Updated: 12-Mar-2001 NATO Speeches

9 October 1989

Address given at the 35th Annual Session of the North Atlantic Assembly

Speech by Secretary General, Manfred Wörner

The French writer, Albert Camus, once lamented that "man eventually becomes accustomed to everything". I have always believed that this is an unjustly pessimistic view of our human condition; and in recent weeks I have seen enough to convince me that Camus, on this point at least, was wrong:

  • 30,000 East Germans abandoning home, friends, jobs, everything, to escape to a new life of opportunity but also uncertainty in the West;

  • thousands of Soviet miners striking not for more pay, but for better supplies;

  • the joy of Poles as they greet their first non-Communist Prime Minister in 40 years;

  • over a million inhabitants of the Baltic states forming a human chain to protest against the forced annexation of their nations;

  • demonstrators in Prague braving the security forces to mark the 21st anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion; or in Leipzig calling for freedom of speech.

Clearly the peoples of the East have not become accustomed to their lot. Totalitarian rule has not made people less attracted by freedom, democracy and self-determination. The opposite is true. Nor has it made them incapable of exercising these values through political organization and self-expression: look at the debates in the new Congress of the People's Deputies, the activities of the popular fronts, Solidarity in Poland or the opposition parties in Hungary. The demand for pluralism and reform can now be heard in every Eastern nation. Some regimes have responded with a promising beginning: they are experiencing the turbulence of change but at least they are finally grappling with the real problems that have held them back for so long.
Others have responded with repression, merely postponing the day of reckon-ing by loading their problems on to the future. In the meantime, their citizens fleed draining their economies of the precious skills and resources they will need most when ultimately they face up to the needs of tomorrow.

It is obvious: the division of Europe has become politically untenable: not because of Western "revanchism" to which Mr. Shevardnadze referred: not because of our interference in their domestic affairs. No. Simply for two reasons. First, because communism has failed as much in ideological as in economic and social terms. It is not able to solve the problems of modern industrialised societies in the age of global communication. And even more important: second, because you cannot suppress freedom forever. The natural aspiration of men to live and work freely is the driving force behind the historical process of change which we are witnessing. And no dictator or system - not even by using force - will be able to stop or prevent this dynamic change in the long-term. Of course, the Atlantic Alliance has played an historic role in creating the conditions for change:

  • by a strategy of deterrence and coalition defence that made it clear to the Soviet Union that it could never hope to solve its problems through intimidation or further expansion; only in co-operation with us could peaceful political change in Europe be secured;

  • by a policy of dialogue that also made it clear to the Soviet Union that we would be willing partners when the East was ready; on the basis of reciprocity and mutual trust, this Alliance would do its utmost to help the Soviet Union and its allies to become more peaceful, democratic and prosperous nations;

  • finally, by our cohesion, our readiness to accept the roles, risks and responsibilities of the collective defence, our practice of working together for the good of all: these factors have created a dynamism and prosperity that have made clear, even now to its leaders, that old-style Communism has failed: the East cannot hope to catch up with the West on the basis of Marxist-Leninist ideology, but only through openness, pluralism, market forces, exposure to Western ideas and values.
And the windows having opened in the closed societies of Eastern Europe, the Allies do not intend to let them slam shut again. It is not possible to freeze political developments in the East in the name of stability. The status quo of the past was not stability; there can never be stability that leaves peoples unreconciled to their governments, or which is based on stagnation. The status quo served Soviet interests; the West has nothing to lose, and everything to gain by its passing. We set out our objectives during the recent NATO Summit. Our vision is threefold:
  • a Europe undivided in which all peoples would exercise their inherent right of self-determination; in which all would enjoy the same freedoms and economic opportunities; and in which no nation need ever fear military intimidation or aggression from its neighbours;

  • a new global order of cooperation in which East and West would work together to solve humanity's most pressing problems; drugs, terrorism, the environment, regional tensions;

  • a more equal transatlantic partnership based on a strong North America and a united and cohesive Western Europe; one which would assume its full share of the common defence and of global responsibilities.
Yet when Mr. Gorbachev speaks of his vision, the "Common European Home", is he not striving to restore the status quo by other means? Certainly this concept, based on a "balance of interests", seems much more attractive than military confrontation, but it is still premissed on the ideological division of Europe; with the Eastern half wedded to Mr. Gorbachev's "socialism". This has little in common with the Alliance's vision of Europe; a vision that stresses freedom and self-determination. Nevertheless, we will use our limited influ-ence to support change by supporting Gorbachev's and others' reforms towards more openness, pluralism, human rights and human contact. In doing so, we will serve the aspirations of our European neighbours. And we will also serve Western interests; for our future security and prosperity cannot be immunized from the turbulent forces at work in the East. We have everything to gain from the success of reform. We are interested in peaceful evolution, not in revolution orupheaval, but on the other hand, movement always means partial instability. There is no real alternative to change. History does not allow stagnation.

