Willy Brandt

Nobel Lecture



Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1971


Peace Policy in Our Time


The Nobel Peace Prize for 1971 has been awarded to a man still active in political life; therefore, it can only have been in appreciation of his continuing endeavors, not of his past achievements.

Yesterday I expressed my gratitude; today I wish to speak about peace policy in our time: about my own experiences and, naturally, about what my own country can do, but also about what we in Europe, and from Europe, can do for the world. It is little enough, as our powerlessness in the face of the new war between India and Pakistan demonstrates.

This is precisely the time for me to clearly emphasize my principles: War must not be a means to achieve political ends. Wars must be eliminated, not merely limited. No national interest can today be isolated from collective responsibility for peace. This fact must be recognized in all foreign relations. As a means of achieving European and worldwide security, therefore, foreign policy must aim to reduce tensions and promote communication beyond frontiers.

Foreign Minister Walter Scheel and I are guided by the principle that it is not enough to pronounce peace-loving intentions but we must also endeavor actively to organize peace.

We wage war – we maintain peace; our use of language shows the challenge of peace when we see it as a permanent task.

How to prevent war is a question which is part of the European tradition – Europe has always had reason enough to ask it. The politician who in the daily conflict of interests tries to serve the cause of equitable peace draws his strength from the moral reserves that have been formed by generations before him. Consciously or not he is guided by them.

Our ethical and social concepts have been shaped by two thousand years of Christianity. And this means that, in spite of many aberrations under the flag of bellum justum, “the just war”, attempts have been made over and over again to achieve peace in this world, too.

Our second source of strength is humanism and classical philosophy. Immanuel Kant postulated his idea of a constitutional confederation of states in words that pose a very distinct question to today’s generations: Man, he said, will one day be faced with the choice of either uniting under a true law of nations or destroying with a few blows the civilization he has built up over thousands of years: then, necessity will compel him to do what he ought better to have done long ago of his own free reason.1

A third strong source is socialism with its aspiration to social justice at home and abroad. And with its insistence that moral laws should find application not only between individual citizens but among nations and states.

Peace policy is a sober task. I, too, try with the means at my command to pave the way for the prevalence of reason in my own country and in the world: that reason which demands that we seek peace because the absence of peace has come to mean extreme lack of reason.

War is no longer the ultima ratio but rather the ultima irratio. Even if this is still not a generally held view, I personally understand a policy for peace as a genuine Realpolitik of this epoch.

Realpolitik, grossly abused in Germany over a period of twelve years, proved to be an infernal chimera. Today we are in the process of finding a tolerable balance between ourselves and with the world. If the balance sheet of my political effectiveness were to say that I have helped to open up the way for a new sense of reality in Germany, then one of the greatest hopes of my life would have been fulfilled.

I say here what I say in Germany: A good German cannot be a nationalist. A good German knows that he cannot refuse a European calling. Through Europe, Germany returns to itself and to the constructive forces of its history. Our Europe, born of the experience of suffering and failure, is the imperative mission of reason.


Under the threat of mankind’s self-destruction, co-existence has become a question of the very existence of man. Co-existence became not one of several acceptable possibilities but the only chance of survival.

What is it that has characterized developments in Europe in the past 25 years? To begin with, an impressive phase of reconstruction, and secondly, continued tension. The East-West conflict – the root causes of which were for the most part not in the West – has bound up many forces. During this period I was deeply involved in Berlin, the intersection of East-West tension. And let me add that I always regarded my task there-particularly in the very “militant” years – as one also of helping to safeguard peace. It was then, and still is, my conviction that if the West had allowed itself to be driven out of my city, that would not only have spelt misfortune for the people directly concerned, not only great harm to the Federal Republic of Germany, Western Europe and the United States, but would most probably have had perilous consequences for peace. That was the case during Stalin’s blockade of 1948, as it was when Khrushchev issued his ultimatum in 1958.2

I am not one of those people who maintain or even feel that they have always been right. My journey through life has always required me to ponder upon my own position. But I can say that ever since my youth I have been guided by those fundamental convictions that are held to lead to good neighbourliness – both at home and abroad.

