Primary Sources

NATO Statement on Its Role in Reshaping East-West Relations


As the Cold War wound down, NATO’s mission underwent a gradual shift from one of insuring the security of member nations through the deterrence of military aggression to one of fostering the integration of Eastern European countries into a new world order. At the fortieth anniversary NATO summit held in Brussels at the end of May 1989, the heads of the member states issued a declaration that acknowledged the current period as “a juncture of unprecedented change and opportunities” and declared, “We want to move beyond the post-war period. . . . we seek to shape a new political order of peace in Europe.” Following the summit, President George H. W. Bush delivered a speech in Mainz, West Germany, in which he articulated that realizing NATO’s longtime vision of a Europe “whole and free” finally had become the “the new mission of NATO.” In the following address in October to a Eurogroup Seminar in Washington, NATO’s Secretary General Manfred Wörner reiterated this fundamental shift in mission from military to political initiatives—one that would continue into the 21st century—but also maintained that defense would remain an integral part of NATO’s operations.


Manfred Wörner, "Reshaping East-West Relations," speech, October 12, 1989, NATO, Online Library, NATO (accessed May 28, 2006).

Primary Source—Excerpt

It is a well-known fact that historians do not like dates. . . . [they advise that] [w]e should see them instead as just convenient reference points in an ongoing historical process.

This is no doubt sound advice; but I am going to disregard it. I firmly believe that 1989 will go down in history as a watershed in East-West relations, and as a decisive point in the evolution of the Atlantic Alliance. In 1989, the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe began to crumble. . . .

When the Atlantic Alliance was established forty years ago, it had a dual purpose: to give the West military protection; and to contain Soviet power in such a way that the Communist system would be forced to mellow. The first mission was ensured from day one; the second has taken until 1989.

. . . [T]he status quo, in its own way, was dangerous and explosive. It gave us a hazardous military stability, and, more importantly, even less political stability. We neither could, nor wanted to, sustain it.

Our Alliance has the political initiative. We must secure change, anchor it to a new stable and durable political structure in Europe. The NATO Summit reaffirmed the Alliance's political vocation; not only to preserve the integrity of its territory, but to build a new Europe in which security is preserved by common liberal values, not military straitjackets. Everyone now knows what our blueprint for the year 2000 is: a Europe undivided, based on self-determination, democracy and market forces. . . .

You have seen our Summit Declaration. It is a conceptual architecture for managing change in Eastern Europe; not only by the NATO countries but by the West overall. . . . [T]he overall package does not simply add up to a short-term relief operation for Poland and Hungary: it is a long-term programme designed to fundamentally reshape East-West relations - and to allow Communism to phase itself out peacefully. If reform fails, the lessons will not be lost on the hardliners in Czechoslovakia and East Germany. But if reform succeeds, that success will generate irresistible pressures for similar change throughout Eastern Europe.

I like to emphasize that NATO is above all a political Alliance with an essential role as an instrument of peaceful political change. Less has been said about the future role of defence, as if it were suddenly less important. But manifestly it is not. Our Summit meeting made clear that our ambitious political strategy will succeed only if it is backed up by a robust defence, based on both nuclear and conventional forces. . . .

How to Cite this Source

Secretary General Manfred Wörner, "NATO Statement on Its Role in Reshaping East-West Relations," Making the History of 1989, Item #51, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

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