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Willy Brandt Lecture 2009

Vienna Austria

Berlin, Germany
Humbold University

This will be my last lecture as Director General and I can´t think of any place more fitting for me to deliver it than at this great institution, Humboldt University. It is also fitting that it should be in honour of a great man of vision and realism, Willy Brandt.

Let me congratulate the faculty and students of Humboldt University on your 200th anniversary. Humboldt enjoys a world-wide reputation for academic excellence and cutting-edge research and has produced no fewer than 29 Nobel Prize laureates - so far. The history of this institution is in many ways as remarkable as the life of the man in whose honour we are gathered today, especially in the 20th century, when it suffered under two totalitarian regimes and endured the division of Germany before thriving again in a reunited Berlin.

Willy Brandt was one of the political giants of the 20th century. His life, as the New York Times obituary put it in 1992, was filled with drama: "He was pursued by the Gestapo, denounced by Communists, came under fire as a reporter in the Spanish Civil War, experienced underground adventures in wartime... the heights of electoral triumph, the depths of political defeat." A thinker as well as a man of action, he packed the equivalent of several lifetimes into his 78 years.

I would like to focus today on two of his greatest insights, from which I believe we have much to learn: his realization that, in order to achieve anything in world affairs, we must reach out to our adversaries; and his profound understanding of the link between international security and development. It is amazing to see that we are still today facing the same challenges and opportunities that Willy Brandt was talking about twenty to thirty years ago. The first of these insights was embodied in Brandt´s Ostpolitik, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971. The second was encapsulated in the two ground-breaking reports of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues, universally known as the Brandt Commission, in the early 1980s.

Willy Brandt´s political life was shaped by the Cold War, in particular by the division of his homeland into two states, most visibly in his adopted city Berlin. As Mayor of West Berlin, he witnessed the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. As an internationally respected elder statesman, he experienced the joy of seeing city and country reunited some twenty years ago, two years before his death. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you all on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which you have been celebrating this month. Unfortunately, the end of the Cold War, as Vice-President Thierse mentioned, did not usher in a new age of peace and harmony, but quickly gave way to new confrontations and divisions. Today, the East-West divide that overshadowed Willy Brandt´s world is largely gone, but the North-South divide has deepened - and let me note in passing that the very expression "North-South" comes from the title of the first report of the Brandt Commission in 1980. I will first examine how Brandt worked to overcome the divisions of his generation and then look at the lessons we might learn for our own time.

In his 1971 Nobel Lecture, Brandt said: "We must first of all take the world with its systems and ideologies as it stands today. Knowing full well the degree of imperfection we encounter, we must nonetheless attempt to build a structure of peace which will be more durable than former systems... and which can be further improved."

That may sound obvious, but let us remember that western leaders before Brandt had refused to recognize East Germany, rejected all contacts and tried to isolate it internationally. Brandt abhorred tyranny as much as his predecessors did, but he accepted reality and began working to improve it. First as foreign minister and then as Chancellor, he launched the policy of rapprochement with the Soviet Union, Poland and East Germany that became known as his Ostpolitik. His starting point was that war must be firmly rejected as a means to pursue political ends and that nations with radically different political, social and economic systems could coexist peacefully. Brandt demonstrated that talking to adversaries did not mean surrendering one´s principles. He always refused formal recognition of the East German state. While pursuing détente with the East, he also continued to deepen West Germany´s integration with its neighbours in western Europe and to push for the expansion of what is today the European Union.

Brandt also believed that "Small steps are better than no steps at all." This is an approach which I have advocated for many years in the case of Iran. As you may know, I have argued that we needed to take one step after another and could not just continue to say that we could not speak to our adversaries, we could not speak to the so-called "Axis of Evil", we could not engage in dialogue, we would limit ourselves to applying sanctions, we would threaten to use force. This would, in my view, be "a bridge to nowhere". For Brandt, the "small steps" approach meant, for example, negotiating with East Germany to improve family contacts across the border, without waiting for major political issues to be resolved. For hundreds of thousands of people allowed to visit family members after years of enforced separation, these were highly significant "small steps." At the international level, Brandt actively promoted the pan-European and trans-Atlantic cooperation process that led to the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, a landmark security and human rights agreement that significantly defused Cold War tensions. Brandt was vilified by his political opponents for his Ostpolitik. Vilification is something I am fully familiar with. But the success of his step-by-step policy of building relations at the state level while working to improve life for ordinary people eventually won over the sceptics and his policies were followed by successive governments.

