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Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the plenary of the Spring Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on 27 May 2008

27.05.2008 - Speech

Die NATO beweist ganz praktisch, dass sie ein unverzichtbares Bündnis für Frieden, Freiheit und Stabilität ist. Dies unterstrich Bundesaußenministers Frank-Walter Steinmeier bei der Plenarsitzung der Frühjahrstagung der Parlamentarischen Versammlung der NATO in Berlin. Er sprach sich dafür aus, die historische Erfahrung von Blockkonfrontation und ihrer Überwindung neu fruchtbar zu machen.

Translation of advance text

President of the Bundestag,
President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly,
NATO Secretary General, Jaap,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is almost twenty years since the Wall fell in this city, right here behind the Reichstag. In November 1989, not 50 metres from where we are sitting, people fell into each other's arms, danced, celebrated. After 40 years, the Cold War between the political blocs was finally over. This was also a great victory for the transatlantic partnership and for NATO!

When school groups visit Berlin today, they might manage to find a few bits of the Wall at memorial sites and in museums. And to today's young people the crosses in memory of the people who were shot right outside here between 1961 and 1989 as they tried to flee seem almost like monuments from a lost age.

What I am trying to say is this: today's young people are growing up in a new age, in a united Europe, in a world with fewer and fewer borders – in a world in which there is growing awareness that the urgent problems we face can only be solved globally with everyone acting together.

So what does this mean for NATO? What role does the organization play in the new era that dawned with the fall of the Wall? These are questions we have been discussing ever since in many conversations and conferences, including this Parliamentary Assembly. I should like to take this opportunity to say this: your work, NATO's parliamentary link, is crucial in ensuring that the organization's work is strengthened and its democratic anchorage constantly assured. For this I thank you very much indeed.

If there is one thing that distinguishes all of us here from the young people who were not born until after the end of the Cold War, it is perhaps this: none of us finds it quite so easy as they do to switch from the bloc-based thinking which characterized us and our early years to the idea of shared global responsibility. So I believe our most important task is to join together to gradually alter our thinking patterns, some of which still date from the days of the Cold War. Thinking patterns which have stayed with us, in our subconscious. Bits of the Wall left in our heads which block our view of the possibilities inherent in cooperation, in working together across historical and cultural traditions. We need this type of cooperation, because the important challenges of the future can only be resolved if we work together.

We Germans know only too well how hard it is to change such thinking patterns. The people in our country have come a long way over the past 15 years. Many of them found it difficult, still are finding it difficult, to understand that the lesson from two World Wars is not, in fact, to stand back from international conflicts. Many do not find it easy to accept that, at the opposite end of the spectrum, in extreme cases, when no other possibilities remain, international responsibility can mean the use of military force.

Learning processes can be seen to have got underway in other Alliance countries too. For example, there is growing recognition that democracy and the rule of law cannot simply be enforced by military means, that although necessary, they are not in themselves adequate foundations for peace and security.

But despite these learning processes, there is one thing of which we can all be proud: even today NATO demonstrates in a very practical way why it is an indispensable alliance for peace, freedom and stability. You need only look to the Balkans to see that this is so. Our joint engagement in Bosnia, but also in Kosovo – the combination of military protection on the one hand and civil reconstruction on the other – has brought the region greater peace and security and, in the long term, will bring increasing economic stability.

We are cooperating on the basis of this same civil-military concept in Afghanistan too. Unfortunately, however, unlike in the Western Balkans, we cannot yet say that the weapons are silent here. Military engagement remains necessary – and, as the third-largest provider of troops, Germany is making an important contribution to the success of the operation.

The northern region, for which we are responsible, is not the oasis of peace it is sometimes depicted. And we are, as the Tornado deployment and most recently the assumption of responsibility for the Quick Reaction Force show, entirely able to respond to changing military tasks.

This is not to be taken for granted, and justification must be presented to the Bundestag and the public in each specific new case. A public which is definitely somewhat sceptical about this whole operation. I have expended much political energy on this in recent years – and I would like to take this opportunity today to thank all those who have supported me.

But it is equally clear that military logic alone does not lead us to our goal. We must pursue an overall political approach which shows the Afghans that our engagement for peace and stability benefits them and will ultimately bring prosperity. Only in this way will we succeed in getting sceptics among the population on our side and in isolating the irreconcilable sections of the Taliban from the bulk of the population.