Communist values in Eastern Europe have been upheld only through the deliberate policy and military control of the Soviet Union. Western values, on the other hand, have triumphed in Eastern Europe through force of example. We have not needed to promote them; democracy, human dignity, openness, market forces, self-determination: these are the ideas that spread their influence from the inside. The East is turning to the West.

East and West will not be reconciled, as some once believed, by converging in the middle. The debate takes place wholly on our terms. Our values and systems hold the key to the political and economic future of the Soviet Union and its allies. This is the reality with which Communist leaders must deal. Before building new political and economic structures, they must find a safe method of dismantling the old. Finding one's way out of a labyrinth has always proved more difficult than becoming lost in one. It is a predicament well summarized by Soviet academician, Oleg Bogomolov: "It is easy to turn an aquarium into fish soup, but how do you turn fish soup back into an aquarium?".

The challenge of a long-term programme of fundamental economic and societal reform would be daunting in itself; but it is severely compounded by the immediate economic crisis in which most of Eastern Europe now finds itself. The report of your own Political Committee on Soviet foreign policy under Gorbachev is eloquent on this topic. It notes, for instance, that Soviet economic growth is dwindling at 1.5%, the announced budget deficit is some $160 billion, or 9% of GNP. The Soviet share of world trade is only 4%, and for 1989 total hard currency income is estimated at only $24 billion, of which $18 billion is allocated to servicing the $43 billion foreign debt. The supply situation is now chaotic. Of the 1,200 items in the Soviet housewife's official shopping basket, only 200 are widely available. There is no lack of money. Indeed, as your report also points out, about $500 billion worth of rubles is being hoarded because there is nothing to buy. Such shortages are largely responsible for the current unrest amongst Soviet workers.

Indeed the experts now take a sombre view of the success of perestro'ika. One of our NATO studies, for instance, looks at the future prospects for the Soviet economy. It assumes three models: that Gorbachev's reforms will succeed; that they will partially succeed, or that they will fail. What is interesting is that the actual outcome would seem to make very little difference. The best scenario gives a growth rate of only 2.6% and the worst 1.6%. And these small rates of projected growth do not allow for the likely increase in the Soviet population which would make them even more modest. So even the most optimistic assumption does not provide sufficient growth to make a significant qualitative difference to either the Soviet economy or Soviet society.

Political reform is thus coupled with economic necessity - that much is clear. The same can also be said in the case of the two other Warsaw Pact reformers - Poland and Hungary. Both are crippled by foreign debt repayments; there is a glaring lack of managers and administrators skilled in Western industrial and business techniques; both are experiencing considerable problems in converting their industries to Western competitive standards. The Institute for Economic and Market Research in Budapest, for instance, has said that only one in three Hungarian companies would survive in free trade with the West. In Poland the economic situation borders on the catastrophic: this past summer, while 24 Western nations were discussing food aid for Poland in Brussels, a grocer's shop in Katowice became the sole source of supply for 120,000 people. Poland is not a Third World country even if its per capita GNP now approximates that of Indonesia. These nations are caught up in a race against time: will political reform be fast enough to head off the mounting economic difficulties? Or will these economic difficulties be so severe as to undermine political reform?

Behind the rhetoric of Mr. Gorbachev's Common European Home lies the reality of a widening gap between East and West; and the knowledge that the East does not possess the resources to avert by itself a major tragedy in the short term, and begin to narrow this gap in the long term. The NATO Summit Declaration has given the West the overall conceptual architecture that it must have in its approach to the East. For NATO deals with East-West relations in a global sense; the Alliance integrates the economic factors with the other features of these relations: military security, political change, respect for human rights and basic freedoms. Helping the East to reform is not just an economic task; it is first and foremost a political challenge. We cannot divide our strategy into separate tracks - economic, political, military - and allow them to evolve in isolation. How much financial assistance, for example, should we give to a nation that still spends 15-17% of its GNP on weapons that are largely fielded against us? How can we persuade a Western banker to put his money into Hungary when he can invest in a country, like Czechoslovakia or the GDR, that has a far worse human rights record but a much better international credit rating?

The judgements that have to be made are highly political. Even if the Alliance does not have responsibility for specific aid programmes, only NATO can harmonise and co-ordinate the efforts of the member nations as a whole on these herculean tasks; only NATO brings the combined resources of North America and Western Europe to bear on them.

