short period since the end of the Cold War, we've already seen India, Pakistan, and North Korea conduct nuclear tests. Without a fundamental change, do any of us truly believe that the next two decades will not bring about the further spread of these nuclear weapons?