17 May 1990
Atlantic Alliance and European Security
in the 1990s
by Secretary General, Manfred Wörner
to the Bremer Tabaks Collegium
History does not always flow evenly like a stream. There are phases in
which it moves more slowly, and phases in which Brussels rapidly; phases
when the momentum of events quickens; indeed when those events even outpace
one another. Today we are experiencing this acceleration of history. The
shape of our European political landscape is being transformed decisively.Europe
is in search of a new form for itself. We still cannot tell what this
will ultimately be, but certain contours are nonetheless already visible.
As is always the case in such phases of historical transition, new and
bold perspectives and possibilities are being created; yet in our path
we also find new risks and dangers.
The opportunity: it is to finally realize our vision of a free and united
Europe based on a secure and lasting order of peace. In this respect it
is not of cardinal importance what we call it: whether European Peace
Order, or Common European Home or European Confederation. What is important
is the substantive content of such an order: human rights and free choice
for all its citizens, equality before the law, openness of borders, self-determination,
democracy and the protection of minority rights. This is what we have
to insist on. The current debate on a future security structure for Europe
is focussed far too much on procedural and structural matters. It would
be better if instead we emphasized the substance of such an order. It
is already contained in the three baskets of the CSCE process which we
need to reinforce and to translate into a set of legally binding undertakings.
First and foremost are the universal values on which our Atlantic Community
has been based since its very inception. These values are now in the ascendant
throughout the world, and hopefully this time for good. The aspiration
for freedom, democracy and a market-oriented economic system rooted in
freedom is the driving force of history these days. The historical mission
that falls to our generation is to assist this dynamic process, to steer
it towards our vision and to undergird it with the necessary degree of
stability. It thus also defines the basic task of our Atlantic Alliance
which is the foremost community of destiny and of joint consultation and
endeavour that we have in the free world today.
Yet the risks bound up with the transition of our European states system
are unmistakable. There is the risk of instability in internal as well
as external developments, with even the danger of collapse. There are
enormous problems associated with the building of democracy and with economic
restructuring in Central and Eastern Europe. There are old national and
ethnic rivalries that we thought had been overcome; border and minority
questions are again rearing their heads. Nobody knows what is going to
happen tomorrow in the Soviet Union, against the background of a Soviet
military might that remains formidable. And to these risks we must add
also those coming from the Third World: the proliferation of ballistic
missile technology, and of chemical and nuclear weapons. Eternal peace
is still nothing more than a sweet dream. Old-fashioned power politics
is still the order of the day. Thus the other part of our current mission
is to master these dangers and to contain or even eliminate the risks.
If we are to fulfil both parts of our historical mission, then we absolutely
must have a strong, constructive partnership between the two major Western
organisations : the Atlantic Alliance and the European Community. In this
phase of our history, we need more urgently than ever a sense of common
purpose, stability and cooperation with the United States. Without the
Atlantic Alliance there can be no cohesion and unity throughout the Free
World, no transatlantic partnership, no security and stability. Without
the European Community there can be no closer union of the European nations,
no economic prosperity, and no creative dynamism.
and the EC
The Atlantic Alliance and the European Community are not rivals. They
are complementary. They work in unison. Where their areas of competence
overlap, we need practical understandings but not new institutions. We
can come to such practical understandings because our two organisations
have many common members; we can also use unbureaucratic contacts between
the European Commission and the NATO International Staff. The Atlantic
Alliance has an interest in a stronger and more united Europe - going
all the way to political union, including a European defence identity
within the broader Atlantic framework. In fact today we need this more
than ever as we face enormous tasks that make it imperative to combine,
not fragment all the forces of the free West, including those of North
The most important tasks are:
How could we possibly complete these tasks if we abandon the Atlantic Alliance
or tolerate its dissolution? That would be a serious historical mistake.
