Updated: 19-Apr-2005 NATO Speeches


18 Apr. 2005

Video interview

with Ambassador Rüdiger Reyels, German Permanent Representative to NATO

Audio file .MP3/6836Kb
Video interview

KNUT KIRSTE (Information and Liaison Officer, Public Diplomacy Division, NATO): Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, from NATO headquarters for another session as part of our interview series. My name is Knute Kirste and I am an Information and Liaison Officer in the Public Diplomacy Division.

Today, we bring you an interview with Ambassador Dr. Rüdiger Reyels, permanent representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to NATO on the occasion of the 50 th Anniversary of Germany's membership in the Alliance.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for being with us today. Let me first of all introduce you to our audience. Born in 1941, you studied law in Berlin, Lausanne and Geneva and joined the German Foreign Office in 1973.

You served in Tel-Aviv, Brussels, Bonn and Berlin from 1990 to 1993 as ambassador to Zambia and from 2000 to 2003 as ambassador to Iran before becoming Germany's permanent representative to NATO in the summer of 2003.

Mr. Ambassador, on 6 May 1955, that is 50 years ago, the Federal Republic of Germany joined the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance one year after the idea of a European defence union had failed and the Paris Treaty had entered into force.

On the very same year, the Bundeswehr was founded after an intensive national debate on the rearmament of Germany. This membership in NATO has been the foundation of Germany's post-war integration into the west.

Mr. Ambassador, what does this anniversary mean to your country?

AMBASSADOR DR. RÜDIGER REYELS (German Representative to NATO): First of all, it means to us sovereignty and gratitude. When Germany became a member-state of the North Atlantic Alliance in 1955, my country also regained its sovereignty. Between 1949 and entering into force of the modified Bonn Agreement in 1955, Germany's foreign policy was determined by the allied powers. Germany was not only divided into the Federal Republic of Germany and to GDR but was also an occupied country. In the Federal Republic, the Allied Control Council was the highest authority.

In 1955, the Allied Commissioners became the ambassadors of the United States, the United Kingdom, and of France. The former occupying powers turned into allied and friends. This friendship grew ever closer the more Germany was accepted as a partner in international organizations.

NATO was the most obvious institution where the free and democratic Germany could play its role as an equal among equals. From the outset, Germany's foreign policy has been guided by two constant factors. Its commitment to the fostering of trans-Atlantic relations and to the strengthening of European integration.

Not accidentally, the pace of the European integration process accelerated in the years after 1955. Germany knows peace, prosperity, the rule of law, and freedom in Europe depend both on a strong alliance and an integrated Europe.

The German Constitution, our basic law, obliged us to overcome the separation of Germany. In the early 50s, Germany's accession to NATO prompted highly emotional discussions among my fellow countrymen. Many Germans were worried that our membership in the Alliance might eventually deepen the rift between east and west. (Inaudible) that those who opposed the German NATO membership at that time had the best intention as Germany patriots.

But today, I'm sure no single German would doubt that the partition of Germany was also overcome because of NATO's uncompromising efforts. President Regan appealed to Soviet President Gorbachev to tear this wall down was echoed both by the peoples in Central and Eastern Europe and to Germans living in the GDR and turned out to be successful.

The 50 th anniversary of Germany's NATO membership gives us a unique opportunity to gratefully remember the role the Alliance has played in the history of the Federal Republic. Without the solidarity of our allies, neither the German (inaudible), the famous economic miracle, would have been possible nor could we have adopted our firm stance for a free west Berlin nor ultimately have realized the peaceful reunification of Germany. Thus, Germany owes a great debt of gratitude to the Alliance and we know this.

KNUTE KIRSTE: Quite often, Germany's membership in the Alliance had gone through difficult periods. For example, in the context of NATO's dual track decision on the modernization of nuclear forces at the beginning of the 1980s. Often, NATO was and still is being criticized in Germany or even declared dead only to re-emerge at the centre of our national security debate.

Is this emotional up and down inevitable in the relationship with the Alliance and what is NATO's image in Germany today?

