Willkommen auf den Seiten des Auswärtigen Amts
(check against delivery)
Excellencies, Generals, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, friends, liebe Landsleute,
It’s great that so many of the wider NATO family have made it to the Palais des Colonies in Tervuren tonight to celebrate this special day with us.
As a historian and diplomat I sometimes ask myself what dates like the 3rd of October 1990 or the 9th of November 1989 tell us today, three decades later. That could easily be the topic of a two-hour-speech. But don’t worry – I won’t keep you that long! I know that I am currently the only thing standing between you and the hopefully excellent cocktail dînatoire, so I will limit myself to some brief remarks on three lessons that might be drawn from the years 1989 and 1990.
The first lesson to be remembered is that the courageous people in the GDR, Poland and Czechoslovakia who brought down the Communist regimes stood up for freedom, dignity and respect for human rights, not for their nations’ superiority. The many thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Berlin, Leipzig, Gdańsk, Prague and so many other places wanted to „return to Europe“ as they expressed it, to a greater Europe based on freedom and democracy. On one of the photos in the exhibition you can see a poster that reads „Freedom is indivisible“. The peaceful revolutions of 30 years ago were not about pitching nation against nation or pulling up the drawbridge, but rather about tearing down walls and opening borders.
It was no coincidence that only a few weeks after German reunification, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe was signed in November 1990. It envisioned an enduring, just and peaceful order for the entire European continent based on shared values and principles.
No one has offered a better vision since then – but it seems that today we are further away from this vision than we were in 1990.
The ongoing conflict in and around Ukraine or the end of the INF Treaty show how far the crisis in European security architecture has advanced. Another fundamental shift also worries me, namely the fact that the rules-based liberal order has come under enormous pressure. It has become popular once again to try to turn countries into fortresses. Multilateral cooperation and partnership are being dismissed more and more.
But history teaches us that nationalism or going it alone do not offer a plan for a sustainable and peaceful future. In a world characterised to a far greater extent than in the Cold War era by immense strategic uncertainty and unpredictability, we need more, rather than less, global cooperation.
The Atlantic Alliance is a key pillar of a cooperative international order. For 70 years now, it has bound our nations together on the basis of our shared values – values that also inspired those who brought down the Berlin Wall 30 years ago.
The fact that 29, and soon 30 nations, plan together, conduct joint exercises, work in joint missions and operations, such as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, and consult one another on a daily basis on all security policy issues is the right answer to those who think that going it alone will solve the problems of the 21st century. So it is in the interest of us all to make the Alliance even stronger!
The second message of the years 1989 and ’90 is that diplomacy matters! Those years were a time of immense upheaval, and a lot could have gone wrong. Indeed, many things do tend to go wrong when regimes fall. It was different in those years thanks to the courage of leaders like the Hungarian Government, who opened the border in September 1989 for GDR refugees, and the responsible conduct and the wisdom of the politicians and diplomats of the time. We also owe it to them that the division of Germany was overcome peacefully within less than a year following the 9th of November 1989 and with the agreement of all our neighbours. This truly was a masterpiece of diplomacy. Courage and diplomacy based on trust and mutual respect can resolve even seemingly intractable problems. Seeking cooperation and striving for political solutions are among the core principles of our Alliance as well.
Allow me to mention a third lesson. It has become popular to talk about how dangerously difficult our world has become. Indeed, looking at the many crises in our neighbourhood one may come to the conclusion that the world is out of joint. The history of German unification shows that it pays to stay the course even in stormy waters. So let us not follow the doomsayers or those who preach simplistic solutions ostensibly in the name of the people. Let us not give up on what makes us who we are as democratic nations and as an alliance, namely first and foremost our values. The courage and the perseverance of these great women and men who brought down the Communist regimes 30 years ago are still a source of inspiration for all of us today. Sometimes the so-called idealists of today turn out to be the realists of tomorrow.
This year we are also commemorating the eightieth anniversary of the start of the Second World War. This anniversary reminds us Germans that it was by no means self-evident following World War II and the horrendous crimes committed by Nazi Germany for our European neighbours and our partners across the Atlantic to accept Germany back as a member of the international community and as a free and sovereign country.
This required a lot of trust in Germany – trust that was built over decades, including through Germany’s integration into NATO and the European Community. Without NATO, Germany wouldn’t have been offered what the German-American historian Fritz Stern once called a „second chance“. This „second chance“ comes with responsibility – including responsibility to make the Alliance even stronger and better. Please rest assured that my country will continue to assume this responsibility by playing its part in missions and operations such as those in Afghanistan and Lithuania, by enhancing its capabilities and by increasing its defence spending. We do this because we owe it to this Alliance and to our allies, but also because we know that NATO is the bedrock of our security and the core of the transatlantic partnership.
Finally, let me say many thanks to all of you who worked with our delegation throughout the year and to my colleagues in the delegation for their hard work and for organising this event. Eve and I hope you will have a great time this evening. Enjoy yourselves and please try some German beer and wine!