As Mayor of Berlin I experienced how critical situations influence our thinking. I knew, though, that steadfastness serves the cause of peace.

A great deal has been written about the years of crisis 1961 and 1962.3 Perhaps I may be allowed to add a few more comments on this period. The most striking aspect of the Berlin Wall was the absurd division of what had remained intact of the whole organism of a metropolis, with all the lamentable consequences for the people.

There were also the international implications of this deep incision. The Western Powers unwaveringly stood by their aegis for West Berlin. But, willy-nilly, they accepted the fact that their counterpart held sole control over East Berlin. No Four-Power status did anything to alter the fact that the Wall had become the dividing line between the nuclear superpowers. And no one in a position of responsibility demanded that the Western Powers should use military force and risk a war to preserve their share of what originally was common responsibility.

There is still another aspect – that of impotence disguised by verbalism: taking a stand on legal positions which cannot become a reality and planning counter-measures for contingencies that always differ from the one at hand. At critical times we were left to our own devices; the verbalists had nothing to offer.

Passionate protests were justified and necessary, but they did not alter the situation. The Wall remained; we had to learn to live with it, and I had to call in the police to prevent young demonstrators from running to their ruin. The impediments on the access routes to Berlin remained. The gulf which divided Germany from Lübeck to the Czechoslovakian border also remained and grew deeper. The game with trumps that are none, as Golo Mann4 put it, did not change anything. It was necessary to contemplate the political possibilities anew if the people were to be aided and peace made safer.

The Cuban crisis, on a more dramatic scale and with even more at stake, showed the delimitation and the changing relations between the nuclear giants.

At the beginning of October 1962, I visited John F. Kennedy. He spoke of the danger that would emanate from missile bases aimed at the United States. I was under the impression that the danger of miscalculation could not be ruled out; there were concentrations of troops around Berlin. When, on the evening of October 23rd, President Kennedy delivered his most serious speech on Cuba, he twice mentioned the connection with Berlin. I supported his view. As it turned out, everything in our part of the world remained peaceful. The Cuban crisis was overcome by a sense of responsibility and cool-headedness. This was a significant experience and a turning-point.

A few weeks previously I had spoken at Harvard about co-existence. Judging by my experience in Berlin, I said that realistic self-confidence need not fear contact with the political and ideological antagonist. The uncertainty of the present time must not be permitted to make us uncertain, too. What was the point, I asked, of getting in touch with the other side without being prepared to speak? Speaking surely also meant negotiating and being open to compromise, not unilateral concessions. An active peace policy will remain for a long time to come the test of our intellectual and material vitality.5


After staring into the abyss of a global war we found ourselves beset by problems of global dimensions: hunger, the population explosion, environmental hazards, and the dwindling of natural resources. Only those who accept or even look forward with pleasure to the end of the world can ignore problems of such magnitude.

In our epoch the learned provide us with works that are outstanding for their expertise and deep sincerity. They are no longer merely concerned with the differences between ideologies and social systems. Their concern now is the future of man and whether he has any future at all. They are concerned with problems which extend beyond the borders of individual states and beyond continents. They make a science of politics, and this science is one in which the rich, the more advanced powers must jointly participate. It is one which no country can any longer pursue for itself.

We need peace not only in the sense of the absence of violence; we need it as the basis for that redeeming cooperation I have spoken about. And in the same way that it presupposes peace, it can help to create peace, for where there is redeeming cooperation there is peace; and there mutual confidence will also gradually establish itself. My country is no longer a “great” power, nor can it be. But it is definitely an economic and scientific power, and I feel I can say that we are all prepared for such cooperation, at any time and at any place, however much Government and Opposition may otherwise be in dispute over this question.

