Our World Is Facing a New Totalitarian Threat
Speech by Foreign Minister Fischer
April 17, 2002
As prepared for delivery
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to deliver the eulogy
today to you, Mr President, on the occasion of the presentation
of the Eric Warburg Prize. We would all like to congratulate you
most warmly on receiving this award. I believe I speak on behalf
of all those present when I say that we can imagine no more deserving
Today we also have a second reason to celebrate, for this year
marks the 50th anniversary of the Atlantik-Brücke. I would
like to thank all members and helpers for their marvellous work
and for everything they have done to foster the friendship between
America and Germany. A close relationship with the US is, apart
from European integration, the most important pillar on which
the liberty and democracy of our country is built. And even a
European Union which will hopefully have completed its integration
in the not too distant future will be unable to do without this
close relationship with the US, so vital to Europe's liberty.
It is therefore very important for us to pause every so often
to reflect together on what it is that links the Americans and
Germans, and what it is that separates us - and what we can and
must do to discuss and smooth out any existing differences of
opinion and continually reclaim our common ground.
We are today honouring a great statesman and American President.
A man who decisively shaped the transformation of 1989/90, an
epochal moment in history that happened to occur during his term
of office. Without you, Mr President, the wind that swept through
Europe would have taken a different, and, who knows, perhaps less
peaceful course. Without your leadership and your unwavering commitment
to freedom and democracy, Europe would today definitely be a different
place. And without your firm belief in German democracy, German
unification would not have taken the form we know today. The United
States' policy of the time was not merely masterfully conducted
- that much is undisputed - but also played a crucial role in
the success of our reunification in peace and freedom. You, Mr
President, proved yourself to be a true friend of the German people
in their defining moment. For this, we would like to thank you
once again with all our hearts.
It was once said that history was not made by people, but by 'objective'
factors alone. The creation of German unity, and in particular
the role played by you and your staff, led by James Baker, are
proof of the dubiousness of this claim. Of course, the effect
of objective factors cannot be underestimated, and wise policies
must always take them into account. But if the historical opportunity
presents itself, if the wind rustles Bismarck's famed cloak, then
it is up to the people present to grab it by the coat-tails; it
is people who have to make history.
If one looks back at the years 1989/90, it almost seems as if
the path were preordained, the outcome inevitable. In reality,
the actors had to respond, as it were on the hoof, to the events
in Leipzig and Berlin. The US Administration of the time under
President Bush developed a clever diplomatic strategy that favoured
Even today, it is frightening to think how much happened in such
a short period of time. Free elections in Poland, refugees from
the GDR in Hungary and in Prague, demonstrations in Leipzig, the
unexpected fall overnight of the Berlin Wall, the 2+4 process,
and Reunification on 3 October 1990 - it was a breathtaking rush
of events. In only a few months the old order disappeared and
the GDR and the Soviet Union vanished into the trash can of history.
Everything, each and every issue, had to be rethought and tackled
anew in the shortest possible time.
What tremendous chances there were back then! But how much there
was that could have gone wrong! Were we to witness another bloody
suppression of the call for freedom as in 1953, 1956 and 1968?
How could we prevent a complete collapse of order, the descent
of the Soviet Union into chaos, war and possibly even nuclear
Armageddon? Was it possible, now that the wheel of time had suddenly
begun to spin again after 40 years, to spin so very quickly, to
keep it on course and steer in a controlled, peaceful and democratic
direction? Yes, it was possible, because the principal players
- some of whom are here today - acted with tremendous foresight
and sense of responsibility, always weighing up the pros and cons
of each further step. Let me name Helmut Kohl and Hans-Dietrich
Genscher, Mikhail Gorbachev and Edward Shevardnadze, and, to quote
Josef Joffe, the 'fabulous Bush-Baker boys'.
Support for German unity was the logical continuation of US policy
based on its decision to remain in Europe after the end of World
War II and to give German democracy a second chance. It was above
all this decision that together with European integration meant
that the fate of Germany and Europe took a fundamental turn for
the better after 1945. In 1989, your policy, Mr President, was
likewise based on the wise and farsighted view that the first
priority was to prevent the emergence in Europe of a situation
that bore any resemblance to the post-World War I period and the
Treaty of Versailles. This meant that the Soviet Union had to
be involved as a recognized power and given a realistic perspective
for the future, and at the same time the legitimate desire of
Germany to have the same status as other nations and regain its
full sovereignty, including a free choice of alliances, had to
be respected. That it was possible to square this circle in consensus
was the result of outstanding statesmanship. It has rightly been
called a 'study in statecraft'.
