How should one remember Ronald Reagan?


Chancellor Schmidt recently spoke of the need to take a "pause for thought" in global politics. That is certainly a reasonable demand at the end of such an eventful year and at the beginning of a period of profound changes in the world situation.

Introduction: Detente in Trouble

As you, ladies and gentlemen, may recall, even before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on December 27, 1979, it was clear to the Western allies that countermeasures would have to be taken in view of their growing military strength. As a result, at the Washington NATO summit in May 1978, the allies agreed on a series of measures to strengthen their military position. These steps included undertaking to increase their respective defense budgets annually by at least three percent in real terms, and later, just before Afghanistan, the NATO allies in Brussels on December 12, 1979, had drawn up a recommendation at foreign ministerial level that addressed two aspects the foreground was: first, to begin building long-range theater nuclear forces (LRTNF) for later deployment in Europe; and secondly, to negotiate arms limitation with the Soviets with a focus on medium-range missiles. This recommendation was based on the hope of reducing or stopping the deployment of LRTNF weapons on the part of the Soviets - especially those of the SS-20 type, which are already deployed in certain locations in the Soviet Union. Then came Afghanistan - an act of massive foreign aggression that continues unabated.

In July of this year, the economic problems in Poland sparked unrest among the workers, with potentially far-reaching political consequences. They brought with them the risk of armed Soviet intervention - that is, aggression. In October the German Democratic Republic took steps to "block" any influence from the West, especially from the Federal Republic, on the GDR. In doing so, she made it clear to her own people that she would forcibly prevent the Polish striving for freedom from spreading.

The detente of the species that had evolved over the past decade was apparently severely affected by this. Inevitably, the Madrid Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which opened in November, led to a confrontation between East and West. The West insisted that the Conference should deal with its statutory task: to check compliance with the commitments which the participating States had entered into by signing the Helsinki Final Act - especially with regard to the violation of human rights, but the East sought the Conference of to relegate them to other questions from the outset or to narrow their considerations in this regard; Instead, he pushed the idea of ​​a European disarmament conference to the fore. Whether there would be a plenary session at all seemed questionable at first, since the Soviet tactics in the preparatory talks were aimed at preventing an agreement on an agenda.

During this time, a new trouble spot developed in Southwest Asia: 52 American diplomats have been held hostage in Tehran for more than a year. A regular war broke out between Iran and Iraq, and these events, combined with other potential sources of instability in the Middle East, could pave the way for new, larger Soviet forays into the Persian Gulf - an area the western world is facing in theirs Is heavily dependent on the demand for crude oil, the most important energy source.

After all, the United States has elected - by a large majority - a new president: Ronald Reagan. The Republican Party was also able to win a majority in the Senate for the first time in many years.

In the short time I have here, I would like to focus on the future against the background of the developments mentioned - and especially on the future of relations between my country and the Federal Republic of Germany. Let me highlight two things: change - by which I mean a real shift in focus in American domestic politics; and continuity - by which I mean maintaining America's fundamental role in world politics: holding on to America's unwavering commitment to the NATO alliance and America's relationship with Germany as a great bulwark of the alliance.

A change in Washington

The election of Ronald Reagan changes American politics in that it signals a turn in the political pendulum towards greater conservatism. For the first time since the 1930s there will be a strong Conservative (and Republican) majority in the American Senate. And even in the House of Representatives, in which the Democratic Party retained a majority, there will be a - different - conservative majority if conservative Southern Democrats vote with the Republicans.

There are many reasons why the new - or resurrected - American conservatism came to power in Washington just at this time. The most important of these is probably the weakening of the great "liberal" movement in America, which began in Washington in 1932 with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his "New Deal" - the new plan - and which began with Harry S. Truman and its "Fair Deal" - the fair plan -, John F. Kennedy and his "New Frontier" - the new frontier - and Lyndon B. Johnson and his "Great Society" - the Carter Administration continued.

It would be wrong to view the election results solely as a rejection of a ruling president or a response to economic and foreign policy difficulties. It would be tantamount to trivializing current affairs to view the election as nothing more than a milestone in the success of certain new political forces in the United States of the type of the conservative and religiously oriented "moral majority". In order to understand Ronald Reagan's election, the first thing to realize is that he has found a majority of voters in just about every definable social group in the United States, with Black and Jewish Americans as the only two exceptions. And even in these traditional Democratic strongholds, he was able to achieve some break-ins. He won over the majority of the workers - the wage workers in "blue overalls" and those of the unionized workforce who for 50 years had been ardent advocates of democratic liberalism. Reagan was not elected by this or that group or combination of forces, but by the entire American people.

