Updated: 23-Aug-2001 1990

[ '45-'49 | '50-'59 | '60-'69 | '70-'79 | '80-'89 | '90-'99 | '00- ]
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The last decade of the century opens with events no less astounding then those of the previous year. Change follows change in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Gorbachev, a popular figure in the West but a mistrusted one in his own country, announces that political pluralism will be introduced and the domination of the Soviet Communist Party ended.

Discussions between East and West herald both an Open Skies Treaty and negotiated reductions cutting back conventional forces in Europe. Talk turns to the unification of Germany, symbol of the divided Europe now fast disappearing.

The breathless pace of change does not stop. Further impossibilities of the old order become realities in the new one. The three Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia embark on the road to independence. East German citizens vote massively for "Alliance for Germany" and their government translates their decision into action by declaring itself in favour of unification and membership of the whole of Germany in the NATO Alliance. In Hungary, democracy wins a decisive victory in free elections.

The point of no return is reached when the borders between Czechoslovakia, Austria and Germany are opened and new found freedom to travel is seized upon by Czech citizens and their Eastern neighbours.

By the Spring of 1990, the Warsaw Pact, the mechanism which bound Eastern Europe to the will of the Soviet military leadership, begins to dismantle itself. Hungarian Prime Minister Josef Antall announces his government's decision to withdraw from it.
Another new development brings Albania - long excluded by its own government from the affairs of the international community - into the 35 nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. As if reluctant to switch the lights - and the old Europe - back on, Western governments observe the transformation of the political map of Europe with caution. Many of their most cherished political goals are becoming reality before their eyes. Public opinion too is stunned by the speed of events and waits to see where the momentum will stop.

With the domino progression of change in Europe's fifty -year old status quo, Alliance Foreign Ministers seize the moment. In a little known declaration of immense symbolic significance, NATO's "Message from Turnberry" extends to the Soviet Union and all European countries the hand of cooperation and friendship. This message, which is nothing less than a proposal to put past animosities aside for the sake of future cooperation, contained the seeds of many of the positive developments which are to follow.

By July 1990, progress towards German unification is taking on concrete form. Monetary union is established as the first practical step. In NATO, with a Summit meeting scheduled to take place in London within days, there is uncertainty about the course to take.

The wheels of multinational diplomacy, accustomed to turn slowly when no immediate crisis threatens, begin to rotate more rapidly. The scale of Eastern Europe's transformation calls for a response no less significant from the West. It comes in the form of the London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance. This contains a plan of action for developing cooperation between East and West and initiates diplomatic contacts between NATO and its former adversaries as the first step towards genuine cooperation.

August 1990 to March 1991. The world stage is dominated by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the efforts of the international community to head off the inevitable conflict which ensues. The overall responsibility of the United Nations for maintaining peace and security is severely challenged. A coalition against the Iraqi aggression forms to enforce UN Security Council decisions. NATO is not formally involved but its member countries draw extensively on NATO experience and expertise in creating this multinational force. Can the world draw lessons from the conflict and devise new methods of safeguarding the future security of small states?