I have mentioned a few aspects of what today is called peace research. It is true that a new quality in international politics has been discernible for over ten years now. The Cold War with its sterile paradox of freezing frontiers without eliminating the risk of conflict did not point the way to a solution. So the powers concerned began to keep extreme risks within bounds and to reduce tensions. In Cuba and Berlin they learned how to keep conflicts under control. De Gaulle and Nixon set the course for cooperation rather than confrontation, and Brezhnev and Kosygin began in their own way to steer towards a new relationship with the West.6

On a small scale, my approach eight years ago as the Governing Mayor of Berlin was that small steps are better than no steps at all. When hundreds of thousands of people, after years of separation, were given passes to visit their relatives over Christmas, this, in a nutshell, was the application of the knowledge that there could be a new, only apparent, paradox – and that is improving the situation by recognizing it for what it is.

From that time and the Harvard speech when I developed my concept of co-existence as a challenge, to my activity as Foreign Minister, the government declaration of more than two years ago, and the treaties of Moscow, Warsaw and Berlin, you will meet with no surprises along the course I have taken. There have been no illusions, no see-sawing. But I try to do what I said I would.

An active policy of co-existence should be based neither on fear nor on blind confidence. I know that the Western alliance would function; the potential adversary will have no illusions about this. But we must also discard that unimaginative principle that nations with different social and economic systems cannot live side by side without being in grave conflict.

Once we have got this business of living together organized with the use of force excluded and all living in safety, then we shall have to start work on the organization of cooperation. However, this aim would be doomed from the outset if its ulterior motive were a new kind of crusade. There is and will continue to be the delimitation through ideological differences. But it means progress if we speak more of interests than of ideology. It is encouraging when dialogue takes the place of monologue in East-West relations in the search for solutions to those problems which, in spite of continuing differences, affect common interest.

The solution of mutual problems implies establishing links through meaningful cooperation among states beyond inter-bloc frontiers. This means transforming the conflict; it means doing away with actual or supposed barriers with peaceful risks on both sides. It means building up confidence through practical arrangements. And this confidence may then become the new basis for the solution of long-standing problems. This opportunity can be Europe’s opportunity in a world which, as has been proved, cannot be ruled by Washington or Moscow – or by Peking – alone.

However unmistakably great the strength of the superpowers may be, it is an indisputable fact that other magnetic fields are emerging at the same time. Is there any point at all in drawing up a balance sheet of the future, saying that at such and such a time there will be I don’t know how many superpowers? We are living in a world of the many and of change. Small nations, too, have a part in the big game; they, too, can represent power in their own way; they can be a help to themselves and to others; and they can also be a danger to themselves and to others.

The entry of the People’s Republic of China into the organized system of states is not in my opinion synonymous with a transition to tripolarity; there are more than two or three centers of world power. But apart from other things, there is a certain significance in the fact that huge China is both a developing country and a nuclear power, and that in view of the ever-mounting problems in the Third World, there is growing disappointment with the industrialized countries.

Europe, which after the last war proved that its vitality was unbroken, still has its future ahead of itself. In the West it will grow beyond the European Economic Community and – in the way that Jean Monnet7 sees it – develop into a union which will be able to assume part of the responsibility for world affairs, independently of the United States, but – I am sure – firmly linked with it. At the same time there are opportunities for developing cooperation and safeguarding peace throughout the whole of Europe, perhaps of establishing a kind of European Partnership for Peace; and if I were not aware of the practical and theoretical obstacles that still have to be overcome, I would even speak of a European Union of Peace.


I realize that in the annals of Nobel Prize history the Germans have been more outstanding for their achievements in the fields of chemistry and physics than for their contribution to peace. Yet in this field, too, we have our representatives. War has always called for peace, and in my country also there has at times been no want of courageous theoreticians of peace.