It would also be wrong to interpret this renewed American conservatism as the creation of an intellectual movement comparable to the "nouveaux philosophes" in France. To be sure, American conservatism has intellectual roots, and my country has a growing number of conservative intellectuals of high standing. But Reagan was elected by the people - with little input from the academic and literary establishment. The election of Ronald Reagan is a quintessentially American phenomenon. What we are seeing in these elections is not a "new America" ​​or an "old America", but a different face of the same America, we have not seen a shift in public opinion to the right but a revival of conservative political forces in the face of problems and, in the opinion of many Americans, an excess of liberal and dirigistic political thinking.

The continuity of the foreign policy supported by both parties

Let me now say a few words about the continuity of American foreign policy under the future Republican administration. He is convinced that certain guidelines of our foreign policy will remain constant, and the history of the period after the Second World War confirms this assessment of what lies ahead.

Although the United States Republican Party has not been isolationist since the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, it is still occasionally heard in Europe that the Republicans are somehow isolationist. Nothing is further from the truth than this. In reality, the renewal of some sort of isolationism in the United States during the aftermath of the Vietnam War can be attributed almost entirely to the radicals of the far left of the Democratic Party.

A second misunderstanding concerns the commitment of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party to peace. The new American administration will serve peace with as much dedication as the expiring and previous administrations. There are of course certain differences of opinion between Conservative Republicans and Liberal Democrats as to how peace can be guaranteed. Many of the former traditionally advocate placing greater emphasis on military strength. This view also corresponds to the views of many respected experts on the East. They assert that the Soviet Union is essentially pursuing an opportunistic foreign policy and is eager to take advantage of weaknesses in the West (and in the Third World) wherever they arise. To substantiate this thesis, one only needs to reflect on the origins of the "Cold War" in Europe: the inclusion of Czechoslovakia in the Soviet sphere of influence at the beginning of 1948, the Berlin blockade in the same year and other events that led to the all too hasty withdrawal of American troops from Europe followed. In response to the Soviet challenge, NATO was established. As an essentially defense-oriented alliance with a purely defense strategy, NATO as such was never intended as a challenge to the Soviet Union, either then or at any other point in time afterwards. NATO turned out to be a real success story: behind its shield, Western Europe is enjoying a hitherto unique period of peace and stability.

The invasion of South Korea by North Korea came at a time when Soviet leaders had reason to believe that the outer border of the American security area was in the Pacific somewhere between Japan and the Korean peninsula, as the then US Secretary of State Dean Acheson put it, and recently The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan began following the collapse of the Shah regime in Persia, which for many years had been a pillar of stability in an otherwise highly unstable area of ​​the world.

History after the end of the Second World War has shown that the Soviet Union respects the West to the extent that it is ready and strong enough to defend itself militarily. That's what they align their behavior with.

The Future Course of American Foreign Policy

For me as a diplomat it would be unwise, and for you, my audience, certainly not very informative, if I wanted to engage in detailed speculations about the foreign policy of the future Reagan administration. Instead, I would like to bring to your attention some of the views expressed by Reagan and the Republican Party. They seem to me to be of particular relevance to American foreign policy and German-American relations. They clearly show where the emphasis will be placed in Washington in the months and years ahead in Washington:

A central theme for Republicans is that America is not putting enough effort and resources into its defense. They want to spend more on certain programs that they see as urgent. (It should not be overlooked in this context that the Carter administration has also proposed an increase in defense spending.)

Republicans believe that the United States has in recent years reverted from a position of "equivalence in essentials" to a position of inferiority in relation to the Soviet Union in relation to nuclear armament. To restore balance, they propose improving our strategic weapon systems.

As far as European security is concerned, the Republicans want a sufficient deterrent to attack at any level and a strengthening of American credibility with our European allies. The Carter administration has also sought to extend the credibility of American nuclear deterrence in the various strategic contingencies.

Like every American president since NATO was founded, the President-elect stands firmly by it as an alliance that serves the vital interests of the entire Western world. Like President Carter, Ronald Reagan calls for the United States to lead a concerted effort to maintain a strong and confident alliance capable of meeting the challenges of the 1980s. The Republicans also affirm the mutual dependence of the allies on one another; but they draw the conclusion from this that they must contribute their full share to this alliance. As I am sure you all know from recent press coverage, this was also an urgent concern of the current government. We will no doubt hear more about this subject.