- to support the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in their efforts
to build democracy and successful economies. Without our help, they
stand no chance;
- to assist Gorbachev and those forces working for reform as long as
their reforms seek to promote democracy, freedom, pluralism and the
. market economy;
- to build a new security system for the whole of Europe;
- to firmly anchor a united Germany in this security system as well
as in the structures of the West - the European Community and NATO;
- to extend the process of disarmament and to ensure its speedy progress;
- as in the past, to prevent war and to make the threat of military
The Atlantic Alliance:
- has led the United States away from isolationism and towards a lasting
commitment to uphold peace and stability in Europe; it will continue
to do this in the future;
- keeps the military might of the Soviet superpower in Europe in check;
- has transformed nuclear weapons into a peacekeeping instrument. As
arms control can reduce but never disinvent the nuclear weapon, Europeans
would be well-advised to retain the controlling structure that the Alliance
of Security Management -from Peace-keeping to Peace-building
The Atlantic Alliance has become a unique model of the collective management
of security among free countries. It has created a political as well as
a military partnership among sovereign states. This is an essential reason
for its success in fostering peace. Now we must progress from peace-keeping
This stabilizing framework of the Alliance has also contributed to protecting
the neutral states of Europe, and the newly-democratizing nations of Central
and Eastern Europe recognize that without NATO they would not have regained
their independence and freedom - and indeed could not retain them.
Without the stabilizing framework of our Alliance, Europe could once again
become vulnerable to the shifting alliances and power politics of the
past. Security would be "renationalized". The lessons of European
history are clear on the subject of states seeking alone for their security.
Our challenge is to extend security without diminishing it. Neither the
European Community nor the CSCE process, either individually or jointly,
can substitute for the Atlantic Alliance in preserving security and freedom
for the whole of Europe. Only the Atlantic Alliance can bind the United
States and Canada to Europe; only it can guarantee that change can unfold
without fear of setbacks and reversals. Only it can coordinate the West's
grand strategy for peace and the securing of democratic values in the
new Europe and anchor a united Germany in the West under conditions of
maximum security for both itself and its neighbours.
European Security Structure
The primary task of the next decade will be to build a new European security
structure, to include the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations. The
Soviet Union will have an important role to play in the construction of
such a system. If you consider the current predicament of the Soviet Union,
which has practically no allies left, then you can understand its justified
wish not to be forced out of Europe.
Such a European security structure will have the job of organizing a security
partnership of the European states to overcome the rigid hostility of
the Cold War years, and to progress from confrontation to cooperation.
Two alternatives are currently being discussed : a structure of collective
security in which the two alliances would be dissolved in favour of a
cooperative security organization; or one that is built around existing
structures - the Atlantic Alliance and the European Community - and which
works like an overarching framework, binding them together and extending
Only this second alternative is a serious option for us, because, if history
is anything to go by, a collective security system would only work if
all the participating states had perfectly concordant interests. When
one state has to guarantee the security of all the other states, it really
is in no position to give any concrete guarantee to anyone in the event
of a conflict. A collective security system depends on permanent goodwill
on all sides. In essence it only operates until it is put to its first
serious test - and then it breaks up into mutually antagonistic alliances
and power blocs. The pre-war League of Nations is our best example of
this. Thus we have to build the future European security architecture
on existing structures and to further develop those forms of cooperation
that are already available to us.
We have the following elements of such an architecture:
The CSCE process
This already offers us the embryon of a future security architecture.
Under its aegis, the 35 participating nations can shape their relationship
in a spirit of togetherness and concrete cooperation. We therefore have
to develop the CSCE, bringing in new elements, such as the right to
free elections - and also to institutionalize it. Then we can make good
use of it as a forum for regular consultations over security, confidence-building,
crisis prevention and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
We have to extend the process of arms control and take it further to
the point when no European nation or collection of nations can any longer
threaten another with military force, or hope to launch a successful
This is the most promising and attractive model of political integration
with its goal of a political union and the prospect of associating other
European nations. It even offers the prospect of a future European confederation.
This gives us history's most successful model of an Alliance of sixteen
free and sovereign states for the collective preservation of their security.
This Alliance is united and determined; and it is capable of fulfilling
its future tasks.