I recall the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 1927, Professor Ludwig Quidde. The knowledge and discernment which he acquired from his historical studies inspired him to support the international anti-war movement, and for many years he was chairman of the German Peace Society. During the First World War he was an active member of the Bund Neues Vaterland (Federation for the New Fatherland) – a nice camouflage for “Europe” – which could boast of Ernst Reuter, the future Mayor of Berlin, as its secretary-general, and of Albert Einstein as one of its first members. Quidde, who was a member of the Bavarian legislature as early as 1907 and of the Weimar National Assembly in 1919-20, supported the principle of arbitration and was a champion of the League of Nations. Undergoing personal sacrifice, he showed democratic civil courage. He died in exile.

There is a clearer connection between me and the first German winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Gustave Stresemann. He, too, was still active in politics when he was awarded the prize. True, we differ in some ways, not only owing to the circumstances but also as regards our personal and political temperament, and no worthy reflection on the past should attempt to even them out. And yet, rarely are achievements possible without a model from the past, and we should be able to express our gratitude for this.

The First World War, like the Second, was followed by suspicions and oppressions. The era of mistrust brought the nations of Europe no further. It was Stresemann who, five years after the ceasefire, upheld the view and fought until it was accepted at home and abroad that clinging to positions long since eroded was bound to remain sterile. He was of the opinion that it was first necessary to restore the basis of trust before there could be a turn for the better. Not everybody felt as he did. There were many who thought that the mantle of mistrust should not be discarded until a number of improvements had been made. That was a problem then as it is today. The then Reich Foreign Minister was not blindly confident, but he fought – and for that he, too, needed civil courage – for a policy of conciliation, for his peace policy.

It was France-German relations which then had suffered most under the burden of war. Nowhere else was the mountain of mistrust higher. Stresemann set about removing this, and his appeals were echoed from the other side by the man with whom he was to share the Peace Prize, Aristide Briand. What they achieved together with the help of England in Locarno was expressed by Stresemann in the following words in this very place; “For one thing, it is the state of lasting peace on the Rhine guaranteed by a solemn undertaking by the two great neighboring nations not to use force, guaranteed by the undertaking by other states to come to the assistance of the one who falls victim to force contrary to this solemn agreement”.

You will see that what makes this sentence so important to me is the concept of renunciation of force. Malicious propaganda had at that time misunderstood or misinterpreted German policy as meaning that the Germans had renounced something which was rightfully theirs. But the truth was that we had renounced the use of force so as to give others a feeling of security and open a chapter of mutual trust.

That state of lasting peace which Stresemann spoke about was then, as we all know, again disrupted by those who, inwardly, had not renounced force. And yet I feel that what was achieved in Locarno was not to no avail. It had traced the paths which others were able to follow after yet another war.

I recall Robert Schuman, a man of so many noble ideas, on the French side, and Charles de Gaulle, the statesman who often proved to have a prophetic vision; and on the German side that conservative and constructive politician Konrad Adenauer. Not only was it given to him at an advanced age to see his life-long dream come true and Germany and France reconciled; he also played his part in making the Federal Republic an equal member of the emerging union of Western Europe and of the Atlantic alliance. Whatever our judgment of the details of these developments may have been at the time, it must be said that without the foundation that was built in the West, we would not have been in a position to pursue today’s aims in the East.

It was here, in the relations between Germany and her Eastern neighbors, that the greatest burdens were to be found, the highest mountain of mistrust. Here lay the task of our days. We have not by a long chalk accomplished it; in fact we have only just made a beginning, but we have taken the step in that direction and this we could only do along the paths that others had trodden before us.

European peace policy lives from the spirit of history. This does not exclude the darkest years but explicitly includes them. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Carl von Ossietzky during that evil era of the Hitler regime meant a great deal.

Together with Ludwig Quidde he had been active in the German Peace Society. With his sharp pen he struggled against militarism and nationalism. In 1921, he wrote: “Many nations have fought against each other, but the blood that has flowed is of only one kind: the blood of Europe’s citizens”. That era demanded more from him than civil courage, it demanded his life.