Germany and the Germans had twice failed to solve the conundrum
of the last century, to unify both national and democratic aspirations.
Would they manage it the third time round? Many were highly sceptical
at the time. I myself was one of the sceptics. Unity in liberty
- our goal of a German nation state was successfully achieved
at the third attempt, because the challenge was mastered within
a democratic framework as well as European and transatlantic structures.
Let's look back twelve years. At that time Berlin and Germany
were still divided by a fiercely guarded border. Our country was
the deployment zone for armies from the East and West, the first
potential battleground of the third world war. Today the armies
are gone. The united Germany is a free and stable democracy, surrounded
solely by friends and partners in an integrating Europe, with
stable borders, firmly anchored in the West.
This fortunate position, almost inconceivable given our recent
past, we owe to a large extent to America and its then President,
George Bush. Germany's integration in the West neutralized its
precarious position at the geographic centre of Europe and gave
it the ties it had previously lacked, thus removing the risk of
it undertaking lone hegemonic ventures. Moreover, it provided
a firm foundation for the country's internal democracy.
That is why the American presence in Europe and the close links
between our two continents remain so indispensable to Germany,
now and in the future, and regardless of the fact that the European
Union is increasingly developing into a self-confident, independent
Although you like to call yourself a practical man, your name
is indivisibly linked to a great vision, that of an undivided
and free Europe. You and your Administration laid the foundations
for it, above all with the pioneering agreements with Russia such
as START I, START II, the CFE Treaty and the OSCE Charter of Paris.
Building on these foundations, your vision has now almost been
realized. NATO will open its doors to the east once again this
year in Prague, and in two years time another 10 countries will
probably join the EU. Relations with Russia are closer than ever
before, and we will use the opportunity presented by President
Putin's strategic move to the West to make further progress on
integrating a democratic Russia in Euro-Atlantic and world economic
In the Balkans, too, democracy has asserted itself, thanks to
the intervention from outside. The entire region now has the long-term
prospect of becoming a part of Europe, a prospect which has provided
a sustainable alternative to the barbarity of ethnic conflict.
You, Mr President, warned Milosevic way back in 1992 not to attack
Kosovo and drew a red line at that point. Where would we stand
today with the explosive conflict in the Middle East, the war
in Afghanistan and the terrorism of Islamist extremists, if we
had not restrained Milosevic?
Of course, dangerous crises could yet emerge on our continent,
but European integration is proving to be a solid framework for
peace that is capable of containing and resolving such conflicts.
On 11 September 2001 the stuff of nightmares became reality explosively
and mercilessly. Our world is facing a new totalitarian threat,
which this time does not, however, have its roots in Europe. A
deadly and vicious wave of terrorism struck at the people and
Government of the United States of America, but it could have
targeted any other open society. From the very first we knew that
this attack on our prime Alliance partner was an attack on us
all, on our conceptions of liberty, democracy and human rights.
And that the US needed our solidarity, and that the time had come
for the Germans and Europeans to pay back the solidarity we owed
them, the very solidarity that we had ourselves so naturally claimed
for the five decades of the Cold War. We must stand together to
fight this deadly threat.
The emotional connection between Americans and Germans has in
recent times rarely been more tangible than at the mass demonstration
at the Brandenburg Gate on 14 September last year, three days
after the horrific attacks in New York and Washington. As much
as we felt for the people of America in the days following the
deadly attacks, as much as this international terrorism is a threat
to our free society too, public sentiment has in the past months
unmistakably moved in different directions on the two sides of
the Atlantic. It is important that we note these differences and
understand their causes, explain each other's viewpoints and thus
find new common ground in our transatlantic relationship. The
task of the Atlantik-Brücke is thus all the more vital today.
Americans and Europeans share the same values, but do not always
have the same political reflexes. This is due to their histories,
and is not per se a fault. If, for example, the Americans tend
to emphasize the military side of things, and the Europeans the
political, this is at times unfortunately misunderstood or overplayed
by both sides. It does not in fact mean that the US is not just
as committed to the primacy of politics as we are and it likewise
does not mean that the Europeans are incorrigible 'wimps' and
appeasers, who categorically reject the use of force. However,
EU and German foreign policy will continue to be characterized
by a greater reserve as regards military intervention than is
usual in some other major European states or indeed the US. Our
past experience has been less fortunate, to put it very diplomatically,
and the effect of this legacy will be long lasting indeed.
