Toasts of the President and Secretary General Joseph M.A.H. Luns at a Dinner Honoring the NATO Foreign Ministers on the 35th Anniversary of the North Atlantic Alliance

May 30, 1984

The President. Secretary General Luns, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen, it's an honor and a pleasure to welcome our NATO partners to the White House. This evening has been a special opportunity to celebrate the unprecedented success of our enduring friendship, our partnership -- an alliance dedicated to peace and freedom.

Thirty-five years ago, in the troubled aftermath of a tragic conflict, 12 nations met here in Washington to sign the North Atlantic Treaty. That event was an act of realism. The member nations recognized the threat to their security and undertook to meet it together.

The establishment of the North Atlantic alliance was also an act of optimism, an affirmation of the enduring vitality of Western civilization. Thirty-five years of peace with freedom testify to the wisdom and the foresight of those nations, and of the four other nations who have since joined NATO.

Although the founders could not have foreseen the dramatic changes that have taken place since 1949, their vision was right on the mark. By uniting Europe and North America, NATO has made possible the longest period of peace and prosperity in modern history. And today our proud alliance remains united in its commitment to the defense of democracy and individual liberty.

We cannot be content with the accomplishments of the past. As we look ahead, there are compelling reasons to strengthen even further our solidarity and unity. Our commitment to collective security will continue to be an indispensable bulwark against aggression, terrorism, and tyranny.

Our unity will be the essential framework for building a constructive dialog with our adversaries and reducing the risks of war and the level of nuclear arms. And I know that it will be our societies, the democracies, that will offer a bright and hopeful future for our people and for people everywhere.

We can be confident. The events of the past year challenged us, and the Western democracies stood firm in the face of an intense Soviet campaign of intimidation, aimed at undermining NATO's commitment to defend Europe and preserve peace. Today we are stronger and more conscious of our unity. And that's of crucial importance, because when the Soviet Union becomes convinced that NATO cannot be shaken it may finally realize it has a clear and compelling interest to return to the negotiating table. We will be waiting, ready to meet them halfway.

Tonight is more than a celebration of an anniversary. It's also an opportunity to recognize the special contributions of our Secretary General. Joseph Luns is a distinguished diplomat and a man of many virtues.

First as the Dutch Foreign Minister, and then at NATO's helm, he's been at the center of the transatlantic bridge for nearly 30 years. His mission -- his vision, I should say -- his humor, and his patience have sustained us in good times and bad. As Secretary General, he's never lost sight of the goals and objectives of our alliance, and peace has been his profession.

You have been a trusted friend, an honest broker, a respected colleague, and, above all, an invaluable leader of the Atlantic alliance. Joseph, you've said that the state of our alliance is like Wagner's music -- better than it sounds. [Laughter] Well, I must tell you that thanks largely to your efforts I rather like the way the alliance sounds. And I hope that even in retirement you will still watch over our partnership and that you will not hesitate to share your counsel with us.

Ladies and gentlemen, in recognition of Joseph Luns uncommon dedication to the ideals of our alliance and in tribute to his outstanding service and enduring contributions to our freedom and security, it is my great privilege to bestow America's highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom, on Secretary General Luns.

But before I invite him to receive the medal, I would ask that you raise your glasses and join me in a toast to Secretary General Joseph Luns and to the organization he has faithfully served and so ably guided.

[The toast was offered, and the President presented Secretary General Luns with the Medal of Freedom.]

Mr. Secretary General, it gives me great pleasure to present that to you.

The Secretary General. Thank you very, very much, indeed. Thank you.

The President. Thank you.

The Secretary General. Mr. President, distinguished guests, I feel greatly flattered, deeply honored, immensely proud by having received from your hands, Mr. President, this very special award which I value highly and for which I am very, very grateful. Thank you very much, indeed.

May I say that I have now been nearly 13 years Secretary General of this great organization, and looking back on those 13 years, I must and I want to gratefully acknowledge the immense role the United States has played in this alliance. Far from being a hegemonic power, far from imposing your wishes and your will on your allies in an alliance where every decision must be taken by unanimity, you have always taken into account the views and the opinions of your European allies. And it is simply a truism to say that without the presence of more than 300,000 of your sons in Europe, Europe -- the world -- would be a far worse place than it is now, and I would not be standing here, nor would be the 16 Ministers of this alliance who have gathered here in Washington to have our yearly conclave, where, I must say, we had an excellent, excellent exchange of views.

The fact that your Secretary of State, Mr. George Shultz, and Counselor Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, are among your guests, as well as so many distinguished people whom I have known, some of whom for a long time and some who have become personal friends of mine -- and I look at Tapley Bennett, who is now Under Secretary of the State Department, and so many others I could name -- makes, of course, this evening even more special than it is, Mr. President.

I could go on telling you, the guests here and the Ministers of the alliance, that we have gone through somewhat difficult times and that we have gone through very good times.

Let me say that if I had left this alliance last year at this time I would be less confident, less optimistic. But the fact that the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Italy have started to station on their territory the modernized missiles in order to counter the threat of the SS - 20 and, thereby, restoring the credibility of our nuclear deterrence, and on that credibility, Mr. President -- you have said it often, and I repeat it -- on that credibility, the peace of this world rests. And the President l'honneur Monsieur Cheysson said it yesterday and has repeated it today. I therefore repeat, I go with a certain optimism.

I am not pretending that I am deliriously happy to lay down my job as Secretary General. [Laughter] If I were to say what I feel, I would say I am somewhat content. [Laughter] That is, perhaps, already an overstatement. But let me say that all the various positions I have held in life, like Secretary of State of the Netherlands -- and I was for 14 years a diplomat -- the most rewarding, the most rich position, rich in achievement, and important in what the alliance has done, has been that I was chosen in '71 to serve this great alliance, the greatest, the most important alliance and organization for peace the world has known. And you are quite right, Mr. President, that the peace has been preserved for a far longer period, certainly in Europe, than we could have hoped for in the days after the last war.

And, Mr. President, may I end by saying that we are all deeply grateful for your unflinching support for the alliance. You have shown it over and over again. And let me say, too, that I will always treasure this very special award, which I will, for the days which will still be with me, I hope, always see as one of the most important and the most precious awards which was ever bestowed on me.

Thank you very much, Mr. President. All the best to you and to that great nation, the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 8:50 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.