Shortly before the presentation was made, one of those in power tried to exact from this uneasy prisoner an assurance that he would refuse the prize. In return he was to be set free, given financial security, and not to be bothered again in the future. Ossietzky refused and went back to prison. At that time I was 22 years old and “illegally” in Berlin just then. I had been directly involved in the “campaign” and was deeply moved when later learned of his decision.

In Carl von Ossietzky the Nobel Committee had honored a man who had been persecuted and who could not come here to receive the prize. That award was a moral victory over the ruling powers of barbarism. Today, in the name of free Germany, I wish to express belated thanks to the Nobel Committee for making that choice. At the same time I wish to express my appreciation and encouragement to those who help people imprisoned or persecuted in other ways on account of their convictions.

Here, in particular, I owe a word of deep respect to those men and women who joined the resistance against Hitler. I greet former members of the resistance movement in all countries.

The German resistance fought and made sacrifices for decency, lawfulness and freedom. It preserved that Germany which I regard as my own and which has again fully become my country after the re-establishment of law and freedom.

What yesterday meant to me was that it demonstrated to the whole world that Germany has come to terms with itself, just like an exile rediscovering the peaceful and human features of his fatherland.


When I was still Foreign Minister, I said that the policy of our country must unequivocally be directed to the safeguarding of peace as its common denominator. The present Foreign Minister and I know, of course, that peace policy must be something more than merely applauding others. Everyone must ask himself what specific contribution he should make. In particular, a country like the Federal Republic of Germany could not remain tied to a vague generality, but had to define a specific contribution. We could not leave to others answers which we could give ourselves. Nobody can relieve us of a task when, owing to the realities of the situation, it is one that only we ourselves can fulfill.

I said the realities of the situation. These we cannot recognize if we are prone to self-deception or if we confuse politics with legal arguments. The Kremlin is no local court, said President Paasikivi,8 and I would extend this metaphor to include Washington. I knew that the bill for Hitler’s war was still unpaid, but I have never been of a mind to negotiate on the principles of human rights and self-determination.

Looking at the matters from the realities of the situation, that meant not questioning any one’s territorial integrity but rather recognizing the inviolability of frontiers. When we proposed a treaty on the renunciation of force and called upon our Eastern neighbors to take us at our word, we were able to build on what other West German governments before us had said and to which they had pledged themselves in the treaties with the Western countries. The logical consequence of our policy was that the inviolability of frontiers also had to apply to our relations with Eastern Europe and to relations between the two states in Germany which had become members of the two alliance systems.

The tension – between the will for peace and self-assertion – which governed the work of the German politician during the period of confrontation led, via passionate disputes, to the clarification of major problems. The result has been our East-West policy. We have taken the dictate of self-assertion seriously, and we have not let the idea of national unity fall into decay. On the contrary, we have set about reorganizing our relationship with Eastern Europe in our own national interest as well. This is not simply a succession of measures and treaties, but an extensive and manifold process designed to use all possible ways of reducing the relative importance of frontiers and of opening up new paths.

I do not like the label Ostpolitik, but how can one take back something that has almost become a byword and, like Gemütlichkeit, apparently untranslatable, and accepted in international terminology? The word is tinged with connotations of the past. And it could lead to misinterpreting foreign policy as if it were a chest of drawers which can be opened at random. In actual fact, our policy of detente began in the West and remains rooted in the West. We want and need both partnership with the West and conciliation with the East.

