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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2004 > March

Flexible and Unbreakable

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Op-Ed
Frankfurter Allgemaine Zeitung
March 31, 2004

The U.S.-German partnership, like the Transatlantic partnership of which it is a key component, has remained strong over the years because we have proved capable of adjusting to change. The history of my own travels to Germany illustrates the point.

I first came here in 1958, when West Germany was still emerging from the darkness of World War II, a young democracy finding its way in tense times. I was a 21-year-old U.S. Army second lieutenant posted at Gelnhausen, a picturesque town in the Kinzig River valley. Our mission was to defend the Fulda Gap, a break in the Vogelsberg mountains through which the Iron Curtain ran, and through which the Red Army any day might pour.

Just over thirty years later, in 1990, I came as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to a reunified Germany that had become a mature democracy and a global economic powerhouse. A different stretch of the Iron Curtain – the Berlin Wall – had fallen amid jubilant Germans East and West. As we together adjusted to change, my old post at Gelnhausen was soon closed, and the Fulda Gap became a tourist attraction.

Today, I return as U.S. Secretary of State to a confident and unified nation at peace. The chilling times of the Cold War are gone. Even the days of celebration at their end have receded in our memories. It has been years since we shared a common Soviet adversary, and many of our leaders today lack personal experience of U.S.-German joint labors during those times. Nearly all of NATO’s challenges now originate outside of Europe.

As time has passed, our concerns have been redirected and our sense of mutual dependency has been relaxed. For Americans, more recent events – particularly the tragedy of September 11, 2001 – have reshaped our view of the world. For Germany and its neighbors, the project of building the new Europe now molds attitudes and expectations. These shifts in focus diminished our Cold War-era camaraderie, and our disagreement over how best to deal with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq led some to predict the end of NATO, and even the collapse of the Transatlantic partnership.

I was not among such people. Neither was President Bush. We know that far more unites us than separates us. We share the core ideals of democratic and free peoples. We share a common European heritage reaching back to classical antiquity.

We also share key interests with our European partners in confronting the major security, economic and political challenges of our times. Those challenges stretch from the need to address acute regional conflicts and to fight against pandemic diseases like HIV/AIDs, to the obligation to prevent weapons proliferation and terrorism – such as we witnessed earlier this month in Madrid.

We will meet those challenges. Both NATO and the European Union are expanding this year, and that is twice good. Both expansions will consolidate peace, expand prosperity, and advance our common agenda. Those expansions also prove that despite the many changes of recent years, allied bonds remain flexible as well as unbreakable.

NATO is transforming itself from an alliance whose main task was the defense of common territory to an alliance whose main task is the defense of common principles. The process of transformation is bound to be uneven, as illustrated by the complex effort to reconfigure military doctrines and basing structures for the Alliance as a whole and among individual members. But nowhere is the success of that transformation more apparent than in Afghanistan – the reason for my current visit to Germany.

It is thanks in no small part to German commitment that Afghanistan has made the progress we will recognize at the International Conference on Afghanistan here in Berlin. Germany has shown vision and leadership by helping to shape NATO’s first deployment outside Europe, in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Germans may take particular pride in the deployment of the Bundeswehr in Kunduz, where German soldiers lead the first Provincial Reconstruction Team under ISAF command.

Germany and the United States are working together elsewhere in the Middle East, as well. We both support a free Iraq, united and at peace with itself and its neighbors. We appreciate Germany’s training of Iraqi police officers, its readiness to cancel a substantial portion of its Iraqi debt, and its help in restoring Iraq’s water supply and its vocational training system. We both also welcome the vital and growing role of the United Nations in Iraq, and look to the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty on June 30.

We are also working for peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors, and I applaud the German government’s commitment to Turkish membership in the EU. Turkey can be an indispensable bridge between Europe and the Near East, and between Christian and Muslim cultures.

Perhaps most promising, our two countries are pledged to promote political, economic, and social reform in the greater Middle East. This is a multi-generational challenge of supporting Middle Easterners to replace stagnation and resentment with freedom and hope. Germany and the United States are collaborating on specific proposals on the greater Middle East for the G-8, U.S.-EU, and NATO summit meetings in June.

In 1958, I stood with Germans in the shadow of the Vogelsberg mountains. Today, American and German soldiers stand together in the shadow of the Hindu Kush. Back then we allied to build a safer and better world. We are still allied today, and we are still building that world. Should I visit Germany a decade hence, I trust I will see an even stronger and still flexible Transatlantic partnership hard at that work.



Released on March 31, 2004

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