AMBASSADOR DR. RÜDIGER REYELS: Let me start with the second part of your question. NATO will continue to play its role in trans-Atlantic relations. The Alliance remains the cornerstone of our collective defence. In the foreseeable future, no other organization can assume this task. Today, a profoundly transformed NATO is also an excellent and highly-effective instrument for crisis management.

In Germany, there is wide support for the new peace missions in the Balkans and the Middle East. Germans appreciate NATO as they have done over more than four decades of Cold War and the image of the Alliance in Germany in general is excellent. This does not rule out that unspecific Alliance policies occasionally criticism has been voiced in the past. After all, any hot conflict between NATO and the (inaudible) would most likely have been fought on German soil. It's a high price to be paid by Germany.

It can therefore be of no surprise that the overall deterrent strategy of the Cold War as well as some sub-strategic decisions, you have mentioned one of them, were at times controversial. But I do not agree with you that the German public had a constant up and down relationship with the Alliance. On the contrary, German politicians, journalists, scientists, the whole strategic community of our nation is committed to making the Alliance even more effective also in a changed strategic environment.

For us, the ongoing transformation process of the Alliance is not a matter of concern. We welcome the process and we will actively participate in it as in the past.

KNUTE KIRSTE: Ambassador Reyels, over the 50 years of German membership, NATO time and again had been the institutional framework in which German foreign and security policy has evolved. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, for instance, Germany has been increasingly engaged in NATO military missions abroad, in particular in Bosnia-Herzegovina since 1999 in Kosovo and since 2003 also in Afghanistan.

Today, Germany is one of the biggest troop contributors through NATO's military operations. This development, in many respects, was quite new and unexpected for a unified Germany. What does this mean for German foreign and security policy in the long term?

AMBASSADOR DR. RÜDIGER REYELS: Germany's foreign and security policy reflects the changing conditions in Europe and in the world after the demise of Communism and the end of the east-west division. We are facing new challenges. Old patterns no longer work. For us, and I believe both our NATO allies and our partners in the European Union, will agree to this analysis, only a policy will lead to success which is actively supported by all nations concerned and implemented in a solid framework that embraces all of these nations to enable them to contribute to long-lasting crisis responses.

However, to deal with every single challenge we have to define the proper forum. NATO, E.U., OECE, the Council of Europe, United Nations provide complementary platforms, each of them with special capabilities. And in many cases, we work closely together with all of them towards achieving stability like in the Balkans.

Currently, all of us are confronted with a variety of new threats. Global terrorism is generally perceived as a pre-eminent new challenge. Foreign Minister Fischer has called terrorism the biggest threat to our regional and global security at the beginning of the 21 st Century. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the public awareness of the ongoing talks between the E.U. three, Germany, France and the U.K. and Iran, the recent admission by the government of Pakistan of the proliferation of nuclear equipment to Iran, the endangered stability in the Far East due to the nuclear status of North Korea underline the urgency to counter this threat.

Chemical and biological weapons remain a matter of great concern, failed states with Afghanistan being the best example. Failed states and terrorism are living in symbiosis. Our own security is being put at risk if we allow black holes to develop even if they are not in our immediate vicinity.

Germany has participated right from the beginning and on a substantial scale in military operations, conducted in order to respond to the newly-emerging threats. In Kosovo and in Afghanistan, we are currently the biggest troop provider with a total of approximately 5,000 men and women. As for Iraq, Germany is not participating in NATO's training mission inside the country for well-known reasons.

But it has been training since 2004 Iraqi special police forces in the close vicinity. Training of Iraqi military personnel to be employed in special functions is well under way in the United Arab Emirates.

KNUTE KIRSTE: The Alliance itself has been transformed and evolved over the past 50 years. In particular since September 11, the main function and the roles of NATO have changed. For decades, collective defence has been the main purpose of the Alliance, but today, NATO's primary role arguably is the projection of stability beyond the (inaudible) Atlantic area.

If you compare this development with the situation at the time when Germany joined the Alliance, what role does Germany see for NATO today and in the future?

