Updated: 12-Mar-2001 NATO Speeches

25 October 1989

Address to the German American Roundtable of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

Speech by Secretary General, Manfred Wörner

It is curious how the human mind adjusts to even extra-ordinary events and developments. As we move through these times of rapid, indeed breath-taking change, some of its astounding features seem to become almost routine events for many. We are becoming used to a steady flow of news that would have struck us as earth-shaking only a few years ago and that is changing East-West relations almost beyond recognition.

We thus become almost oblivious to the revolutionary importance of changes around us. In less than five years we have seen huge fissures in the edifice of the Soviet empire, have seen this same empire seized by an economic crisis of dramatic proportions, and may be witnessing the systemic collapse of the official structures of the entire Communist group of states. Five years are no longer than the design phase of a single modern automobile or aircraft. In our immediate political geographical vicinity, these five years have witnessed a whole political uni-verse begin first to shake and then disintegrate and totally revamp the preconditions on which a new such universe could be predicated.

Let me use this recollection to make two points: about the way historical processes work, and about the historical logic that presides over the rise and fall of political structures.

History never stops, it moves, but we have seen over time that it does not move at constant velocity. There are phases of stagnation and slow, imperceptible change and there are others of fundamental redefinition and acceleration. The Cold War period that coincided with NATO's 40 years, was a period of deadlock and immobility; the post-World War II order, amid Western efforts at containing Soviet expansion, had congealed, freezing the world in an uncomfortable, paradoxical form of stability. Now, witness the last five years, the momentum of historical change has increased. Revealing unstoppable dynamics, history has accelerated once again, this time in an unprecedented way, raising the question whether the globalisation of politics and the advent of an age of global communications have perhaps propelled us into a new era of a high-pitched evolution of history altogether.

This process of acceleration is not limited to the East-West power equation. New dynamic forces of contemporary history are at work worldwide. Freedom, democracy, market forces, a powerful human imperative aspiring towards free individual and collective choice, human creativity - all of these riding on the fast train of modern technology. They are manifestations of Western political philosophy and most of them derive from Western values.

One can conceptualise post-World War history in terms of a fierce systemic and ideological competition: between the articulations of the great Western liberal tradition and those of authoritarianism, central planning and collectively ordained choice, an ideology based on materialism and communism. In this systemic struggle, these latter forces are today losing out. Oppressive regimes are on the wane worldwide. In the East as elsewhere, the dialectics of power are resolved in a quest for more freedom. Communism is losing out, not only with its ideological connotations, but in its lack of ability to satisfy the individual and collective needs of large post-industrial societies. Communist regimes stand in the way of evolution, of growth, of the knowledge revolution, of the full realisation of human potential.

Change in the East thus follows an implacable historical logic. The status quo cannot be restored, nor can it be temporarily patched up. The logic of freedom is absolute. The dismantling of ideology creates uncertainties, a transitional stage. Communism has lost, but it is not clear what exact societal forms will replace it or whether the transition can be managed in a way that will facilitate and not impede the emergence of a more cooperative and peaceful Eastern European world, susceptible of being integrated into a more secure and stable system of European states.

The dismantling of ideology and the dismantling of empires are long and painful processes. Setbacks and reversals are possible. The road to victory for democratic values is strewn with the rocks of delays and potential crises. There are opportunities and risks. The challenge history has in store for us in the decades to come is to maximise the first and to harness and minimise the second.

NATO was created to preserve peace and the territorial integrity of the core group of Western states at a time of historical stagnation and the menace of the Cold War age. NATO's determination has stabilised the East-West power
equation over 40 years and created the reassurance and permanence of peace that has allowed for the full realisation of our democratic potential and wealth-generating capability. NATO's success is almost total. Even the containment of Soviet expansionism now produces the long-foreseen mellowing of the Soviet system.