No one should overlook the fact that Western European unification, in which we are playing an active part, remains our top priority. The Atlantic alliance is indispensable to us. Yet, not only the development of the world situation in general, but also the special reality of the treaties with the West require them to be supplemented by normal and, where possible, friendly relations with the Soviet Union and its partners in the Warsaw Pact. In this I am in agreement with President Pompidou, with Prime Ministers Heath and Colombo, in fact with all our friends and allies.9

Because it will benefit ourselves, the Germany in the two states of the one nation, we shall ratify our treaties with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of Poland. One of the Federal Government’s aims is to establish a relaxed and fruitful relationship with the other members of the Warsaw Pact. Our relations with the German Democratic Republic will, in spite of all the difficulties, and respecting the rights and responsibilities of the Four Powers for Germany as a whole, be organized on the basis of equality in the form customary in international relations. The negotiations between the two parts of Germany with a view to filling in the framework provided by the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin have shown that complicated matters can be settled even where legal views are irreconcilable.

The Federal Republic knows the limits of its possibilities. At the same time, it is conscious that it definitely possesses power and is a power – it regards itself as a power fully in the service of peace. The transition from classical power politics to the business-like peace policy we are pursuing must be understood as the change of objective and method from the imposition to the balancing of interests. This calls for self-conquest, an objective approach and an appraisal of our political strength and possibilities that is in no way less realistic than the classical concept of power politics would demand. This appraisal should lead from sacred national egoism to a European and global domestic policy which feels responsible for ensuring that man everywhere has an existence worthy of human dignity.


Turning now to a few of the elements that could go to make up a European peace pact, I will not tarry to consider institutional concepts which cannot in any case be put into effect in the short term. But I re-emphasise my faith in the universal principles of general international law, however much they may be disregarded. They found binding expression in the principles of the United Nations Charter: sovereignty – territorial integrity – nonviolence – the right of self-determination of nations – human rights.

These principles are inalienable even though their application is often imperfect – that I know. Incidentally, one of the hardships in the life of the politician, especially the head of the Government, is that he cannot always say what he thinks, that for the sake of peace he cannot always give vent to his feelings.

Moreover, I am convinced that general European security and cooperation will not be impaired by the continued progress of West European unification. Western Europe including Britain, the enlarging Community therefore, is not forming itself into a bloc against Eastern Europe, but it can, by strengthening its social components also, develop into an especially important element in the building of a balanced European system of security. Firmly rooted cohesion internally need not be inconsistent with an outward-looking cooperative approach.

I would also say that Europe and America cannot be separated. They need each other as self-confident, equal partners. The heavier the burden the United States has to carry, the more will that great country be able to rely on our friendship.

The points I am outlining are realistically based on the assumption that we must first of all take the world with its systems and ideologies as it stands today. Knowing full well the degree of imperfection we encounter, we must nonetheless attempt to build a structure of peace which will be more durable than former systems and egoisms, and which can be further improved.

First, this means that our general European policy cannot ignore the centuries old identities of nations and states. In fact, we shall have to establish a balance between states and groups of states in which each will preserve its identity and security. But such a balance must be something more than just a balance of military power.

Second, once and for all and without exception, we must renounce force and the threat of force in relations between states. This includes of necessity the inviolability of existing frontiers. But the integrity of frontiers cannot mean cementing them as barriers between enemies.

Third, beyond a general renunciation of force – whether bilateral or multilateral – we can achieve more security through the equal participation of the nations of Europe in specific agreements on arms limitation and control. There will have to be concrete negotiations on balanced force reductions in Central Europe.

Fourth, the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states must be respected, but non-interference is not enough. A Europe living in peace calls for its members to be willing to listen to the arguments of others, for the struggle of convictions and interests will continue. Europe needs tolerance. It needs freedom of thought, not moral indifference.

Fifth, the time is ripe for the development of new forms of economic, technological and scientific cooperation and for the building up of an all-European infrastructure. And above all: Europe evolved as a cultural community, and it should again become what it was.

Sixth, social security is one of the foundations of lasting peace. Material want is in effect bondage and, in Europe at any rate, it must be overcome by evolution.