The new administration, like the Carter administration, clearly shows that it feels obliged to expand the detente and to continue negotiations on arms restrictions with the Soviet Union. This was clearly reflected in the Republican manifesto, and the President-elect reaffirmed this after his election. I have no doubt that the efforts to limit arms and disarmament will be continued - through the SALT process and also before other bodies.

After the election, President-elect Reagan reaffirmed his intention to restore the former commonality of the two parties in foreign policy.

After the election, Reagan also took up the issue of consultation with the allies, particularly with the NATO allies, and stated that he would like to strengthen the trust of the alliance's partners in the United States as its natural leading power. Of central importance for Germans and Europeans as well as for Americans is, of course, Reagan's position on the SALT process mentioned above. The President-elect is and will remain a critic of the SALT II treaty in its current form. Nevertheless, he irrevocably committed himself to the process of the SALT negotiations.As Chancellor Schmidt made it clear before and after his trip to Washington last month, it is important to keep the SALT process going. As you know, the President-elect said to the Chancellor that he shared this view. The Soviets have since given some informal indications that they are ready to receive suggestions from the new administration regarding the future handling of SALT negotiations. I believe there is reason to believe that arms control efforts will continue to enjoy the same priority as they have been for years.

As far as relations with the Soviet Union are concerned, ladies and gentlemen, the parallels between the Carter and Reagan administrations are not limited to recognizing the need for contacts and ongoing negotiations; they also extend to their objectives. However, there are differences in the assessment of the question of how we can best achieve good results. A peace based on strong defense was promoted in the election campaign. This is not a new and certainly not a dangerous concept. I know from my own experience that the Soviets respect tough negotiations, but do not allow themselves to be intimidated by bluffs. Only in the face of the determination of the West will they be ready to enter into serious and mutually beneficial negotiations.

The role of Europe

Finally, I would like to mention one more factor of the world situation that I have not mentioned so far. I mean the phenomenon of the gradual return of Europe - especially France and the Federal Republic of Germany - to the world political stage. The situation has changed since the first post-war years, when Europe began to recover from the devastation of the war. It was then necessary for the United States to take on most of the burden of defending Europe. Today Europe and above all the Federal Republic of Germany are economically strong, but a united Europe is still not a political reality. All of Western Europe, however, benefits from the alliance, and a large part of Europe belongs to it. It is therefore appropriate that, at a time when our interests are threatened in other parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, Europeans should do more to defend their own continent. I would not be frank with you if I did not tell you that there is a growing feeling in the United States that Europeans are enjoying too much of the blessings and too little of the burdens of the Alliance.

That is not the position of the Reagan administration. On the contrary, the new administration has not yet commented on the European contribution to common defense. The outgoing Carter administration, on the other hand, has been very clear on this issue. We can expect the United States to spend more on defense in the future. It would therefore not be surprising if the new American administration took the same, or rather a firmer stance, on the question of an enlarged European contribution. The United States stands ready to bear the bulk of the burden of developing a Western military strategy to ensure the security of oil supplies from the Middle East production areas. This is in the interests of all countries in the West and, above all, in the interests of Western Europe, which has very little of its own oil reserves and few alternative sources of energy. The assurance given by NATO member states two years ago to increase their defense budgets by three percent a year is based on Europe's security needs. You have gained weight in the meantime. The events in the Middle East and Southwest Asia have also added another dimension to them.

Conclusion: challenge and continuity

During this "pause for thought", Europeans and Americans should ask and discuss the following question: "What is an appropriate response to the common European-American security requirements, especially in areas outside the NATO area?" We need to develop a strategy that is approved by everyone. One consideration may serve as a starting point: you can rest assured that America's commitment to the security of Europe through the NATO alliance will continue unshakably into the 1980s. The same is true of the American commitment to continue efforts to further limit arms. Just as it has been possible for us to successfully meet the challenges in Europe together over the past 35 years, so I am sure that we can also meet the new challenges in Europe and in other parts of the world together with success.

The situation has changed all over the world; but our common values, our common interests and our common goals have remained the same. These actual foundations of the Western alliance and German-American friendship need to be constantly expanded. I am confident that will happen.

Source: special issue. America service. U.S. Embassy.