With the world rapidly changing, it is logical that the Alliance cannot continue now to do business as before. And, indeed, the face of our Alliance has changed considerably in the last few years and will continue to change. It has gained a new dimension - strengthening its political role. The Alliance is already acting as an instrument of peaceful adaptation, helping the emergence of a new European political order under the auspices of Western values: democracy, freedom, interdependence, self-determination. In the future, greater stability will lie increasingly in the active management of change, in ovrcoming the status quo. NATO's recent Summit has conceptualised the methods to employ in the fulfilment of such management tasks. While the secular endeavour of bringing about systemic change is essentially incumbent on the states of the East, the Allies can assist with constructive action. But as the Summit leaders said the Alliance can - and must - hold out the rewards of our freer and more performing system, encouraging the States of the East to avail themselves of the fruit of systemic change. We clearly set out a three-fold vision: a Europe undivided, a global order of co-operation and a more mature and equal partnership between North America and Europe.

NATO's role is that of a midwife of change. We are not satisfied with the status quo. We want to overcome it. The act of birth of a new system is autonomous. But it can best succeed with prudent and knowledgeable help. Such constructive assistance is not charity; it is role-playing in a performance of history. Reform is in the shared interest of all, East and West alike.
There can be no doubt: NATO supports Gorbachev and the forces of reform in their endeavours as long as they move towards more openness, freedom, democracy, market economics and self-determination. Not only verbally but by deeds. We will assist them politically, economically and by arms control agreements to our mutual benefit.

The bygone age of containment, of the Cold War, has afforded us the comforts of a paradoxical stability. The paradox of that age lay in the fact that this kind of stability was politically and morally untenable. It was not our intention to perpetuate it. In a longer term view that stability was an illusion. It was stability on borrowed time. Lasting stability requires that people live reconciled with their life styles, with their ability to realise values, with their governments. Clear analysis will prevent us from indulging in a false nostalgia for these times. It is not our task to save communism or to stabilize communist regimes against the will of their own peoples. Our goal is to assist the transformation of communism and its transition towards freedom, democracy and self-determination. Our interest is to see this happen in an evolutionary and peaceful way. Nobody can be interested to see the systemic change in the East result in violent crashes. The consequences might be disastrous.

I see current Soviet thinking on the future shape of Europe, ill-defined and ambiguous as it still is, as the disillusioned quest for the retention of a European status quo. However, Soviet thought is evolving, and it may evolve in time towards a more mature view. But the concept of a Common European House must not be used to freeze processes of structural change nor must it be used to create an artificial dividing line between the Europeans and their transatlantic partners.

Self-determination for all Europeans is the call of the future and the Germans must participate in it as much as anybody else. That principle is absolute - and contested by no one in the West. In refusing to recognise this historical reality the current East German government is exacerbating its internal problems.

There is no question of interference, provocation or even revanchism on our part. We share a common interest in limiting the explosiveness of events. But nobody will stop natural aspirations of human beings for freedom and dignity to pave their way through history. Suppression and dictatorship can and will not last for ever. The question is not if but when and how democracy will win.
A central component of our challenge will be to reshape the political and military architecture of Europe. So we are trying:

  1. To devise the political structures which will allow for a continuation of the West European process of unification, while offering East European states a perspective of ever closer cooperation, and an increasing measure of economic participation;

  2. To design a new security system of military stability on the basis of reduced levels of weapons and non-offensive force postures.
There are many options, there are many pitfalls. The key value to my view would appear to be the stability and strength of our own Western structures. However our own thoughts on the future of the European Com-munity, the Western European Union, the Council of Europe, the CSCE framework will evolve - they will not square with Gorbachev's concept of a Common European Home in its present form.

Twice in this century, each time in a post-war environment, the attempt has been undertaken to create a stable order of states in Europe. The crucial contribution to a stable future was made after the Second World War with the inclusion of the United States of America and the firm commitment of the USA to the destiny of Europe. Our stability and mutual reassurance stems from our transatlantic cohesion. This insight must preside over the present third-major effort of this century to remodel the European community of states. The Alliance must play an essential role in the management of a Western integrated strategy vis-a-vis the East, functioning increasingly as a conceptual focus for defining the Western role in the management of change in Eastern Europe. That is my interpretation of the course the NATO Summit charted with a view to overcoming Europe's division.

