75 years ago, in a school house in France, US General Walter B. Smith told three German officials “There are four copies to be signed.”
These seven deceivingly simple words marked the beginning of the longest peace time period in European history. The German delegation signed a document of unconditional surrender, first in Reims and two days later in Berlin.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
After six years of war, after the death of over 60 million women, children and men, after the most horrifying crime committed in the history of mankind – the murder of almost all of Europe’s Jewish citizens, after the devastation of countless cities and villages, after the terror, death and destruction unleashed by my country, Germany, peace seemed too unreal to believe in.
And yet, brave men and women opted for a brighter future. They had seen the suffering human beings had inflicted on one another. But they refused to give up hope in mankind.
That hope is embodied in the United Nations and its Charta.It is embodied in the European Union, the biggest peace project of our times. And it found its expression in the forgiveness that my country has received from its former enemies. To this day, it fills us with deep gratitude and humility.
Gratitude towards those who made immense sacrifices to liberate our country from the National Socialist tyranny. Gratitude also to the countries of the world who accepted Germany back into the family of peaceful nations – despite our responsibility for two world wars which caused infinite suffering. And despite the Shoah, the industrial mass murder of over 6 million Jews, a crime so barbaric that it betrayed the values of any civilized nation. It betrayed human civilization itself. This history, the German history, binds us to a responsibility that never ends.
It commits us to work for peace and the rules-based international order. It encourages us to defend human rights and dignity, to work for justice and accountability. And it binds our fate forever to the fate of a strong and united Europe.
A Europe that after centuries of battles and destruction finally embraced the golden rule of Jean Monnet; it is: “Better to dispute around a table than on a battlefield.” This ideal has transformed Europe from a continent of eternal wars into the strongest proponent of global peace.
Today, European soldiers work with the United Nations to maintain peace in the Sahel, in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are monitoring the arms embargo against Libya. Together, the EU and its members contribute more than anyone to building and sustaining peace all over the world.
This commitment to global solutions, to multilateralism, is based on our historic experience – that nationalism leads to destruction. In Germany, we have a saying: “He who closes his eyes to the past will be blind to the present”.
The failure of the League of Nations to withstand the storm of nationalism and racism in the wake of the First World War holds an important lesson: International institutions need political backing. Backing that is too often missing today. This is particularly true for the work of the Security Council – the body whose purpose it is to maintain global peace and stability.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our inability to end the wars in Syria and Libya, along with our failure to bring peace to the Middle East or Ukraine undermine the credibility of this Council and the international community as a whole.
The COVID pandemic has reminded us how being pro-active can save lives.
This holds true for each and every conflict.
We must address their root causes, whether they relate to weak governance, human rights abuses or climate change. A more preventive approach to peace and security is one way to adapt the lessons of the past to the realities of our times.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The men and women who founded the United Nations had hope. Hope that mankind would not repeat the mistakes of the past. That we would learn to overcome our differences by peaceful means. That cooperation and compromise would triumph over nationalism and narrow self-interest. It is upon us to prove them right.
Thank you, Urmas, for highlighting this on such a historic day.
And thank you all for your Attention.