Side by Side


Our World Is Facing a New Totalitarian Threat


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 recipient.

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 German unity.

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 political player.

Mr President,

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 structures.

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 countries.

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.

Mr President,

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.