Updated: 10 June 1999 NATO Speeches


of the North
at the level
of Heads
of State
and Government

23 Apr. 1999


by the President of the United States, William J. Clinton

Mr. Secretary General,
leaders of NATO,
other distinguished foreign guests,
my fellow Americans,

It is a profound honour for the United States to welcome NATO back to Washington for its 50th anniversary, an occasion to honour NATO's past, to reaffirm its present mission in Kosovo, to envision its future.

In 1949, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel prize, the American novelist, William Faulkner, acknowledged the fear of nuclear holocaust that then gripped the world. But he declared firmly that humanity will not merely endure, it will prevail. In that same year, 12 nations came here to pledge to vindicate that fate. They were North Americans and Europeans determined to build a new Europe on the ruins of the old, through a mutual commitment to each other's security and freedom.

In this auditorium, the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, said that NATO's fundamental aim was not to win a war that would after all leave Europe ravaged, but to avoid such a war and I quote "by becoming together strong enough to safeguard the peace". He was right. No member of NATO has ever been called upon to fire a shot in anger to defend an Ally from attack. The American Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, said that NATO would free the minds of men in many nations from a haunting sense of insecurity and enable them to work and plan with confidence in the future, and he was right.

NATO bought time for the Marshall Plan. It encouraged Allies to pool their military and economic strength instead of pitting it against their neighbours. The Prime Minister of Canada, Lester Pearson, predicted that the NATO Pact's achievement would extend beyond the time of emergency which gave it birth or the geographical area which it now includes, and he too was right.

NATO gave hope to West Germany and confidence to Greece and Turkey. Ultimately, NATO helped to break the grip of the Cold War. Yesterday, Europe divided by an arbitrary line, on one side free people living in fear of aggression and on the other, people living in tyranny who wanted to be free. Today, thanks in no small measure to NATO, most of Europe is free and at peace.

Today, we are joined by the leaders of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic whose descent into darkness helped to spark NATO's creation. Today, they are a part of NATO, pledged to defend what was too long denied to them. So we say to Prime Minister Orbn, President Havel, President Kwasniewski, welcome to NATO, welcome home to the community of freedom.

As we look to the future we know that for the first time in history we have a chance to build a Europe truly undivided, peaceful and free. But we know there are challenges to that vision, in the fragility of new democracies and the proliferation of deadly weapons and terrorism, and surely in the awful spectre of ethnic cleansing in southeastern Europe, where Mr. Milosevic, first in Croatia and Slovenia, then in Bosnia, now in Kosovo, has enflamed ancient hatreds to gain and maintain his power. He is bent on dehumanising, indeed destroying, a whole people and their culture, and in the process driving his own people to deep levels of distress. We are in Kosovo because we want to replace ethnic cleansing with tolerance and decency, violence with security, disintegration with restoration, isolation with integration into the rest of the region and the continent. We want southeastern Europe to travel the same road as western Europe half a century ago, and central Europe a decade ago. But we are fundamentally there because the Alliance will not have meaning in the 21st century if it permits the slaughter of innocents on its doorstep. This is not a question of territorial conquest or political domination, but standing for the values that made NATO possible in the first place.

This is the mission of NATO at the age of fifty, on the edge of a new century, determined to reach forward into the future with a united continent, with a collective defence, remaining open to new members from the Baltics to the Black Sea, remaining committed to work with Partners for peace and progress, including Russia and Ukraine and others who are willing to work for the values and the future we dream of.

This is the kind of Alliance we come to this Summit to reaffirm and build for the future. Almost a hundred years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt said something that could well be applied to a united Europe and to our united transatlantic Alliance today. Of America's coming of age in the world he said we have no choice as to whether we will play a great part in the world. That has been determined for us by fate, by the march of events. The only question is whether we will play it well or ill.

Our nations played our part well after World War II, from the Berlin airlift to the founding of NATO to the restoration of hope and confidence in western Europe. We played it well after the Cold War, from the reunification of Germany to the enlargement of NATO to the support we have offered democratic, open government in Russia and Ukraine, and the reach-out we have done to other Partners for Peace. We played it well when we joined together to end the slaughter in Bosnia. Now we rise as we must to this new and fundamental challenge to the peace and humanity of Europe. Our message is clear, peace and humanity will prevail in Kosovo. The refugees will go home. They will have security. They will have their self-government. The last European dictatorship of the 20th century will not destroy Europe's long-awaited chance to live at last together in peace and freedom.

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