Primary Sources

NATO Statement on Achieving Stability in Europe


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. Earlier, in 1967, following a series of statements the previous year from France, West Germany, the US, and the Soviet Union calling for a relaxation of East-West tensions, a NATO report initiated by Belgian Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel on “The Future Tasks of the Alliance” asserted that NATO should support efforts at détente by pursuing political initiatives in order eventually to reach a “peaceful settlement” to “end the unnatural barriers between Eastern and Western Europe.” In December 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev delivered what he called a “watershed” address at the United Nations, announcing that he planned unilaterally to reduce Soviet military forces by 500,000, cut conventional armaments massively, and withdraw substantial numbers of armaments and troops from Eastern European countries. Less than two months later, in the following address to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, attended by some 900 business leaders and public officials from more than 50 countries, NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner set out a cautious response to Gorbachev, invoking NATO’s foundational document, the Treaty of Washington, and the Harmel Report, to signal a potential shift in mission to prioritize political initiatives.


Manfred Wörner. "Stability in Europe - NATO's way forward," speech, Davos, Switzerland, February 1, 1989, NATO, Online Library, NATO (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

In a few weeks from now, on April 4, the Atlantic Alliance will be forty years old. . . . Today we look to the future not with fear but with confidence.

Forty years ago it was different. We were struggling to build a defence against the military threat from without, and to re-build our societies after the destructions of war. Yet the Treaty of Washington clearly shows that even in those dark days we looked beyond the immediate danger towards a dual purpose: first to create a permanent military stability in Europe that would not only reduce but indeed eradicate the threat of war; and, second, to establish on this continent a new political order that would allow for political change, that would respect human rights and human dignity; an order that would give freedom to all the citizens of East and West; an order that would grant to the peoples of the East the same rights of self-determination that we enjoy here in the West, and in a Europe that would be able ultimately to overcome its painful division.

We are now living through a time of breathtaking movement. . . . The ever closer union of Europe, the economic and ideological decline of Communism, Gorbachev's reform drive, the first disarmament agreement in human history, the growing importance of economic power - even overshadowing military power, the spreading influence of democratic ideas and free market forces, the revival in superpower relations - everywhere the dynamic of history is plain to see.

The East is turning to the West. Our political approach of co-operation instead of confrontation, as set out in the Harmel Report, is gaining increasing acceptance. Our ideas are on the advance. Democracy, human rights, pluralism. You need to read Gorbachev's speech to the United Nations to see how far concepts which we have fostered for two decades have penetrated the Soviet vocabulary. . . .

With Mr. Gorbachev and his perestroika policy the chances of reshaping East-West relations have improved substantially. There is no doubt about that. There is also no doubt that we have an interest in success in so far as he is opening up Soviet society and politics.

Our readiness to co-operate depends on progress in three areas:

1. human rights and free exchanges;

2. responsible behaviour in foreign policy, involving a contribution to removing tensions in world crisis areas;

3. reduction of military potential. . . .

In recent weeks, leaders of Warsaw Pact states have announced unilateral reductions, and an intention to begin soon withdrawing certain units from Eastern Europe. These unilateral reductions are obviously welcome. . . .

Is the glass half full or half empty? On the basis of the available evidence, we cannot say which view is more justified. The unilateral reductions suggest a new Soviet policy, but they do not confirm it. There are questions that must be asked. . . .

How to Cite this Source

Secretary General Manfred Wörner, "NATO Statement on Achieving Stability in Europe," Making the History of 1989, Item #53, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

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