Seventh, Europe must live up to its worldwide responsibility. This means co-responsibility for world peace, and it must also mean co-responsibility for justice towards the outside world, so that hunger and misery elsewhere can be overcome. Peace is something more than the absence of war, although some nations would be thankful for that alone today. A durable and equitable peace system requires equal development opportunities for all nations.

Our object in this respect is not to pursue far-off abstract targets but to deal with differences as soberly as possible. I know that to some, especially among the young generation, this is too little, and that to many people the whole process is too slow anyway. It is not harmful but rather helpful when young people revolt against the disproportion between outdated structures and new possibilities, and when they protest against the contradiction of semblance and reality. I do not believe in saying what young people expect me to say, but I appeal to them to use their unspent energies in critical and responsible cooperation with us.

What we need is a sense of proportion, resolution and endurance. And of course, we also need to have an eye for new dimensions and the energy to cope with them. In view of the magnitude of the tasks facing us, we require a healthy mixture of faith in the future and sober realism. Incidentally, can there be anything more important than helping to organize Europe and peace?


In the field of practical politics there are two tasks not far ahead: a conference on security and cooperation in Europe and negotiations on force reductions. At the same time, irrespective of whether they are members of blocs or not, the nations of Europe must begin to develop economic, technological and cultural cooperation, commensurate with the size of the projects that will need to be implemented in the development of Europe. And in pursuing this objective, national frontiers must be no obstacle.

The conference will have to consider the possibilities of cooperation and, at the same time, questions of security. I perceive the possibility of creating, through economic and other ties between East and West, North and South in Europe, common interests and responsibilities which will produce more security for all.

Renunciation of force must become a law which every state respects and which rules out interference. Along this road, which will certainly not be a short one, we can arrive at a system of security in Europe superimposed on the blocs, as it were; judging by the world situation, that system is feasible neither without the United States nor without the Soviet Union.

Balanced force reductions can pave the way towards that aim. I helped to formulate the “Signal of Reykjavik”10 in the spring of 1968 and naturally I have not forgotten the setback which we all witnessed soon afterwards. The road ahead will continue to be stony. Those who have followed the history of global or regional agreements which the Geneva Disarmament Committee has achieved through painstaking efforts over the past ten years – Antarctic, test ban, space, non-proliferation, seabed, and biological weapons – feel encouraged in spite of everything. Together with others, the superpowers, in spite of all their differences, are finding partial areas of common interest in the safeguarding of peace.

And I feel even more encouraged for a special reason: This year I have put to President Nixon and Mr. Brezhnev separately the same questions on various aspects of force reductions, and received favorable answers from both of them. The leaders of the most powerful nations are also wondering whether they cannot make available more money for other than military purposes.


There are strong forces in opposition to the organization of peace. We have witnessed the barbarism into which man can relapse. No religion, no ideology, no glorious cultural evolution can rule out for certain the possibility of hatred breaking out from the innermost depths of the human heart and plunging nations into disaster. Peace, like freedom, is no original state which existed from the start; we shall have to make it, in the truest sense of the word.

To achieve this, we shall have to know more about the origin of conflicts. This is where the institutions of peace and conflict research are faced with huge tasks. As I see it, next to reasonable politics, learning is in our world the true credible alternative to force.

Another opposing force we have to contend with is the sacro egoismo of pressure groups. We still see them in Europe practically everyday, and the unbridled national egoism of young states is developing so quickly that it seems to have no difficulty in catching up with the old nations who have many centuries’ start.

Ideologies, their harbingers and followers over and over again disregard the fundamental ethical principles of co-existence because they want to “improve” mankind, to preserve the purity of their doctrine, or to get the better of other doctrines. It is not possible to sow the seeds of lasting peace between such forces. A policy for peace must make them understand that neither states nor ideologies are ends in themselves but that they are there to serve the individual in his efforts to live and develop his life meaningfully.