Willy Brandt was not just a German patriot. He was also a committed internationalist. He was a natural choice to head the Independent Commission on International Development which began work in 1977. Made up of leading figures from both developed and developing countries, the Commission made radical proposals for ending poverty and transforming international social and economic structures. The breadth of vision of the North-South Report of 1980 continues to inspire me and many others today. It stressed "the importance of connecting economic development with human values and cultures" and called for "human solidarity and a commitment to international social justice." It emphasised the need for human dignity, security, justice and equity and not just economic development. The report underlined the importance of developing countries becoming self-sufficient and able to feed themselves rather than depending on hand-outs from rich countries.

This connection between development and security is even more obvious today. From where I stand, I see an absolute link between poverty, lack of good governance, a sense of marginalization and humiliation, violence, civil wars and, in areas of endemic conflicts such as the Middle East or Korea, the temptation to acquire nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. I always say that poverty is the most lethal weapon of mass destruction.

In the area of disarmament, which I am familiar with, the Brandt Commission highlighted "the terrible danger to world stability caused by the arms race" and noted the huge burden it imposed on national economies. Willy Brandt´s friend Olof Palme, who collaborated with him on the development report, took the disarmament ideas a step further in the report of the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues in 1982. Entitled Common Security, the report challenged prevailing doctrines about nuclear deterrence and argued that international security should be based instead on the mutual interests of all countries in avoiding nuclear war.

That reminds me of a visit I made to NATO Headquarters a few months ago, when I was asked to make some comments on the Strategic Concept of NATO. I can tell you that I was horrified to read the NATO Strategic Concept. It glorifies nuclear weapons and says that nuclear weapons are essential to preserve peace and prevent any kind of war. It describes nuclear weapons as the supreme guarantee of our security. I told the leaders of NATO in Brussels that if I read that document, I would go out of the door and develop nuclear weapons myself.

Palme´s report called for a strengthening of the UN, including through mandatory contributions to peacekeeping, and proposed expanded UN operations against terrorism, environmental disaster and civil conflict. There are all issues that we are still grappling with more than 25 years after Palme´s report.

The world would be safer and more prosperous today if the far-reaching recommendations of the Brandt and Palme Commissions had been implemented. Sadly, they were not. As is too often the case, governments proved unable to shift their focus from the short-term concerns of the day, or the election schedule, to a long-term vision of the future. But it is still not too late for us to learn the lessons they outlined.

So how could we apply Willy Brandt´s approach to the problems of today?

Let us start by acknowledging the realities. The world today is marked by inequity and insecurity. The obscene inequality in the distribution of wealth among the inhabitants of this planet has widened. One percent of the world´s population owns 40% of the world´s assets, 50% of the world´s population owns 1% of the world´s assets. Can that be sustainable? I leave that question with you. Human life is clearly more valued in some parts of the world than in others. When somebody in the developed part of the world loses his life, you have lots of stories in the media about him, his family, his children. If hundreds of thousands die in Darfur, in the Congo, or anywhere in the developing countries, it might make three lines on page fifteen of the newspaper. Do we accept that? Do we accept a system of security based on the idea that some are superior to others? Or do we call for a system of security that is based on the sanctity of human life everywhere and accept that we have to grieve for every human life, no matter where that life is lost. Over one billion people - and I´m sorry to repeat these figures - over one billion of our fellow human beings go to bed hungry every night - that´s one sixth of humanity, according to the World Food Programme. Two billion people - one third of humanity - live on less than $2 per day. Conflicts have been left to fester for generations in many regions, from Palestine to the Korean Peninsula.

The number of nuclear weapon states has increased to nine since the end of the Cold War and since Brandt´s death, and their combined arsenal comprises more than 23,000 nuclear warheads. Many of these weapons are still deployed on so-called hair trigger alert, which means that if there is a reported nuclear attack, the President of the US or Russia would only have half an hour to respond to what could be a computer error or unauthorized use. This could mean the destruction of at least half the world as we know it. This is still reality today.

Global military spending was almost $1.5 trillion last year. That is 12 times what the developed world spent on official development assistance to the poor. The budget for all UN peacekeeping operations this year is about seven billion dollars. This means that the world spends 200 times more on weapons of war than on keeping the peace.

International institutions have too often proved ineffectual. Governments engaged in little more than hand-wringing while millions of innocent lives were lost in Rwanda, Congo, Darfur and elsewhere. In one decade, five million people lost their lives in civil war in the Congo. Many people do not even know where the Congo is. We still have people dying by the hundreds or thousands in Darfur today. In Darfur, the UN wanted 26,000 troops and 18 helicopters a year and a half ago. As far as I am aware, they still have not received a single helicopter because Darfur is not considered to be of a strategic importance. You have troops in Afghanistan but zero contribution from the west to Darfur. Do we want a concept of security based on a Eurocentric approach, a bunker approach, or do we want a system of security based on human solidarity? That is a question we have to address.