The CSCE cannot fulfil these tasks, not now or in the future. It lacks
the power to decide and implement sanctions. All of its 35 member states
have the right of veto. The interests, social structures and value systems
that make up the CSCE are still far too diverse for them to be able
in the event of conflict to formulate or to impose a common security
policy. This will be all the more difficult if one or more of them are
engaged in the conflict in question. This does not in any way restrict
the usefulness of CSCE as a medium for confidence building. But it cannot
replace the Atlantic Alliance which will remain an essential pillar
of the future European security architecture.
The other primary task is to anchor a united Germany firmly into the
institutional structures of the West, the EC and NATO.
Three basic considerations determine our Alliance policy:
- Neutrality or non-alignment of the united Germany are not acceptable
for us. They would destabilize Europe and take us back to the days of
balance of power diplomacy, of alliances and counter-alliances.
- The united Germany must not be subjected to any discriminatory special
regimes. They would only produce resentment sooner or later. On this
point too, history teaches us a sobering lesson.
- We have to find solutions that respect the legitimate security interests
of all the participants - including the Soviet Union. I emphasize: all
participants; in other words not only the Soviet Union. That nation
has a right to expect that German unification and Germany's membership
of the Atlantic Alliance will not prejudice its security. But it is
also clear that it cannot expect us to put NATO's existence on the line
and thus give it something that it never succeeded in obtaining in the
past, even at the height of its power. The West cannot respond to the
erosion of the Warsaw Pact with the weakening or even dissolution of
the Atlantic Alliance; the only response is to establish a security
framework that embraces both alliances : in other words one that draws
the Soviet Union into a cooperative Europe.
We are already in the process of examining our strategy and our Alliance
tasks, and of adapting them to changed circumstances. Yet nobody can expect
us to deprive NATO of its core security function and its ability to prevent
war. Our strategy and our Alliance are exclusively defensive. They threaten
no-one, neither today nor tomorrow. We will never be the first to use
our weapons. We are prepared for radical disarmament, right down to the
minimum level that we must retain to guarantee our security.
This will also be true of a united Germany in NATO. The very fact that
we are ready not to deploy NATO troops beyond the territory of the Federal
Republic gives the Soviet Union firm security guarantees. Moreover we
could conceive of a transitional period during which a reduced number
of Soviet forces could remain stationed in the present-day GDR. This will
meet Soviet concerns about not changing the overall East-West strategic
balance. Soviet politicians are wrong to claim that German membership
of NATO will lead to instability. The opposite is true. Europe including
the Soviet Union would gain stability. It would also gain a genuine partner
in the West ready to cooperate.
We have left behind us the old friend/foe mind-set and the confrontational
outlook. We do not need enemies nor threat perceptions. We do not look
upon the Soviet Union as the enemy. We want that nation to become our
partner in ensuring security. On the other hand, we expect the Soviet
Union not to see us as a military pact directed against it or even threatening
it. Instead we wish the Soviet Union to see our Alliance as an open and
cooperative instrument of stability in an over-arching European security
system. We are not proposing something to the Soviet Union which is against
its interests. What we have to offer can only be to its advantage. I am
confident that this insight will gradually gain ground in Moscow, especially
as the other Warsaw Pact countries see things the same way as we do.
From what I have said, I think it is clear how crucial NATO's political
role will be in the future. We do not have to invent such a political
role for ourselves. From its very inception, the Atlantic Alliance was
more than just a military pact, even if during the Cold War years the
military aspects perforce overshadowed the political ones. It has always
been a community of values and a community of destiny among free nations,
and today more so than ever on both counts. Thus in today's changed circumstances
the Alliance's new political tasks are a logical extension of this fundamental
- As a community of destiny the Alliance has the task of coordinating
the policies of its members:
- to shape East-West relations;
- to help construct a new democratic and peaceful European states
- to guide and verify arms control.
- As a community of values:
- to shape West-West relations; in other words, to maintain a vibrant
- to bring the various interests of its members into harmony and
to identify the common denominator;
- to tackle new security problems and to develop collective solutions;
- in short: to shape the future course of peace.
