Obituary: Manfred Worner
Monday 15 August 1994
MANFRED WORNER was the seventh Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the first German to hold the post. Appointed to succeed Lord Carrington in 1988, he presided over Nato at a turning-point in its short history, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe. Although he failed in his drawn-out battle against cancer, he lived long enough to see and help shape the dramatic changes in European defence over the last four years.
This summer the last Russian troops make their peaceful withdrawal from Germany, where they have been since the defeat of the Third Reich in 1945. The German armed forces (the Bundeswehr) have been given the go-ahead by the Federal Constitutional Court to take part in humanitarian and peace-keeping missions outside the Nato area. At the invitation of President Francois Mitterrand, units of the Bundeswehr even took part with their French partners in Eurocorps in the annual 14 July parade in Paris. Most significant of all, the countries of central and eastern Europe and other states participating in the CSCE (the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe) joined with Nato in January this year in a 'Partnership for Peace'.
These extraordinary developments gave satisfaction to Manfred Worner and were entirely in keeping with his work in defence politics. Some saw him as a Cold War warrior, but his statesmanlike approach to the revolutionary changes in Europe revealed him as a man of peace. When he started his career in defence the international political landscape had been utterly different.
It was no surprise when, after the change of government in Bonn in 1982, Worner was appointed Minister of Defence. At the elections of 1972 and 1976 he had been presented by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) as its 'shadow' Minister of Defence. When the chairmanship of the powerful Defence Committee of the Bundestag (parliament) became vacant in 1976 he was elected Chairman. He was then strategically placed to become Minister when the Christian Democratic / Free Democratic coalition of Helmut Kohl replaced Helmut Schmidt's Social Democratic / Free Democratic government in 1982.
Born in Stuttgart in 1934, Worner grew up there in a Protestant family. His father had fabric shops in Coburg, Reutlingen and Karlsruhe. The young Manfred studied law at the universities of Heidelberg, Paris and Munich, where he gained a doctorate in international law in 1961. The theme of his dissertation was 'the criminal jurisdiction over troops on Allied territory'.
Worner then joined the civil service of Baden-Wurttemberg before embarking on his parliamentary career.
Worner's interest in the military went back a long way. He belonged to the generation which missed compulsory military service after it was re-introduced in West Germany in 1956. In that year he joined the CDU and was elected to the Bundestag in 1965. One year later he volunteered for training as a Star fighter pilot. He kept up with his military flying and advanced to be a lieutenant- colonel in the reserve. 'During one hour of flying,' he once said, 'you make more decisions on your own than in one year in the Bundestag.' He never took any course in basic military training.
As Minister of Defence Worner had two basic policies. He attempted to streamline the West German Ministry of Defence and he wanted to re-evaluate and reintroduce German military tradition in the armed services. The first of these two objectives was not controversial, though it was not easy to make changes in such a large and powerful body. The second objective was far more dangerous and for a minister it was like negotiating a minefield. Although Worner had been a fierce critic of his Social Democratic predecessor, Hans Apel, in this matter, he decided to tread carefully. He did not want to be forced to follow the example of earlier defence ministers, Theodor Blank, Franz Josef Strauss and Georg Leber, all of whom had been forced to resign.
At issue was whether the Bundeswehr should honour the experience of earlier German armed forces, Hitler's Wehrmacht, the Reichwehr of Weimar and the Kaiser's army and navy. The Social Democrats had attempted to build up the Bundeswehr's own traditions based on the idea of the 'citizen in uniform'. They wanted to keep to a minimum the ideas, traditions, examples, heroes and ways of doing things from before 1945 which were to be retained. Worner was more willing to say that not everything had been bad in German military life before 1945.
Worner showed himself to be conservative in the matter of women serving in the armed forces. His predecessor had been open-minded on this, but Worner rejected the idea. Women continued to be employed solely as medical officers or as civilian employees. This was surprising considering women served in most other Allied forces and considering the increasing manpower difficulties of the Bundeswehr. Part of the trouble was that the Bundeswehr had too many middle-ranking officers whose use was limited. Worner saw to it that 1,200 officers took early retirement in 1985. In October 1984 he pushed through longer compulsory military service from 15 to 18 months beginning in June 1989.
In early 1984 Worner got into unexpected difficulties at the Ministry of Defence. General Gunter Kiessling, the West German deputy supreme allied commander in Nato, was accused by German military intelligence (MAD) of being a security risk due to homosexual activities. Worner's response was to place the general on the retired list. Subsequent investigations proved the accusations to be false and Worner was forced to re-instate him. The general then retired with full military honours. Worner and the Nato supreme commander, the US General Bernard Rogers, had to stand side by side with Kiessling at the farewell parade. The affair did Worner's public standing no good. He offered his resignation to Chancellor Kohl, who refused to accept it.
In the Reagan era Worner was sympathetic to the American position in Nato, which faced strong opposition from the Greens and the Social Democrats. In 1986 on his advice the West German government agreed to participation in the American Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) or 'star wars' project. At the same time he strongly favoured Franco-German military co-operation. He spoke excellent French as well as excellent English.
The Americans had confidence in Worner and were ready to support his appointment as Secretary-General of Nato in July 1988. Little more than a year after taking over he found himself confronting the rapidly changing situation in the Warsaw Pact which led to the restoration of German unity and culminated in the break-up of that pact and of the Soviet Union itself.
In 1992 Worner was found to have cancer of the colon, but he carried on working with apparently undiminished energy until June this year, despite several operations. Although he was advised by his doctors not to resume his activities, he characteristically returned to his office in an attempt to deal with the complexities of the Bosnian crisis. The wars in the former Yugoslavia revealed the weaknesses of Nato and the European Union, not to mention the United Nations, in dealing with conflicts of this kind. In February, Nato was involved in its first ever combat action when a Nato fighter shot down Serb planes violating a ban on over-flying Bosnia.
Manfred Worner was determined to bring about a new understanding between the states of the former Warsaw Pact and of Nato to avoid such conflicts as those in Bosnia in the future. The Partnership for Peace is the positive legacy of his efforts.
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