A tragic war was launched against Iraq, which has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. This was done on the basis of a false pretext, without authorisation from the Security Council, and despite the absence of any evidence that Iraq had revived its nuclear weapons programme or efforts to acquire other weapons of mass destruction. The international community´s "responsibility to protect" against genocide and war crimes, which was adopted at the 2005 World Summit, is more noticeable by its absence. We continue to witness repression and denial of the most basic human rights in many parts of the world and yet authoritarian dictators continue to be invited to our capitals as long as they are "our friends".

There have, of course, also been positive developments. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in the last two decades. The number of authoritarian regimes has declined somewhat. Nuclear disarmament is finally at the top of the international agenda, thanks largely to the courageous initiative of President Obama. This is not just out of idealism but out of a sense of realism, which has led people like Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, Bill Perry - people who were at the heart of the Cold War - to become apostles of nuclear disarmament. This is because they have realized that the technology is out of the tube, that having more and more countries developing nuclear weapons is no longer difficult and - more importantly - because of the prospect of nuclear terrorism. We have seen a lot of extremist groups, sophisticated groups, interested in acquiring nuclear weapons. If they do acquire these weapons, the concept of deterrence is no longer relevant.

A few years ago, I had a very good conversation with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. I told him that the threat that we are facing in the world, in the Middle East region, cannot be countered by nuclear weapons or nuclear deterrence. The number one threat that we are facing today is nuclear terrorism and that requires absolute cooperation involving every country in every region, rather than continuing to rely on old-fashioned concepts of security. I think he understood that.

I am hopeful that Russia and the U.S. will agree by the end of this year to cut their nuclear arsenals by as much as a third. Other concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament are also being revived. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty may at last come into force and negotiations are restarting on a treaty that would outlaw the production of fissile material for military purposes.

One question that is having tremendous impact on how we at the IAEA manage the non-proliferation regime is the widespread sense of cynicism among the non nuclear weapons states. They ask themselves: why should we accept more restrictions and continue to rely on an inferior system of security while the nuclear weapons states continue not only to keep their nuclear weapons, but to develop their nuclear weapons; not only to continue to talk about them as a source of deterrence, but in fact to talk about them as usable weapons? In the last few years we have heard different European statesmen talking about the possible use of nuclear weapons. That is why I mentioned at the Security Council Summit in September that it is only when the weapons states take concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament that they will have the legitimacy to go after those who want to have nuclear weapons and the moral authority to tell the rest of the world that we should not have a system of security that relies on nuclear weapons.

There are in my view, fundamental global security problems that need to be addressed in a new way, because it is clear that the old ways are not working. Our security strategies have not caught up with the risks we face and our international institutions are poorly equipped to deal with new challenges. Whether it is the Security Council or the IAEA, we are poorly equipped and not empowered to deal with the challenges we face. If you look at the Security Council, it´s often a matter of luck as to whether there is an agreement among the permanent members or not. If there is no agreement, the Council is paralyzed. At the IAEA, we don´t have the required resources, legal authority or state of the art technology. People sometimes laugh at us and say we are a "sleepy" watchdog. I say we will continue to be a sleepy watchdog until we have the tools to be able to bark.

We must finally grasp that security has to be inclusive. We need what the Palme Commission called common security. A world in which a few countries enjoy the questionable security afforded by a "nuclear umbrella" while others are left out in the cold is simply not sustainable. We cannot turn our backs on our neighbours - and in today´s globalized world, everyone is our neighbour. Insecurity anywhere in the world can easily turn into insecurity everywhere. Willy Brandt was ahead of his time in recognising the inextricable link between security and development. He understood that helping developing countries is the smart thing for wealthy countries to do, not just the right thing. If we are to break the vicious circle of under-development fuelling insecurity and vice versa, our leaders today also need to recognize this link.

The threats we face - poverty, war, environmental degradation, communicable diseases, weapons of mass destruction - are even more interconnected than they were in Willy Brandt´s day. All are "threats without borders," making traditional notions of national security obsolete. By their very nature, these security threats require multinational cooperation and strong international institutions to implement what are in reality national policies that cannot be implemented by any government acting alone. Obviously, international cooperation means dialogue, respect, understanding where each country is coming from, understanding compromise, understanding that we should focus on the human being and not on borders or nationalities. It means changing our mindset and moral compass.

