1990 Summit: a turning point in 'East-West' relations

  • 18 Dec. 2014 -
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  • Last updated: 19 Dec. 2014 14:09

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 led to radical changes to security in Europe. As early as July 1990, NATO leaders discussed the impact of this historic event at the London Summit, outlining proposals for developing cooperation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. “(…) The Cold War belongs to history, our Alliance is moving from confrontation to co-operation” stated NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner in his opening comments.

Family portrait at the Spencer House

Verbatim Record of the NATO London Summit, 1990

The verbatim record of the London Summit (C-VR(90)36) has been approved for declassification and public disclosure. It gives direct access to the discussions of Heads of State and Government, during which they took stock of the huge implications this had for the security of NATO member countries, for the European continent as a whole and beyond.

The document shows the consistency of NATO’s approach towards the East since the end of the Cold War. Discussions focused primarily on disarmament and relations with the Soviet Union and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. NATO leaders also envisaged cooperation through political and military activities, as well as through the establishment of regular diplomatic liaison with these countries. There was a distinct realisation that, as US President George Bush addressing the Council declared, “(…) We must build a transformed alliance for the new Europe of the 21st century.” And in the same vein, his British counterpart, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “Our signal from this meeting must continue to be one of resolve in defence, resolve and unity in defence coupled with willingness to extend the hand of friendship to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.”

Extending a “hand of friendship”

At London, NATO extended a “hand of friendship” to the former Warsaw Pact, inviting them to form a new relationship with NATO.  The Verbatim Record reflects the desire of NATO to be inclusive of Central and Eastern Europe without isolating the Soviet Union. French President François Mitterrand stated, “(…) we need to take into account the interests of all European countries, including those which are still members of the Warsaw Pact and (…) - I have no hesitation in saying this - of the Soviet Union”. 

When the leaders of the 28 NATO states met in Wales this year, they looked back to the last NATO Summit held in United Kingdom.  The Wales Declaration on the Transatlantic Bond highlights the London Summit of 1990 as a key moment in history, where NATO adapted to meet the realities of the times.

The foundations of a new relationship

A year after the 1990 Summit, NATO, the Soviet Union and 11 others formed the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC).  This forum broke new ground by enabling multinational political consultation and cooperation, and confidence-building between NATO and these countries. Initially, the NACC focused on residual Cold War security concerns, but as cooperation developed, the council led to the creation of Partnership for Peace, a NATO programme of collaborative and practical cooperation, which was signed by Russia and dozens of other former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries in 1994.  

The summit ultimately represented the foundation of a new and modernised NATO. The document sheds some light on the language, the politics and the planning of NATO members during this historic turning point in time.