The quest for absolute possession is a threat to man. Those who feel they own the entire truth, those who will have the paradise of their dreams here and now, destroy only too easily the ground on which a system allowing for human dignity can grow. The tradition of European democracy, too, knows not only of a humanitarian but also of a doctrinaire trait which leads to tyranny; liberation then becomes slavery.

Young people often expect me to give an unqualified “Yes”, a clear “No”. But it has become impossible for me to believe in one, in the single truth, so I say to my young friends and to others who want to hear it: There are several truths, not merely the one truth which excludes all others. That is why I believe in diversity and hence in doubt. It is productive. It questions existing things. It can be strong enough to smash fossilized injustice. Doubt proved its worth during the resistance. It is tough enough to outlast defeats and to disillusion victors.

Today we know how rich and at the same time how limited man is in his possibilities. We know him in his aggression and in his brotherliness. We know that he is capable of applying his inventions for his own good, but also of using them to destroy himself. Let us drop all these terrible excessive demands. I believe in active compassion and therefore in man’s responsibility. And I believe in the absolute necessity of peace.

As a democratic socialist my thoughts and my work are directed to change. Not that I want to remodel man, for to force him into a system means to destroy him, but I believe in the changeability of human conditions.

During my life I have seen many illusions develop and disappear; much confusion, escapism and simplification. In one place a sense of responsibility was lacking, in another imagination. I have also experienced what faith in one’s convictions, steadfastness and solidarity can mean. I know how moral strength can develop and emerge especially in times of great affliction. Many things declared dead have proved to be alive.

Originally Alfred Nobel thought that he would have his Peace Prize awarded only six times, once every five years, after which it would no longer be necessary. It has in fact lasted longer, otherwise I would not have had the opportunity of addressing you here today.

Bertha von Suttner, who was awarded the prize in 1905, overestimated the favorable response to her book Lay Down Your Arms. I am still one of those who were deeply impressed by the book, and after all else I gladly identify myself with the naive Humanism of my youth.

But I cannot end my speech without reminding you and myself of those who at this moment are living and suffering in war, especially on the Indian subcontinent and in Vietnam. I include also the people living in the Middle East and other areas of crises. I do not feel like making loud appeals, for it is easy to demand moderation, reason and modesty of others. But this plea comes from the bottom of my heart: May all those who possess the power to wage war have the mastery of reason to maintain peace.

1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), German philosopher. Brandt refers to his Perpetual Peace (Zum ewigen Frieden), published in 1795.

2. In November 1958 Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev sent a note to the Western Powers which in effect demanded that they recognize the German Democratic Republic (GDR) within six months or else they would be forced out of Berlin.

3. On 13 August 1961 the East German authorities erected the Berlin Wall to prevent further flight of their citizens to the West. The Cuban Crisis began with the discovery by the United States in October 1962 that the Soviets were constructing in Cuba launching pads for nuclear missiles.

4. Golo Mann, German-Swiss historian, son of Thomas Mann.

5. See Brandt, Peace, pp. 17-20, for excerpts from his lectures given at Harvard University, October 2-3, 1962.

6. Leonid Brezhnev succeeded Nikita Khrushchev as Soviet leader in 1964. Alexei Kosygin’s position was the equivalent of prime minister.

7. The French statesman Jean Monnet helped develop the European Economic Community.

8. Juho Kusti Paasikivi, President of Finland 1946-1956.

9. The Western European statesmen in office in 1971 whom Brandt mention were President Georges Jean Raymond Pompidou of France, Prime Minister Edward Heath of Great Britain and Prime Minister Emilio Colombo of Italy.

10. The NATO ministers, meeting in Reykjavik in June 1968, adopted a resolution looking toward discussions for détente with the Soviet Union, but in August the armies of the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact powers invaded Czechoslovakia to put down the liberalizing movement.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1971-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1971

To cite this section
MLA style: Willy Brandt – Nobel Lecture. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Mon. 2 Oct 2023. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1971/brandt/lecture/>

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