Dear Deputy Secretary General, ambassadors, Generals, ladies and gentleman,
A warm word of welcome to all of you and thanks for joining us for this very special occasion. It is great that so many of the wider NATO family have come to honour our friend and colleague, General and Ambassador Doug Lute.
Above all, it is great to have you here, Doug. We all know what the reason for this reception is – and I can assure you from my own experience, receiving a Bundesverdienstkreuz does not hurt. So: no worries! But let me first say some words about why the Federal President has decided to award you this honour.
Doug Lute stands for more than one generation of distinguished American soldiers, officers and diplomats who dedicated a considerable part of their professional lives to German and European security – men and women who made outstanding personal contributions to the German-American friendship and the Transatlantic Alliance.
In Doug Lute’s case, working with Germany may not have been such a far-fetched thing to do, as the Lutes – like a quarter of the American population – have their origins in Germany.
But today’s decoration is not about where Doug Lute came from, but about who he is and what he has done – as a soldier and a diplomat.
Like literally millions of American soldiers and officers, you, Doug, served in West Germany during the Cold War and then in the reunited Germany after the Cold War ended.
You worked closely with Germany and Germans during your time as Deputy National Security Advisor to the President for Iraq and Afghanistan. And finally, during your time as US Ambassador to NATO, you worked closely with my predecessor and myself on a day to day basis on key issues for the Alliance. I vividly recall our joint trip to Washington we undertook to prepare the Warsaw summit.
But let me start with your military life. Who in this room knows places in Germany like Bindlach near Bayreuth, Schweinfurt, Stuttgart-Vaihingen? Besides the Germans, probably not many – but Doug knows them all, as he was stationed there as a US army officer. Three times you served in Germany in the years from 1976 until 2004, for a total of 12 years – years during which you got to know Germany and the intricacies of European security from a grassroots perspective.
I am sure you did a great job - otherwise you would not have finished your military career as a 3star General. And looking at your German assignments we did not find anything which might have caused concern to the Federal President’s office. You did not go so far as to marry a German “Fräulein” as quite a few American GIs did – but it is fair to say that your wife Jane served in Germany as well –in the famous Berlin brigade during the early 80s.
I still find it amazing that the US, over decades, sent millions of young Americans – like young Doug Lute from Michigan City, Indiana – over the Atlantic to serve in Germany, to protect a far-away country which had been responsible for the most unspeakable crimes against humanity during the Second World War.
It was the consequence of a strategic decision, the rationale behind which we should remind ourselves of also today. By entering World War I in 1917 – that is, almost exactly hundred years ago – America had become a European power. However, after World War I the US followed an isolationist impulse and withdrew from Europe. We know the consequences of that decision.
In contrast, after the Second World War the US stayed in Europe. With Marshall Plan and the foundation of NATO. US made clear that it regarded its security as intrinsically linked to European security. As Henry Kissinger once put it, the US, if separated from Europe in politics, economics and defence, would become geopolitically an island off the shores of Eurasia.
That far-sighted decision served the US, Germany and Europe well. Without the engagement of so many young Americans like Doug Lute we would not have maintained our freedom during the Cold War. Without NATO, the support of the US and our allies, we would not have been able to build the European Communities and finally to peacefully overcome the division of Germany and Europe.
You, Doug, were part of that historic effort – and by honouring and thanking you, we also honour and thank all these Americans who did the same as you did – representing an America living up to its responsibility as a European and global power, an America that is generous, an America that is committed to principles and values, that stands for freedom, democracy and human rights.
Talking to Doug, I have always felt that, for him, this commitment to shared values is the very basis of what made him tick as a soldier and a diplomat – as is the conviction that it serves vital US interests to have friends and allies in Europe. In an article he published last September in the New York Times commemorating the invocation of Article 5 by NATO following 9/11, Doug quoted Nick Burns, who was US Ambassador to NATO at the time: “When we needed allies the most, they were there for us. The invocation of Article 5 demonstrated the power of the collective versus the strength of one country trying to stand alone.”
