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International Cooperation

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

During the Cold War era, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was central to the formulation and implementation of West Germany's foreign and defense policies. In 1954 and 1955 (the year the Warsaw Pact was established), agreements were reached by the Allied powers to end the occupation of the Federal Republic and grant West Germany sovereignty. It was in conjunction with these decisions that West Germany had been permitted to rearm and to obtain membership in the Western European Union (WEU) and NATO. Nevertheless, under the Western European Union Treaty of May 1955, the Federal Republic was prohibited from possessing weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, all West German armed forces were assigned to NATO and could not operate out of area.

During the Cold War, the underlying tone of NATO's strategy shifted at times to accommodate the changing security environment in the United States and in Europe. For example, in 1967 the Harmel Report, developed during the advent of Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik in Germany, helped initiate the West's dual strategy of defense and détente with the Soviet bloc. The Harmel Report's aversion to confrontation was further amplified by the 1975 Helsinki Accords, or the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The CSCE was to provide a framework for cooperation between NATO and Warsaw Pact members by intensifying contacts and respecting the inviolability of Eastern Europe's postwar borders.

Despite the prevailing climate of détente in the 1970s, NATO remained for the United States and its allies the principal instrument with which to deter Soviet aggression on the continent and if necessary to defend the West European democracies from attack by the Warsaw Pact. To this end, the role of the Federal Republic was indispensable. West Germany was the frontline state and home to the largest concentration of United States troops and NATO-controlled nuclear weapons in the European theater. Across the border in the GDR, the Soviet Union had amassed its greatest number of troops outside its own territory.

Since its founding, NATO had served other functions as well. After World War II, policy makers in Washington and in major European capitals had sought to curb and control German power by wedding the West German state to multilateral institutions. Hence, NATO (and to some extent the EC) was designed not only as an instrument with which to keep the Soviet Union out of Western Europe but also as a means to constrain Germany from returning to the expansionist behavior that had characterized its foreign policy in the first half of the century. Thus, NATO's purpose was often said to reflect a strategy of double containment: to contain the Soviet Union as well as Germany. In addition, NATO was also to perform the broader function of muting the traditional regional rivalries that had previously undermined Europe's peace and stability.

As far as West Germany was concerned, it practiced what was often referred to as a policy of self-containment. West Germany's postwar leaders deliberately subjugated national interests to the stated objectives of the EC and NATO. Embracing federalism and the inculcation of democratic values, the West German public and political elites also accepted Germany's adjustment to the role of civilian power and junior partner in the Alliance. Once the economic miracle had taken place and the reconstruction of Germany had given way to prosperity, this development in the German posture was reflected in the adage that the West German democracy was "an economic giant but a political dwarf."

Although NATO's primary raison d'être collapsed with the disintegration of the Soviet empire (in Germany the GDR's armed forces were absorbed by the Bundeswehr), new uncertainties and instabilities in the international climate after 1989 led many observers to conclude that the Atlantic Alliance, which came into force in April 1949, ought to remain intact. Many viewed NATO's expansion to the east as a necessary means to ensure the security of the emerging democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. Others continued to view NATO as a means to prevent the renationalization of German security policy. Questions about united Germany's role in international affairs in general, and in a revamped NATO in particular, became paramount to policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the early summer of 1992, NATO officials announced that the Alliance was prepared to assume a peacekeeping role in Europe beyond the border of its sixteen member states. According to a plan approved at the June 1992 meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo, NATO would henceforth consider contributing troops, supplies, and logistical support to CSCE peacekeeping missions. Clearer details regarding NATO's new military mission, however, remained in doubt in the mid-1990s.

NATO had already begun to grapple with questions about its future during the Two-Plus-Four Talks. The London Declaration on NATO of July 6, 1990, articulated a vision that kept the NATO treaty in force as a factor of stability across Europe. Reflecting a fundamental change of atmosphere precipitated by communism's collapse, NATO members committed themselves to transforming the Western Alliance from adversary to friend for the members of the former Soviet bloc. Illustrating this transformation were the visits of Czechoslovak president Vaclav Havel and Polish president Lech Walesa to NATO Headquarters in Brussels in early 1991. In fact, by the end of that same year Russian president Boris Yeltsin suggested that his own country might apply for NATO membership.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Genscher was a staunch proponent of institutionalizing cooperative links between East and West. In the Declaration on Peace and Cooperation adopted on November 8, 1991, leaders of the sixteen NATO nations meeting in Rome submitted to eight Central and East European countries (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania) and the Soviet Union proposals to institutionalize consultations among former adversaries on a broad range of security concerns.

Because many Central and East European countries were beset with ethnic tensions in the early 1990s and still had unresolved border disputes with neighbors, NATO officials felt it unreasonable to anticipate early NATO membership. Short of full membership, however, former members of the Warsaw Pact were invited to join Western states to form the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC). The NACC had been proposed at the initiative of Minister of Foreign Affairs Genscher and Secretary of State Baker at the end of 1991.

The NACC began by mid-1992 to hold regular meetings at the ministerial or ambassadorial level with various NATO committees and authorities tasked with the oversight of military, political, and economic issues of concern to member states. In April 1993, German Minister of Defense Rühe traveled to Moscow to sign the first extensive agreement between Russian and German armed forces. Under the ten-year agreement, a wide range of contacts between Russian and German officers would take place.

In the context of this new collaborative posture between West and East, NATO members had already pledged themselves to a smaller, restructured field of active forces, reduced training and exercises, and enhanced flexibility and cooperative dialogue in deciding how to respond to future international crises. Also as a result of the London Declaration, which declared NATO's forward posture in Europe no longer necessary, NATO countries had begun to reduce or withdraw their forces from the Central European theater, and from Germany in particular.

NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP), launched in January 1994, sought even stronger links between democratic countries of the former Soviet bloc and the Alliance. Membership in the PfP enabled these countries to consult with NATO and cooperate in joint multilateral crisis activities.

In the 1990s, the predominant view held by the mainstream of Germany's defense establishment is that NATO remains essential for German security for three primary reasons: the Alliance is a crucial source of stability for a continent in the throes of profound transformations; NATO serves as an indispensable bridge to the United States and functionally helps to counter that country's neo-isolationism by maintaining a visible United States presence in Europe; and NATO remains the only viable instrument for German and European defense, given that the EU, WEU, and OSCE are all still untested in the coordination and implementation of defense policies.

Data as of August 1995

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