NATO summit sparks emotions in Germany

March 31, 2009

Judging from their comments, this week’s NATO summit will be an emotional event for Germany’s leading politicians — some of whom grew up on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain.

Angela Merkel, Germany’s first chancellor to have grown up in communist East Germany, praised the “historic dimension” of the summit, which marks the 60th anniversary of the military alliance and comes 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. ”Memories of Wall and barbed wire (make us realise) Germany has to thank NATO and its allies’ solidarity for a lot… Re-unified Germany celebrates 20 years of German and European happiness,” the 54-year-old told parliament. Merkel said the summit, held in the French city of Strasbourg and the German towns of Kehl and Baden-Baden across the river Rhine, would take place where “German and French once stood as bitter enemies… and are now united in friendship”. 

Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung, 60, who grew up in West Germany, revealed his memories of NATO and the Cold War this week, telling journalists about his feelings as a young German soldier when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. ”If something had happened then, Germans would have stood against Germans. We were in NATO and the people now living in Germany’s eastern states were in the NVA (the German Democractic Republic’s military). ”We were trained to stand against each other,” he said. “From there, we’ve come to create an army of unity in Germany. That’s a great achievement,” he said, referring to Germany’s growing role within NATO.

 

But although the NATO summit will be high on symbolism — its logo are elements of the bridge spanning the Rhine — the  leaders meeting from Thursday will also address issues which are likely to cause friction and heated debate.  NATO’s relationship to Russia is a disputed question. The alliance’s choice of a new head has already sparked vivid debate. And partners will discuss their strategy to solve the violent conflict in Afghanistan. U.S. President Barack Obama has already made clear he will seek fresh committments from partners for combat forces, trainers and equipment. And although the summit’s two hosts, Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have both praised the meeting as a symbol of Franco-German friendship, they have clashed on a serious of economic and foreign policy issues in past months.

The “historic” summit marking 60 years of transatlantic friendship could turn into a pragmatic gathering dominated by topical and conflictual debates.

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