NATO as a Community of Values

Manfred Wörner Memorial Lecture

  • 02 Jun. 1999 -
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  • Last updated: 06 Nov. 2008 02:15

Mr. Mayor,
Professor Rinsche,
Participants in the Young Leaders Conference,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year marks the 50th anniversary of NATO, and the 50th anniversary of the Federal Republic of Germany. Almost from their beginning, their histories have been intertwined. Both have faced daunting challenges. Both are success stories. Because both are founded on the same values.

The Washington Treaty and the German Basic Law were drafted by people with a keen sense of history, the best and the brightest of their time. These were people who had seen the worst that men are able to inflict on each other. And yet these same people remained convinced that human progress was possible, and that failure could be turned into success -- by drawing the right lessons and by creating institutions that would prevent a return to the past.

Their guiding posts were certain fundamental values -- democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. These values are as relevant today as they were in 1949. Back then, they had to be resurrected from the ashes of a World War and upheld during the Cold War. Today in Kosovo, these fundamental values have to be defended against a policy of deliberately engineered hatred -- a policy that seems to come from an era we believed was long behind us.

My own generation was often torn between the values we were taught and the harsh reality -- a reality that did not always correspond to those ideals. Accordingly, we sometimes scoffed when those in power claimed to be upholding "values", and criticised them for not practising what they preached. Today, I am heading this Alliance, and many of our generation are in positions of responsibility. Today, we all realise how difficult it is to translate values into policy.

Upholding values must not become a crusade. We do not claim that all our values are universal. But, as the incoming Federal President of Germany, Johannes Rau, stressed after his recent election here in Berlin, the Basic Law states that the dignity of man is inviolable - and this principle is not confined to Germans alone. It applies to all people -- including those in Kosovo -- people who were deprived of their dignity, their homes, their country, even their identity. To restore their dignity, to enable them to return to their homes and live in peace -- this is the primary goal of our actions. And we feel encouraged by the unmistakable moral signal which the indictment of Milosevic and some of his henchmen by the International Tribunal in The Hague has sent to the world at large.

But it is not simply moral outrage that gives us the strength we need to succeed. Outrage alone is hardly ever the basis of a sound policy. What makes NATO so united in this crisis is the fact that in Kosovo our long term interests and our values converge. For behind the plight of the Kosovars there is even more at stake: the future of the project of Europe. The conflict between Belgrade and the rest of the international community is a conflict between two visions of Europe. One vision -- Milosevic's vision -- is a Europe of ethnically pure states, a Europe of nationalism, authoritarianism and xenophobia. This is the vision that has led to almost ten years of war in the Balkans. The other vision, upheld by NATO and the European Union and many other countries, is of a Europe of integration, democracy and ethnic pluralism. This is the vision that has turned Europe and North America into the closest, most democratic and prosperous community ever built.

It is the vision many more nations share -- nations such as our Partner countries, countries of diverse geography, history, culture or religion.

If this positive vision of Europe is to prevail, if Europe is to enter the 21st century as a community of states practicing democracy, pluralism, and human rights, we simply cannot tolerate this carnage at its centre. To stand idly by while a brutal campaign of forced deportation, torture and murder is going on in the heart of Europe would have meant declaring moral bankruptcy. That is why, after all diplomatic means had been exhausted, we took the decision to act -- not to abandon diplomacy, but to create the conditions for diplomacy to work again, backed by military pressure .

We knew that our actions would not be able to stop the atrocities committed by Belgrade's forces in just a few days. We knew the risks this operation posed to our troops, and about the possibility of civilian casualties. We also knew that our decision would burden our important relationship with Russia. And we knew that some members of the media, in a misguided attempt to be "objective", would equate the aggressors with the victims. But we went ahead because to have remained indifferent would have been tantamount to becoming an accomplice to these crimes.

Our demands are clear: Those hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians whom Milosevic had driven out of their homes by crude force must be enabled to return safely - every one of them. There can be no room for compromise on this fundamental humanitarian goal. Other conditions follow: A verifiable stop to all military action and the immediate ending of the killing; the withdrawal of Serb military, police and paramilitary forces; and the deployment of an international security presence. Without prior withdrawal of forces and without a robust international security presence in their place refugees and displaced persons simply would not return. And who could blame them given the unspeakable crimes they had to suffer at the hands of Milosevic's forces. Finally, we need to put into place a political framework for Kosovo on the basis of the Rambouillet Accords. This will give Kosovo substantive autonomy within the borders of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

These are reasonable goals. That's why we will stick to them, no matter how long it takes.

I share profoundly the hopes of all those who are working for a viable political solution to this conflict. Indeed, there are signs that the military and political front of President Milosevic is starting to crack. As we are meeting here today, diplomacy seems to be getting another chance.

Many Serb citizens have come to realise what the rest of Europe has already understood: that they have entrusted their fate to a reckless political leader - a leader who led his country into war, isolation and poverty, a leader who deliberately created the very instability he claims to prevent. As the saying goes, you can fool some people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Eventually, the Serbian people will demand their share of democracy and prosperity. They will demand their share of "Europe". This will be the moment when our hearts and minds must be open -- to bring a democratic Yugoslavia back into the European family, where it belongs.