Close cooperation with allies and partners was equally important during Doug Lute’s assignment as Deputy National Security Advisor for Afghanistan and Iraq to Presidents Bush and Obama from 2007 until 2013. During these years, Doug Lute worked closely with his German colleagues, in particular Michael Steiner and Michael Koch. I still remember the Second Petersberg conference in Bonn in 2011, when we initiated the strategic turnaround in our Afghanistan policy: from stabilisation to transformation through assistance in the decade from 2014 to 2024. Our long time Special Representative for Afghanistan, Michael Koch, told me about long meetings with Doug in the White House and in other places, where you almost invariably shared the same view as regards the difficult situation in Afghanistan and the way ahead.
Despite all the challenges that Afghanistan continues to present us with, it is also a shining example of transatlantic and German-American cooperation. You, Doug, were always open to the argument made by the Chancellor that – with all due respect to the necessary timelines put forward by the Obama Administration – it was equally important to look at developments on the ground when taking decisions on our force posture in Afghanistan. The joint trip of the framework nations Ambassadors that you organised in spring 2015 was an eye-opener in that respect. It raised awareness in Washington and Brussels regarding the necessity of a conditions-based approach. As a result we decided in Warsaw to sustain Resolute Support into 2017 – and maintain, for the time being, the regional headquarters. The US kept their troop level – including the enablers who are so important for our presence in the North.
Afghanistan was still NATO’s single most important topic when Doug Lute took up this office as US Ambassador to the Alliance in 2013. One year later, NATO had reached – as Doug always put it – an inflexion point, maybe comparable to the years 1989/90. Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea, the destabilisation of the Donbass and the turmoil in the South exemplified by ISIS taking Mosul in the same year were more than just a thunderstorm – they indicated geopolitical climate change. For Doug Lute, the conclusion to be drawn from this was clear: NATO had to adapt. He soon started to talk about a “NATO 3.0”.
This process of adaptation is still ongoing. It was and is not easy. Every ally needs to be on board. You, Doug, fully understood what Clausewitz tells us: that unity is the centre of gravity of any alliance. An alliance lacking this unity is weak, unable to effectively deter possible adversaries, and will finally fall apart. Having this in mind, you were always a tireless, a committed consensus builder, looking for compromises that would move the alliance forward and keep it together.
The Russia debate is a case in point in that respect. You were among those who, at a very early stage, were convinced that we needed to move from reassurance to strengthening deterrence and defence. But you also understood early on that just strengthening our military capabilities would not be enough, that NATO as a political organisation needs to be open to dialogue with Russia, especially in difficult times, in order to avoid dangerous miscalculations and preserve peace. You strongly supported our call to revive the NATO-Russia Council and reaffirm the double-track approach at Warsaw. Your position was enormously important and helpful, also because some senior officials in DC had to be convinced.
NATO-EU cooperation was another area where we saw eye to eye. In the run up to Warsaw you were among the most vocal advocates of opening up a new chapter in the relationship between NATO and the EU. You were immediately on board when I suggested producing a food–for-thought paper with other allies on this important topic to support the SecGen’s efforts. Your reasoning was clear: NATO and the EU need to join forces given the dramatic security challenges in our neighbourhood. And you understood that an EU which strengthens its defence capabilities without duplicating NATO will make the transatlantic bond stronger.
Both discussions are great examples of your ambition and your ability to lead by building consensus. You played the role any US Ambassador on the North Atlantic Council has to play: that of a driving force. But you never imposed yourself or rammed anything down our throats. You demonstrated that an officer can also be an outstanding diplomat – and a gentleman as well, of course.
So: Cold War – Afghanistan – NATO: three major topics on which you, Doug, worked successfully, over many years, with Germany and over German colleagues. You made outstanding contributions for German-American friendship. It is a great pleasure and an honour to present you, on behalf of Federal President Joachim Gauck, with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. President Gauck, who left office last week, still took this decision and signed the certificate – but his successor, Federal President Steinmeier, whom you know, sends his best regards and congratulations as well.