Yet no matter how crucial the political character of the Atlantic Alliance
now is, and no matter how important its political tasks, we must never
forget one thing : its primary function is to maintain peace; only on
that basis can we successfully deploy our efforts to build a more peaceful
Neither policies to promote detente, nor arms control nor diplomacy by
themselves can prevent war. We cannot dispense with military efforts in
the context of a coherent and credible defence posture. For this reason
NATO will also remain a defensive Alliance. Even if there is now no danger
of a direct attack by the Soviet Union, there are still considerable risks
to our security. The situation in the Soviet Union itself is extremely
unstable and we cannot base our security solely on the good intentions
of a Soviet leader. People and intentions can change.
The Soviet Union still has enormous military capabilities; under any scenario
it will still be the dominant European power on the Eurasian continent.
If we allow our defence to fall away and our Alliance to fall apart,
the Soviet Union could be tempted in a crisis to use force against us,
or at least to threaten us with force. Who would then respond?
Our defence efforts are thus indispensable for the foreseeable future
to guarantee peace and to provide us with the necessary element for crisis
management. War at the close of the twentieth century is so potentially
catastrophic that we cannot take its prevention less seriously merely
because it is now less likely.
Nevertheless the changed threat perception and the progress of arms control
now enable us to adjust our defence efforts, our defence planning and
strategy to today's different circumstances. We have already begun this
work. A series of NATO ministerial meetings this spring and summer - culminating
in a Summit early in July - will point the way ahead.
We will review our strategy and adjust it to the changed circumstances.
We will significantly reduce types and numbers of our nuclear weapons,
and we will gain the initiative also in the field of nuclear disarmament.
In the future we will meet our task of war prevention and defence with
fewer soldiers and weapons, with a lower level of readiness, less stationed
troops and a higher dependence on force mobilization. We are going to
modify the operational implementation of our strategic principle of forward
defence. Electronic in-telligence and command and communications systems
will become more important. So will multinational units. In the next set
of arms control negotiations, we will try to engage the Soviet Union in
the quest for a common definition of minimal deterrence. A minimum of
nuclear weapons will, however, also be needed in the future to prevent
war. A denuclearization of Germany or of Europe as a whole would only
leave us vulnerable to nuclear blackmail and would make conventional war
once again feasible. The complete elimination of nuclear weapons would
not bring more, but less security.
One thing is of particular importance : that we maintain a coherent, integrated
defence and defence planning structure, including German forces. It would
not be a good thing if each Ally were to reduce according to its fancy,
without prior consultation within the Alliance and with the other Allies.
From all I have said, it is clear that NATO is by no means obsolete. Quite
the reverse. For each of its three roles, it is indispensable.
- In its role as a political alliance and community of values for the
free world: as an instrument of change and peace-building.
- In its role as the transatlantic alliance: as the link and foundation
that binds North America and Europe together in a community of destiny.
- In its role as a security alliance: as an instrument to preserve
peace and as a framework of stability that is the precondition of positive
At the same time, our Alliance is changing with the new times and through
time. Already during the last two years it has begun to adjust to changed
circumstances in the definition of its tasks, substance and policies.
This adjustment will continue for some time yet. The centre of gravity
of our Alliance is shifting
- from confrontation to cooperation,
- from a military to a political Alliance,
- from deterrence to protection against risks and the guarantee of stability,
- from peace-keeping to peace-building,
- from a US-led Alliance to a genuine partnership with the Europeans
now playing an equal leadership role.
The forthcoming NATO Summit will consecrate this new sharing of leadership
roles within the Alliance, and it will produce a broad-ranging strategy
for the changing Europe of the nineties.
Europe has a basic choice: either it lapses back into the old power
politics and balance of power diplomacy of past centuries or it moves
ahead along the road leading to a new order of peace and freedom, whether
this be based on multinational or supranational cooperation. Our choice
is clear: we are going forward. Our Alliance together with the European
Community is the most successful model of such multinational cooperation.
It is and will remain our best guarantee for a future of security and