NATO will play a major role in this process of reconstruction. Even now, as our air campaign continues, we must think about creating conditions for long-term stability in the region. That is why we give our full support to the initiatives by Germany as the European Presidency and others to address the problems of Southeastern Europe in a comprehensive way. We must involve all major institutions as well as the nations in the region. As last weeks Petersberg conference made clear, economic assistance will be paramount.

But security remains a precious asset as well. NATO has a variety of means at its disposal to assist in this effort. For example, NATO has held consultations on security matters with the nations neighbouring Yugoslavia. We will also build on the existing mechanisms of the Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council to give substance to our promise of assistance. For example, we will use the EAPC to promote regional co-operation. We will set up targeted NATO security co-operation programmes for the countries in the region. And we will give our PfP activities and exercises a stronger regional focus.

All of these measures demonstrate that we are not simply concerned with ending the conflict. We are also concerned with what happens after, with bringing all of Southeastern Europe back into the European mainstream. And when I say all of Southeastern Europe, I include a democratic Yugoslavia.

If our transatlantic community can master the Kosovo challenge we will have demonstrated that in our community values have meaning. But more than that. If we can defuse the Balkan powder keg for good, we will have removed a major obstacle that prevents us from devoting our full attention to the key issue: building the Atlantic community of the 21st century. A community with a new, re-balanced transatlantic relationship. A community in which Russia plays its rightful role. A community that has the political and the military means to meet the challenges of the future.

Like the Kosovo crisis today, the challenges of tomorrow far exceed the capacity of the individual nation-state. Like the Kosovo crisis today, they can only be met by a united and self-confident Atlantic community.

But this Atlantic community of the next century will have to be different. It will have to be a community where Europe and North America have established a new formula for sharing the common burden. It will be a community where the European Allies are expected to take more responsibility, as befits their economic strength.

The gap between European ambitions and European capabilities is still wide. No one should harbour any illusions about that. As I have said many times, we will have to live for some time with an asymmetry between what the U.S. expects from Europe and what Europe is willing and able to deliver. But there are signs that the Kosovo conflict is indeed transforming the debate on a European Security and Defence Identity. From Saint Malo to Cologne, a workable ESDI is now regarded by many countries as an urgent necessity.

These are positive signs. They show that Europe is taking up the challenge. Let us not forget: Europe has just introduced a common currency, a step that seemed almost impossible a decade ago. There is no law of nature that would prevent Europe from achieving more coherence in security and defence as well. And in my view there is no time like the present to start this important venture in ernest.

The challenges of the 21st century will require a new re-balanced transatlantic link, but they also will require even more cooperation with Russia. The Kosovo crisis has burdened our relationship, but that does not change the fact that we need Russia to establish long-term stability in Europe. Nor does it change the fact that Russia's own future lies in close cooperation with the West. Russia's active role in the current diplomatic efforts indicates that Russia agrees with this assessment and wants to be part of the solution.

The challenges of the 21st century will be tackled by a new Atlantic community, with a closely associated democratic Russia. And they will be tackled by a new generation of young leaders -- many of whom are here today. Perhaps they will approach the problems of this world in a different way. Every generation looks at things in new ways. But I am certain that when it comes to the difficult challenge of maintaining peace and stability, these future leaders, too, will find that they need a moral compass on which to base their policies. And they, too, will realise that this Atlantic Alliance remains a most precious asset. For this Alliance epitomises not only the commitment to shared values; it also acts as an instrument to protect these values when they are threatened.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I said in the beginning of my remarks, the history of Germany has been closely intertwined with that of NATO. Indeed, the unification of Germany within the Alliance has demonstrated this close link yet again. This historic step was taken during the tenure of a German Secretary General of NATO -- Manfred Wörner -- to whom this lecture is devoted. To him, there was never any doubt that NATO was about values. Sooner than most he argued for the Alliance to open its doors to new members, because he knew that the new democracies to NATO's East shared these Atlantic values. And sooner than most he urged NATO to take a firm stance in the Bosnian war, because it was here where these values were most threatened.

I have no doubt that he would have approved of what NATO is doing today. And I have no doubt that he would have approved of the confident role Germany is playing in the Kosovo crisis, both politically and militarily. For Germany to take such an active part required difficult decisions. But the German Government and the German Parliament did not shy away from taking these decisions. All Allies appreciate that.

In your domestic debate some have opposed Germany's international role on the grounds of history. But if history is any guide, then it must surely guide us towards engagement, not towards indifference. I am heartened that this logic has carried the day.

The Kosovo conflict occupies our hearts and minds. But we must not lose sight of the broader task that we face: to re-construct Europe after the end of bipolarity, and to prepare our transatlantic community for the next century.

Yugoslavia is a tragic example of a country that has failed to make its transition to democracy and ethnic tolerance. But it is an exception, not the rule. On balance, Europe is doing very well - certainly much better than many would have predicted only ten years ago. Europe is doing well because nations inside and outside NATO have drawn the right lessons from the tragedies of the 20th century: that a true Euro-Atlantic peace order must be based on shared values, and the determination to uphold them.