AMBASSADOR DR. RÜDIGER REYELS: Indeed, the challenges to NATO have changed a great deal over the past 50 years, both in substance and in geography. The Alliance going out of area was something totally unthinkable before the turn of the millennium. In response to September 11, the allies decided at the Prague Summit in 2002 to meet the challenges to our security from wherever they may come. Yes, we need to face the new threats posed to our security, be it through weapons of mass destruction, terrorism or failed states with open eyes and we owe it to the security of our societies to invest whatever is necessary to protect them.

NATO will continue to be the guarantor of this security, also in a fundamentally changed environment.

But one thing must also be clear. NATO is neither meant nor designed to act as global policeman. The Alliance must concentrate on the tasks for which it has the necessary expertise while other organizations are called upon to fulfil their complementary civil responsibilities.

We also have to watch the limits of our resources. NATO can only conduct a limited number of operations simultaneously without over-extending not only the capabilities of the Europeans but also the Americans. Recent experience has show how difficult it is to find the necessary forces in order to staff NATO's ongoing missions. For these reasons, it is all the more important that core interests of the Alliance are at stake when shouldering new obligations.

I do not believe that in the future, the military engagement of NATO will be much broader than it is today however different the tasks may be.

But I am of the opinion that NATO will have additional important assets to offer. The Alliance has already embarked on a process of transformation. We know that not the quantity but rather the quality of forces designed to counter the new risks and challenges is important. NATO needs deployable, mobile forces which can be committed to crisis spots also outside the NATO territory as sectors of stability.

These forces should be able to cooperate with other actors such as the UN, the E.U., or the OECE.

The German Feder(?) Armed Forces are well on track with their transformation. We will contribute substantially to a key element of the new NATO, the NATO response force, NRF, a multilateral, highly-mobile force.

Major elements of the NRF are ready today provided by European allies. The NRF will not only give NATO a better quick reaction capability but will also increase the European contribution to the Alliance. I am convinced that Europe growing stronger in terms of its security policy and its military capabilities will improve the structural imbalances between the U.S. and its European and Canadian partners.

Let me make one point: We will both witness in the years to come how the strategic partnership between NATO and the European Union will be filled with life and we will see a strengthened European foreign security and defence policy which is of paramount importance to NATO and will contribute decisively to the creation within the Alliance.

KNUTE KIRSTE: The European Union is by far a more civilian player than NATO. In crisis management, the E.U. can act in a more comprehensive way than the Alliance, which is focused on security policy only. The more the E.U. will be called upon in crisis prevention and a failed post-conflict reconstruction, the closer will its relationship with NATO be.

Bosnia and Herzegovina shows that successful cooperation is taking place already.

KNUTE KIRSTE: Mr. Ambassador, how can NATO help to develop and reform if it is to remain the central place for trans-Atlantic security policy to be decided and implemented? Chancellor Schroeder in his speech at the Munich Security Conference in February has joined others in initiating a debate about the reform of NATO including a more political role for the Alliance.

How do you personally see this issue and how can this reform process be implemented?

AMBASSADOR DR. RÜDIGER REYELS: The Munich speech of Chancellor Schroeder just stated the obvious, pointing to some serious deficiencies in the trans-Atlantic dialogue in the past two years and the need for improvement. Having listened to many comments after Munich, I am convinced that we all agree to the Chancellor's analysis. NATO is and remains the body where trans-Atlantic dialogue on security policy issues should take place.

But we have to ask ourselves how to reinvigorate the instrument which the Alliance provides to us, thus avoiding misunderstandings and unnecessary polarizations as in the past. We need to discuss among allies without any taboos. Only through open debate may we be productive and achieve positive results.

Moreover, the culture of discussion here requires a more concise debate among Europeans in the European institutions as well as between the European Union and the U.S. as suggested by the Chancellor in his Munich speech.

Let me conclude by stating once again, I am convinced that NATO will remain the vital link between Europe and America. The Alliance provides the irreplaceable institutional framework to guarantee our collective security. After all, it is the only place where Americans and Europeans are gathered around the same table and on a daily basis.

Let me add that I am proud to see that our Alliance does not only matter to politicians and diplomats but to our peoples as well. We have no doubt that the German people will back another 50 years of membership in NATO.

KNUTE KIRSTE: Ambassador Reyels, I thank you for this interview.

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