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Joseph Luns : A Great Man and a Great Legacy

Joseph Luns : A Great Man and a Great Legacy

Address by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, at the Memorial Service to Dr Joseph Luns

Dr. Luns ( NATO photo)

We are here today to mourn and honour Dr Joseph Luns, a true statesman of enormous significance to the Atlantic Alliance, to transatlantic relations and to the whole second half of the twentieth century.

Dr Luns was by any measure a big, big man. He was in one word, ‘considerable’. In talent, personality, experience and durability he was ‘un homme formidable’.

He towered, physically and politically, over events he often had himself to manage and the lasting legacy he leaves to future generations lies in the transformed world we inhabit today.

A Europe re-united in peace and freedom, a growing relationship of value with a democratic Russia, and an enduring United States/Europe connection, sometimes as turbulent as in his time, but still remaining the firmest possible foundation for the security, safety and prosperity of half of our planet.

That is what Joseph Luns wanted, and yearned and worked for and in its achievement we all share the fruits of his dream and his efforts.

Maybe only another Secretary General of NATO can fully grasp the enormity of the fact that Joseph Luns chaired the North Atlantic Council for thirteen years.

Almost a decade and a half in the Chair of what we, and he, called "the NAC" must have required all his reserves of wit and humour, every self-deprecating anecdote and each of his legendary ‘bon mots’ to keep Councils in order through these years.

Authority and a sense of humour sound like the essential mix of skills required to simultaneously ride all the horses in the NATO circus, and he had an abundance of both. To many of my generation, born as we were after the Second World War, and with none of the grim collective memory of our parents, NATO was our insurance policy. Like many other insurance policies it was regularly taken for granted and undervalued.

Joseph Luns was always alert to that feeling. Constantly, and on occasion irritatingly, he reminded governments and their people in the West that the credibility of collective strength was the only guarantee of free societies. He endlessly proclaimed the need, as necessary now as it was when he spoke, to invest adequately and properly in defence. He was to successfully see through many public opinion crises, including that traumatic episode in the early eighties of Intermediate-range missiles.

Over the years he held the line, indeed he often was the line, as resources had to be found, deployments had to be made, and tough decisions had to be taken and sold.

To many in the NATO countries, and to millions further East in the chilliest periods of the Cold War, he was not just NATO’s leader, he was NATO.

Strong, high-minded, purposeful and visionary, his profound belief in liberty and democratic values made him, in so many ways, the personification of the most successful alliance of free nations in the world.

In his previous career as Foreign Minister of the Netherlands he was a signatory of the original Treaty of Rome and he always made it clear, including eye to eye with General De Gaulle, that staunch Atlanticism and a belief in the grand prospect of a United Europe were far from contradictory. They were the two halves of the same walnut.

Indeed, as he insisted relentlessly, strong and lasting transatlantic bonds were a precondition of that momentous task of at last uniting the continent of Europe in peace, security and prosperity. But he insisted equally that only a fair share of the burdens of ensuring that security would keep the Atlantic connection alive and vibrant.

As Joseph Luns left NATO for retirement in 1984 he described the Alliance as "the most important organisation for peace the world has known". He was right, and it is still true to this day. But it was true then and is true now only because people with the commitment, tenacity, courage and determination of Dr Joseph Luns dedicated their lives to making it true.

A great man has left us a great legacy. We owe it to him, and to humanity, to continue with the task which he made his life’s work.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).