History has shown us that a singular strength may often lie in
the very combination of our two ways of acting, in the clever
harnessing together of political and military means. The answer
to the old question: 'Was it military strength or the policy of
détente that won the Cold War' is, ultimately, that it
was both together. This was and is also the case in Kosovo, Macedonia
and Afghanistan, and it is for this very reason that Europe, and
this time Germany too, are taking part in military action in these
The use of military means alone is not however the only way to
solve conflicts. Europe is helping to make our world a safer place
in many locations. We provide over three quarters of the troops
and reconstruction aid in the Balkans. The International Security
Assistance Force in Afghanistan is indeed composed to 95% of Europeans.
EU enlargement and some 120 billion dollars of economic assistance
to Eastern Europe enable the US to concentrate its military resources
on other parts of the world. This critical European contribution
towards prevention, peace and security is sometimes not given
its due in the US.
The battle against terrorism, too, can only be won by the judicious
use of both political and military means. In addition to fighting
terrorists, this includes a comprehensive strategy that resolutely
tackles the political and social roots of terrorism and seeks
political solutions to those festering conflicts around the world
that breed terror and terrorists. With terrorism, Europe and America
face a new political challenge to world order that goes far beyond
the borders of Europe.
The dramatic escalation in the Middle East has deeply shocked
the world and all of us on it. Permit me, ladies and gentlemen,
to take this opportunity today, on Israel's National Day, to state
this one point absolutely clearly: Israel's right to exist and
the right of the State of Israel and its citizens to live in peace
and security is inviolable to us. Germany has a historically-grounded
special relationship with the State of Israel that calls for solidarity,
above all in difficult times.
The American President's latest speech and his clear support for
the goal of two states in the region has our full support. We
support the American peace efforts and Colin Powell's mission
with high hopes and added input. The United States is still the
most significant international player, without which little will
be achieved in the Middle East. A turn for the better can however
only be achieved by the US if it does not tackle the job alone,
but rather involves other players, such as the European Union,
the UN Secretary-General and also Russia. It was certainly no
coincidence, Mr President, that the Madrid peace conference called
to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict was convened in 1991, during
your presidency. That was a very courageous and far-sighted historic
decision, the example of which should be followed today.
Permit me to raise another important topic in transatlantic relations:
Iraq. Saddam Hussein has ruled Iraq for twenty years with dictatorial
brutality. He is responsible for two horrendous wars. He has manufactured
weapons of mass destruction and used them against his neighbours
and his own people. He and his regime pose a serious threat to
world peace and the stability of the region. We share the American
view that the international community has got to do everything
it can to effectively contain this threat. However, regional stability
must not be put in danger even by countermeasures that seem necessary.
We must therefore use all available means to increase the political
pressure on Saddam Hussein to stop him producing weapons of mass
destruction and to destroy or eliminate all such existing weapons.
The UN inspectors must be allowed back into the country unconditionally
and without restrictions. At the same time, the sanctions must
be refined, so that Iraq can no longer produce and store any weapons
of mass destruction.
We Europeans, and we Germans in particular, owe you a tremendous
debt of thanks. The European Union is the most significant contribution
to peace on our continent, as experience has taught us. Without
the US decision to stay in Europe after 1945 and to remain committed
to the implementation and defence of democracy, this European
unification would never have become reality. If we succeed in
really unifying Europe, not just in economic and monetary terms,
but politically too, will you find in Europe that 'partner in
leadership' you so wanted in order to create a more just world
order, which we so urgently need in the age of globalization.
An American observer wrote not long ago: 'When the United States
and Europe see eye to eye, there is little they cannot accomplish.
When they do not agree, however, there is little they can achieve.'
Whether and when there will be a new and better world order is
something we cannot know. But it is certain that we only have
a chance of creating it if America and Europe approach this objective
together. That presupposes a multilateral focus on the part of
America and a politically unified Europe.
You, Mr President, were one of a great line of American Presidents
who were open to Europe and the problems of the world, a tradition
we hope will be continued. For us Germans your presidency was
indeed a boon of history. We wish you and your family health and
happiness, and your country a happy future.