And what of our rationale for defence in response to comprehensive change? Why is defence still necessary in the age of perestro'ka and glasnost? There is no need to cite here the whole list of valid reasons: the primary fact remains that the military potentials stacked up against the Alliance have not yet significantly decreased, whatever the prospects of Soviet unilateral reductions, and of dramatic progress in arms control. No doubt the Soviet military machine is being re-dimensioned in a major way, but the transition period will be long and difficult and the outcome uncertain. Our task will be to influence this process prudently, to be prepared for periods in which reversals occur and in which the feeling of reassurance and confidence in a less militarily marked future are shaken. However positively arms control and the general East-West relationship will develop, geo-strategic factors and the gigantic size of the Soviet Union will be immutable. This means that it cannot be handled without an effective coalition security structure in Western Europe. NATO remains the only way of providing this underpinning of stable security, as a predictable and cohesive negotiating partnership for difficult years to come. This is especially true in a time of historic transition full of instability, uncertainty and unpredictability.

There is a fine line to be drawn between our deliberate planning and forward thinking in anticipation of a successful conclusion in Vienna, and a premature one-sided restructuring of our own defence potential. If we build down our defence lightheartedly, we would only undermine our CFE negoti-ating position and the restructuring of our defences afterwards. And we would not even do the Eastern forces of political reform a favour. Their efforts to peacefully reform their countries can only be strengthened by the perception of their supporters and rivals that there is no military solution to their problems.
Our armed forces must be modern and effective at all times. Allowing them to age and decay, based on the mere hope of future reductions and restructuring would be a recipe for insecurity. Let us not forget that the Soviets, even under the auspices of economic crisis and with the prospect of having to relinquish huge, over-proportionate numbers of forces, continue to modernise their forces across the entire spread of their arsenals. Specifically we must be aware that their current reductions are coupled with the simultaneous mod-ernisation and streamlining of residual forces.

The security gains from a successful CFE agreement will be enormous, and the promise of ongoing negotiations in the 1990s, aiming at a more defensive structure of the Eastern side at yet lower numbers, even more attractive. Now is the time to provide to our populations a rationale for the ineluctable fact that a nuclear posture will nevertheless remain essential for the Alliance. But the role of nuclear weapons, as the ultimate guarantor of peace will be unaffected by any measure of conventional arms build-down - it will even be strengthened. At lower levels of conventional forces, the stabilising effects of a well-conceived residual nuclear posture would even become more apparent. The Alliance's Comprehensive Concept of Arms Control and Disar-mament states this principle with unmistakeable clarity. It also stresses that our nuclear needs for the future must retain a highly stratified and diversified structure, whatever the numbers of weapons needed to retain essential deter-rent options. There are now first indications that the East, beyond the facile talk of denuclearisation, may come to accept the basically stabilising effect of a cooperatively structured, nuclear element on the part of both alliances.

In London one year ago, I called on the Soviet Union to join in our concept of nuclear deterrence, at lower levels of weapons. I said, on that occasion, that it "would be very odd if the Alliance were to jeopardize its policy of deterrence just at a time when there are prospects of making the Soviet leadership understand the importance of its contribution to maintaining the sort of stability in Europe that is the necessary precondition for peaceful change".

We now hear Soviet experts speak of minimum deterrence - Gorbachev himself has used that term. This is important movement in the right direction. I, for one, find the term "minimum deterrence" misleading: what we really want is maximum deterrence with a minimum of weapons. What needs to be retained from this novel Soviet concept is that it could well provide a starting point for the establishment of stable yet relatively small deterrent structures to underpin the future East-West security equation. In this sense I find myself rather encouraged.

All of the objectives I have set out for you are only achievable if the transatlantic partnership holds good. As our Summit leaders stressed last May, none of us can do it alone. All our resources and all our imagination and moral strength are needed, on both sides of the Atlantic, to play our role of midwife of change in the East while maintaining security in difficult times of transition. Throughout its 40-year history, NATO has always had the vital role of managing the intra-Alliance relationship. We have never allowed strife and diversity of interest - so natural among 16 sovereign states - to get in the way of our common endeavour.

All Allies have equal significance, enjoy equal privileges and the common benefit of security, share the common responsibilities in ways that make each and every one indispensable. But, as a matter of sheer geography and size of the two countries, the German-American relationship has always been of pivotal importance. No Ally needs America more than the Germans; no other Allied country had a stronger and more beneficial role in the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany. Partners of uneven size and uneven power in the early decades, the two countries now grow more and more into a mature partnership based on a higher level of mutual political responsibility. I am deeply convinced that our two countries have a rewarding and an assured joint future before them and this clearly benefits the whole Alliance.

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