Our Alliance strategy is an integrated one. We offer the East co-operation; indeed following our NATO Summit, Alliance governments have already started on the practical implementation of such co-operation:
  • food assistance to Poland - 24 Western nations are involved; the United States has doubled its amount;

  • trade facilitation, such as the recent economic agreement between the EEC and Poland, or the decision of the United States to grant Hungary most favoured trading nation status;

  • private enterprise trusts to be established in Poland and Hungary;

  • funds for pollution control projects;

  • joint ventures;

  • training courses and facilities for Eastern managers;

  • a review of the debt burden of Poland and Hungary;

  • scholarships for the study of Western institutions.
We are concentrating the major part of our efforts on Poland and Hungary; the two countries that are taking the necessary political steps to move closer to democracy, and to create the political conditions that will give their reforms a fighting chance of success. Poland and Hungary are the two test cases for our Alliance strategy. If reform fails, the lessons will not be lost on the hardliners in Czechoslovakia and East Germany. But if reform succeeds, that success will generate irresistible pressures for similar change throughout Eastern Europe.

It is clear that the success of this Western programme depends on a total reshaping of East-West relations. That is our goal. NATO has thus issued the East a number of reasonable challenges:

  • first and foremost, the Warsaw Pact must scale back its forces in Eastern Europe to a level where an attack is impossible; I call on them to accept our proposals to eliminate conventional disparities and provide for stringent stabilization and verification measures;

  • economic reforms must not be designed merely to relieve immediate economic pressures, but to permanently introduce market mechanisms;

  • democratic institutions must be allowed to take root;

  • human rights and the undertakings of the Helsinki Final Act must be respected in full; only in this way will the Eastern governments persuade their populations to accept the sacrifices of reform, and to work to rebuild their nations;

  • the Soviet Union and its allies must co-operate with us on global concerns: environmental pollution, terrorism, the proliferation of dangerous weapons, regional tensions.
The post-war period has come to an end. We are seeing the profound transformation of the European political and security structure. This offers us opportunities which we should and will not miss. We are not sitting back, nor are we passive. We are actively shaping events. This is primarily a political Alliance with eminently political tasks. Its role in the future clearly is twofold. To serve as an instrument of political change but also as this basis of military stability. Our motto is: "change insecurity".

It is clear the Alliance is on the political offensive. Yet a political strategy must have a secure foundation. That does not mean that our defences have to be at the same level as today. We have pushed hard for the CFE talks in Vienna and we have done, and continue to do, revolutionary conceptual work to initiate the more reassuring defence postures of the future. The Soviet response in Vienna has been extremely encouraging; and following the meeting in Wyoming between the US and Soviet Foreign Ministers, we may be on the verge of major breakthroughs in the Geneva START talks and the negotiations for a worldwide ban of chemical weapons. Our timetable of one year to reach a CFE agreement is ambitious but realistic. Yet let us not forget two things:
that soldiers and arms are not the main problem between East and West. They are not the cause of the division of Europe. The tensions can only be overcome by a new political order ending the suppression of freedom and self-determination. In such a new political order armies would become meaningless.

that the objective of arms control is to make the East-West security system a more co-operative one; safer, more transparent with lower levels of armaments; it is not to do away with that security system. Our weapons are not merely a reflection of the weapons on the other side; they are a response to the political instabilities that we have to live with. Whatever scenario you choose, our unruly neighbour to the East will remain the problem child of any European security structure; too large to be internally cohesive; too different to be just a normal member of a European Community of nations. And arms control and diplomacy, however important, cannot suffice for this task; they must be backed by a solid defence. Thus the weapons and operational concepts that we retain at the end of our multilateral build-down must be kept up-to-date and effective. Even in an age of dramatically improved East-West relations, there will not be a cut-price security package for this Alliance.
I will not hide my concern at a tendency that I observe today in most of our member nations which are starting to unilaterlly reduce their defence efforts - thus pre-empting the future results of possible arms control agreements. That is what I call structural disarmament. It is wrong and dangerous. And we do not even get the credit for it with our public opinion.

Thus, as parliamentarians, there are two things that you can do to ensure the success of NATO in the great political tasks it faces. First, present the case convincingly against structural disarmament on ours, the weaker side. This is the enemy of true arms control for it will undermine our position in Vienna at the very moment when we have never had a more golden opportunity. Second, use your influence to contribute to greater East-West contact and exchanges and to make the Western reform programme a bold, imaginative one. The North Atlantic Assembly has always had two crucial roles: bringing together Alliance parliamentarians to discuss matters of common concern, and to inform the public better about NATO's role and objectives. From your recent visits to Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Soviet Union, you have added a third: building a parliamentary tradition in Eastern Europe. It is a noble cause. I support you, and count on you.

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