There are many encouraging cases of festering conflicts being resolved - look at post-war Europe or, more recently, Northern Ireland. But it only happens as a result of committed, sustained diplomacy. Those of us fortunate enough to live in stable and peaceful parts of the world are too often indifferent to the human suffering caused by violence and conflict. We need to get engaged and remain engaged. But we must never forget that solutions to disputes that are not rooted in fairness and justice will not be durable. Too often, dialogue - the most meaningful tool of conflict resolution - is perceived either as a sign of weakness or as a reward for good behaviour, rather than as a means to change behaviour and reconcile differences. This is the total opposite of the principle championed so effectively by Willy Brandt, which was to accept the world as it was, however unpalatable and imperfect, and then set about changing it.

Mikhail Gorbachev summed up Brandt´s Ostpolitik as "a philosophy of pragmatic idealism, which gave a powerful push to change in Europe and all over the world." That philosophy should guide us today, as citizens and leaders, in working to create a new global system of collective security that is equitable, inclusive and effective and that is not based on nuclear weapons "haves" and "have nots". We have to start thinking about how we can have a system of security that does not depend on nuclear weapons and how to effectively detect and deter possible cheats. This is work that we have to start today. We invented nuclear weapons and the concept of deterrence; we should have the ingenuity to develop an alternative system that is not based on inhumane weapons. Willy Brandt´s philosophy should guide us today in working to create a new global system of collective security in which no country feels the need to rely on nuclear weapons and in which force is never used unless every other option has been exhausted, and then only within the bounds of international law as codified in the UN Charter.

I know that diplomacy is difficult, tedious and time-consuming. There is always a tendency to go for so-called sanctions. But sanctions usually end up hurting the poor and the vulnerable, the innocent, rarely hurting the government that is supposedly being targeted. We hear talk about smart sanctions. I haven´t yet seen these smart sanctions which should only be targeted at the government and not the innocent civilians. In my view, grievous violations of human rights have been committed in the name of human rights and democracy, through sanctions.

We need a new system in which the strong are just and the weak secure; a new system with effective global mechanisms for conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacemaking; a new system in which security is not perceived as a zero sum game or based on domination or balance of power.

Cynics are quick to dismiss such goals as idealistic and unattainable. Putting an end to war is an impossible pipe-dream, they say. I disagree. It has already been done - right here, in the European Union. The continent of Europe was wracked for centuries by an apparently endless succession of wars. After the unspeakable horrors of World War Two, far-sighted statesmen in France and Germany decided that this must not be allowed to happen again. Even before the wounds of war had healed, they embarked on a process of cooperation and integration that, in time, overcame ancient antagonisms and led to the creation of the European Union. Few of the survivors amid the rubble of Europe in 1945 would have believed that, within little more than a generation, their enemies would become their partners, allies and friends. But it happened. Today, EU member states still quarrel, squabble and jockey for position - and play dirty tricks against each other - but war between them has become inconceivable.

The next step must be for far-sighted statesmen and women today to take this model, with all its imperfections, and work to create something comparable that will work at a global level. Brandt´s Ostpolitik must be extended further east and further south. For that to happen, a change of mindset is required, much like that brought about by Willy Brandt when he reached out to eastern Europe. That means recognising that our common humanity transcends national and cultural differences. It means the rich countries overcoming their fortress mentality towards countries of the South and opening up to welcome them as partners and friends. It means developing countries taking responsibility for improving the lives of their own people, establishing good governance and respecting basic human rights.

Willy Brandt wrote: "Today we know how rich, and at the same time how limited, man is in his possibilities. We know him in his aggression and in his brotherliness. We know that he is capable of applying his inventions for his own good, but also of using them to destroy himself."

I would put it differently. We live in a world that has witnessed people like Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, but also suicide bombers. It´s the same world but a different environment. It is the development aspect, to my mind - working to give every human being the right to live in peace and dignity - that will change the environment and empower every human being to achieve his full potential. Unless you do that, we will continue to see symptoms of inequalities and insecurities.

May Brandt´s vision inspire all of us to work tirelessly to build a world in which all human beings come to embrace their shared humanity and learn to live together in peace, free from fear and free from want.

This week, I was invited to speak at the Sacred Convent of St Francis of Assisi. I was absolutely gripped by one of St Francis´s prayers, in which he says: "Lord, make me a channel of your peace." I pray that every one of us will be a channel for peace. Thank you very much.


Last update: 26 July 2017