Updated: 12-Mar-2001 NATO Speeches

29 May

Opening address to the North Atlantic Council Meeting at the level of Heads of State and Government

Speech by Secretary General, Manfred Wörner

It is my honour and privilege to open this meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Heads of State and Government. Allow me to extend a warm welcome to all participants.

We are meeting in fascinating times of change. We are confronted with the challenges of our success. This is even more obvious today than at the last NATO Summit, fifteen months ago. We can take particular pride in our accomplishments since that time, including the successful conclusion of the Vienna CSCE meeting, and the promising start of the important talks on conventional arms control in Vienna.

In recent weeks our fortieth anniversary celebrations have given us the opportunity to look back. Today is the time for us to look forward; not only to evaluate the significance of the change we see all around us, but to further define a future course for this Alliance.

This is a time that bears the hallmark of our success. NATO has given us peace - the longest European peace since Roman times. It has also opened prospects for change. The East is turning to the West. One hundred and fifty years after the Communist Manifesto, communism has manifestly failed. Out-dated ideology and inefficiency stand in stark contrast to our values and concepts, and the responsiveness of our system to human aspirations. Events follow our conceptual leadership and will continue to do so if we maintain our initiative.

We are living through a time of great opportunity, but one accompanied also by considerable potential risk. Historical turning points always combine both elements - and both require equal skill in management. Without prejudging the future, I think we can say that the post-war world, as we have known it, is coming to an end. Now is the time to combine the lessons we have learned and our success with the possibilities we see opening up to advance our ambitious agenda.

Our opportunity is to bring the world closer to our vision: open borders, more freedom, less weapons and the rule of law. A Europe undivided in which all citizens enjoy their human rights and all peoples can exercise their right of self-determination. A global order not of confrontation, but of co-operation between West and East to solve the pressing problems of mankind. This Alliance has never been static. It was always dynamic, its objective remains to overcome the status quo, while preserving our hard-won peace and freedom.
The risk we have to guard against is complacency. Historic periods of deep change, such as we are living through, inevitably produce uncertainty, fragility and instability. We need to maintain the base of our stability, a secure defence. Above all we cannot, at the moment when long-sought achievements seem to be coming within our grasp, afford to lower our guard.

Let us keep both opportunity and risk in balanced perspective, and not make the mistake of focusing only on the one or the other. For it is the dual nature of our historical challenge that clearly defines the future role and tasks of the Alliance.

On the one hand, our task is actively to shape events. We not only welcome change in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, we will encourage and make full use of it. We will offer the East our co-operation and continuing impetus and incentives to reform. Our model shows them the way to greater prosperity and security, over time. We will reward those who have the courage to make hard choices. But in return we challenge the Eastern leaders on the political ground and across the whole range of our common concerns - from human rights and open societies to less weapons. With our policies and concepts now bearing fruit, the political role of this Alliance will come into its full dimension as never before.

On the other hand, it would be foolhardy of us to abandon the only safe and secure ground on which we can stand: the proven record of success and the invaluable experience of common effort within this Alliance. It is the strongest community - morally, politically, economically, militarily - that the West in all its long history has ever known.

To this end we must maintain a strong defence and a firm, reliable posture of deterrence. Even with the most optimistic outcome of developments in East-West relations, we will face, for many years to come, a formidable and unpredictable military power as our neighbour. We do not need permanently
to suspect his intentions; but intentions cannot be a durable basis for our relationship. We cannot build our own security on the assumption of his permanent goodwill. Indeed, we owe it to our peoples, and to history, to sustain our effort to make the recourse to military strength, to preserve stability and deterrence.

We need to provide conventional and nuclear weapons at a level which supports the indivisibility of our Alliance security. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate guarantor of a war prevention strategy. Conventional weapons have a bad historical record in this respect. Certainly we want to reduce weapons -both nuclear and conventional - in East and West, to the minimum which the legitimate security interest of East and West requires. Time and again, we have demonstrated this in deeds. Both our defence plans and our approach to arms control are predicted on this fundamental principle. And the minimal levels which we need must be kept up-to-date.

A healthy transatlantic relationship is today, as it has always been, the cornerstone of both our security and a model for human aspirations. Thus we must reinforce it still further; develop it into the most equal and balanced form of transatlantic partnership. We must continue to look afresh at the distribution of roles, risks and responsibilities within our Alliance and encourage the European pillar to evolve in line with Western Europe's emerging political and economic strength.

The key to successful management of East-West relations is the success-ful management of West-West relations. Only if we remain united will we determine events; divided, even with all our success and dynamism, we will be the victims of events determined by others - all of us, without exception.
I look to your wisdom, courage and statesmanship in leading our Alliance into a fifth decade of even greater achievements. I know that you will not allow us to squander our unique historic opportunity. And how indeed could we fail? For it is our societies that are the most open and dynamic, our economies that are the most prosperous, our peoples the most creative, and our values that inspire the cry of freedom throughout the non-Western world. So there is good reason to look toward our fiftieth anniversary with optimism and confidence.

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