This will be the focus of the forthcoming Afghanistan conference in Paris, which we hope will give some impulses towards increased Afghan ownership. I agree with my French colleague: a purely pledging conference is not enough. Rather, we need a political conference that will take a critical look at the situation, and we need durable agreements between the Afghan Government and the international community.

The Charter of Paris, which was agreed by the CSCE states in 1990, contains a clear commitment to democracy and human rights. But not only that: it also sets a standard for security policy that remains valid to this day.

The Charter says: "Security is indivisible and the security of every participating State is inseparably linked to that of all the others. We therefore pledge to cooperate in strengthening confidence and security among us and in promoting arms control and disarmament."

The world has changed since then. New players have emerged and staked their claims. And many are asking: has the great vision of a common area of security from Vancouver to Vladivostok not long since fallen victim to the new complexities?

I believe not! I believe, on the contrary, that we must put the historical experience of bloc-based confrontation and the end of such confrontation to good use. Or, to put it in the words of my esteemed predecessor Hans-Dietrich Genscher: "In an interdependent world, cooperation is the key word for all areas. This requires politics of responsibility rather than the power politics of yesterday."

This leads me to two consequences I'd like to sketch in brief:

The first consequence is that we should again attach the same value within the Alliance to disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation as they had at least since the Harmel Report.

That is why last year, together with my Norwegian colleague, I launched an initiative within NATO to heighten the organization's disarmament profile which fed into the outcome of the Bucharest Summit.

Because arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation most certainly aren't yesterday's news. They will become more and more the key to tomorrow's survival!

More and more states are seeking access to nuclear technology. So, in theory at least, more and more states are in a position to build nuclear weapons. If we do not succeed in the next few years in finding answers that effectively exclude the possibility of military use, there will be the danger of a new global arms spiral – with unforeseeable consequences.

One way, for instance, would be to establish a multilateral enrichment centre under IAEA control. Germany has made a concrete proposal in this regard. Other states – the UK, and Russia too – have developed their own ideas which are now being examined within the IAEA.

There are also signs in the US that disarmament and non-proliferation issues could be seeing a renaissance.

This applies to the field of conventional weapons as well. In my talks with the new Russian leadership, I got the impression that the final decision has not been taken regarding the CFE Treaty, but that it would be worthwhile looking at the existing room for manoeuvre and keeping talks going at both expert and political level.

And that brings me nicely to the second consequence. Despite all the critical distance which I too maintain in view of certain developments in Russia, one thing we must not forget: we need Russia – to preserve peace and stability in the transatlantic-Eurasian area, to resolve conflicts worldwide, and to help meet the global challenges.

The new President, with whom I talked in Moscow a few days ago, has committed himself in talks and in his first public statements to a cooperative foreign policy. I urge that we take President Medvedev at his word and offer him our cooperation.

In future Russia will remain a difficult, sometimes uncomfortable partner. But it is possible to reach viable agreements even with difficult partners.

In the NATO-Russia Council the Alliance and Russia have a joint body which is valued by both sides but whose possibilities are far from exhausted.

Allow me to conclude with some fundamental comments on the difficult questions we have been considering in recent months and which have doubtless also cropped up in your debates over the past few days. I am talking, of course, about missile defence and NATO enlargement to include Georgia and Ukraine.

Let me say this right away: of course it is the Alliance's job to look for new joint answers to new security threats. And of course no country has a right of veto when it comes to NATO membership. But, as the debate in Bucharest demonstrated, we would do well not to lose sight of the overall context in making these decisions.

"Security is indivisible." This statement in the Charter of Paris, to which I referred earlier, is expressly not meant as a hard restriction on national freedom of decision-making. What it undoubtedly is, however, is a reminder to consider, when taking any single step, what its consequences will be for common security.

In Bucharest we gave Ukraine and Georgia a strong, unmistakable signal of the prospect of membership. A signal that we want to accompany them along this path. We told them that it is above all a question of the sustainability, durability and stability of political developments in the two countries.

Our joint task now is to support the populations of the two countries as they go down this road, so that in the end we all enjoy more security, not less.

This is a demanding task, but I am confident that within the Alliance we will arrive at good decisions.

Thank you for your attention.

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