Manfred Wörner

Manfred Wörner (1934-1994), the former West German minister of defense, was appointed secretary-general of NATO and chairman of the North Atlantic Council in July 1988. He had to steer the Atlantic Alliance through times of formidable changes in East-West relations after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.

Manfred Wörner was born in Stuttgart, (West) Germany, on September 24, 1934. In 1953 he finished high school and went on to study law at the Universities of Heidelberg, Paris, and Munich. In 1957 he passed his first final examination in law in Munich, and in 1961 his second final examination in Stuttgart. The same year he received a Ph.D. in international law from the University of Munich. His dissertation was entitled "The Stationing of Foreign Forces in Friendly Countries."

In 1956 Wörner joined the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a right-of-center German political party, after having been a member of the Junge Union, a youth organization linked to the CDU, since 1953. His official public career began in 1961 when he became executive councillor for the Department of the Interior of the state of Baden-Württemberg. From 1962 to 1964 he was a CDU state parliamentary adviser in Baden-Württemberg. He moved into national politics with his election to the West German Bundestag in 1965, where he remained until July 1988. His special interests as an elected representative were parliamentary reform and security policy.

Wörner led an extremely active political career, as can be inferred from his many positions within the Bundestag and the Christian Democratic Union/Christian School Union (CDU/CSU) party apparatus. His political career also benefited from the support of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, member of the same political party. Wörner was deputy chairman of the CDU parliamentary group between 1969 and 1971 and chairman of the Baden-Württemberg Bundestag deputies of the CDU from 1970 to 1982. He combined the latter position with that of chairman of the Defense Working Group of the CDU/CSU Bundestag parliamentary party (1972-1976) and with his membership on the Federal CDU Executive Committee from 1973 to 1988. He was chosen as chairman of the Bundestag Defense Committee (1976-1980) and elected deputy chairman of the CDU/ CSU parliamentary group (1980-1982), with special responsibility for foreign policy, defense policy, development policy, and internal German relations.

From October 1982 until May 1988 Wörner was West Germany's federal minister of defense. One of the difficult issues with which he had to deal during his term as defense minister was the reduction of intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, eventually consecrated in a treaty. West German public opinion was extremely reluctant at first to host the majority of these weapons on its soil. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) two-track approach, whereby the missiles were deployed while negotiations to eliminate them were still ongoing, proved successful at last, but not without serious objections against the missiles' deployment in Germany, Italy, Belgium, and The Netherlands.

Wörner was appointed secretary-general of NATO and chairman of the North Atlantic Council on July 1, 1988, and became the first German to serve in those positions. His term had no official expiration date, although there was a general understanding that he would keep this position until 1992 or 1993. He succeeded Lord Carrington, the former British foreign secretary, who had served since 1984. The secretary-general of NATO is the chief executive of the 16-member alliance, whose headquarters is in Brussels, but important decisions are made by consensus of the leaders of the member countries. The secretary-general of NATO chairs all meetings of the North Atlantic Council, the highest authority in NATO, except at the opening and closing of ministerial sessions when he gives way to the council president, held on a rotational basis by the member countries' foreign ministers.

Soon after his election as secretary-general of NATO, Wörner was confronted with a series of disarmament initiatives pushed forward by the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, culminating in the reunification of the two Germanies. The inclusion of the former state of East Germany in NATO and the perception of a fading role for a Western military alliance due to a reduced Soviet threat, compounded by the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, challenged the traditional role and cohesion of the NATO alliance. However, Wörner was a strong advocate of maintaining U.S. troops in Europe and believed that NATO should not de-nuclearize Europe or Germany. Still, long delayed negotiations on the reduction of conventional forces in Europe (CFE) received a sudden impetus. Wörner was a firm believer in the necessity of a CFE treaty as he hoped that it would create a set of binding obligations for the Soviets, opening the way for a new European military and political order. Given the new emerging world order, Wörner believed NATO and the Soviet Union should look toward each other as "partners in security" rather than as antagonists.

It was the task of NATO's secretary-general in the 1990s to help redefine a comprehensive role for NATO and to find new missions which might reinforce NATO solidarity in the future. Wörner was firmly convinced that NATO could become more of a political alliance rather than purely military, confronting also matters such as economic rivalry among member states. During trips on behalf of NATO, Wörner used his extensive diplomatic skills to extend a hand of cooperation and to establish new partnerships for upholding security in Europe. When he visited Albania in 1993, Wörner addressed the Parliament, the first ever by a NATO Secretary General, saying that the purpose of his visit was "to discuss what we can do together to deepen our cooperation and make it as relevant as possible to your concerns." In August 1994 Wörner was succeeded by Willy Claes of Belgian, as Secretary General. Colonel Anatoly Andrievsky of Ukraine was the first recipient of the Manfred Wörner memorial scholarship in 1995.

Wörner had many outside interests. Beginning in 1970 he held the position of deputy chairman of the Konard Adenauer Foundation. On June 8, 1985, he received an honorary Doctor in Law degree from Troy State University, Alabama. Manfred Wörner was an enthusiastic aviator and a lieutenant colonel of the Air Reserve, having flown over 1,200 hours. He enjoyed soccer and hiking and was a medieval history enthusiast. He was married to Elfriedo Reinsch; he had a son by a previous marriage.


Further Reading on Manfred Wörner

Manfred Wörner wrote several articles in English. Two of these are "Managing European Security," in Survival (1989), and "Current Prospects for European Security," in The Atlantic Quarterly (1983). He was co-author of "Germany: Keystone to European Security," in American Enterprise Institute: Foreign Policy and Defense Review (1983). On NATO's organization and role see "NATO Handbook," available free from the NATO Information Service, Brussels (1989; periodically updated), and "NATO Facts and Figures" (1989).