Primary Sources

NATO Speech on the Establishment of German Unity


With the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the prospect of a powerful reunited Germany worried nations in both the Eastern and Western blocs. Soviet officials suggested in repeated messages to the US that the four allies empowered to govern Germany at the conclusion of World War II—Britain, France, the US, and the Soviet Union—meet in order to relinquish their occupation rights and to control the reunification process. Sensitive to both German and Soviet concerns, Secretary of State James Baker proposed a “two-plus-four” plan for negotiating the reunification process, whereby the two German nations would work out agreements regarding domestic issues, while the four occupying powers would participate in discussions concerning external aspects of reunification, discussions that would be led by the two Germanys. Baker presented his plan to British, French, and West German officials in late January and early February. In response to Soviet fears of a unified Germany joining NATO, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher proposed that during a period of transition, Soviet forces would remain in the East German section, where NATO forces would be prohibited. NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner, in a speech--excerpted below--delivered a few days after these talks were held, presented NATO’s position concerning these issues. The following day, on February 9, Baker proposed the “two-plus-four” plan to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who expressed interest but remained non-committal. In fact, Gorbachev and a group of Soviet officials coincidentally had agreed late in January to a suggestion by his adviser on foreign affairs, Anatoly S. Chernyaev, that a “sextet” comprised of the same “two-plus-four” countries should discuss all problems connected with reunification. Later in February at a meeting in Ottawa, the foreign ministers of the two German nations and the four allied powers issued a joint statement announcing they had agreed to embark on talks to negotiate “external aspects of the establishment of German unity.”


Manfred Wörner, "Atlantic Alliance and German Unity," speech, February 8, 1990, NATO, Online Library, NATO (accessed May 28, 2006).

Primary Source—Excerpt

The question of European security is one that must now be looked at afresh. The rigid military confrontation of past decades is increasingly giving way to a concern for enhanced security and to the active pursuit of peace using a combination of military and political elements. . . .

Whether we are concerned with security arrangements or a peaceful political order in Europe, we inevitably find the German question to be central.

German unity will come. We, who have striven for the triumph of democracy and for an end to the division of Europe and of Germany, must accept the crucial role of the peoples who are shaping the new order in the revolution in the East. The timetable for the achievement of German unity will not so much be determined by planners and governments as by the course of events in the GDR, as part of the tremendous restructuring of Europe, and by the free choice of the people there and in the Federal Republic. What politicians and diplomats can do is to recognise these facts and develop a framework so that the process is smooth and harmonious and avoids crises or erratic developments with the attendant risks for all of Europe. . . .

The continued existence of NATO and progress towards German unity are perfectly compatible. Indeed I would say they were mutually dependent. Now I hear sometimes that it is not realistic to assume that a reunified Germany could exist in the Atlantic Alliance. I would confront these voices with the insight drawn from our historic experience: To make the dissolution of the Alliance a sine qua non of German unity would deprive both Germany and Europe of a basic force for stability. Only firm anchoring in the West can provide the fundamental stability for the difficult process in which we are engaged.

A drifting, neutral Germany cannot be a solution, given the country's geostrategic position and its political, economic and military potential, and this is the view of all the Allies. It would not even be in the enlightened self-interest of the Soviets. The history of the last two centuries demonstrates this.

Thus there is no acceptable alternative to Germany remaining anchored in the Atlantic Alliance - and belonging to the European Community. Please understand that it would be a mistake to consider the German question in terms of a dynamically unfolding future while, at the same time, viewing the role and function of the Atlantic Alliance as merely static. The latter is another part of the same series of rapid, interdependent developments.

How to Cite this Source

Secretary General Manfred Wörner, "NATO Speech on the Establishment of German Unity," Making the History of 1989, Item #52, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

Associated Files