Munich, 8 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says he believes a continuing American military presence in Europe is desirable even if Europe develops its own military strength.
Schroeder told a meeting of European and U.S. defense experts in Munich (Feb. 6) that Europe is determined to assume more responsibility in foreign and security policy, as indicated by its leading role in the Kosovo crisis.
However, Germany considers it vital that the United States retain an important military presence in Europe. He said the presence of the United States in Europe is a guarantee of security and stability for the continent.
"At least for the time being, Europeans should not have to consider a situation where there are no U.S. forces in Europe," he said. "It is in the European interest for the U.S. to be here and it is also in America's own interests."
Schroeder said that what he called "the form and the shape" of the American presence in Europe might change but not the actual presence.
The German chancellor said that, at the same time, Europe is determined to build a common security policy so that it can speak with one voice in regard to policy and its response to crises. He said the United States should not have to ring 15 countries to find out Europe's policy.
Schroeder described a European security and defense identity as an "indispensable building block for the European house." He said Europe is prepared to take on more political and military responsibility, particularly in cases where European interests are primarily affected. But he added that Europe will do nothing to weaken NATO.
The German chancellor also referred to remarks by defense minister Joschka Fischer that NATO should declare that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. The comments have been sharply criticized by the United States and several other NATO members who consider the threat of nuclear weapons to be a deterrent.
Schroeder said the question of whether NATO should be the first to use nuclear weapons is a legitimate discussion in view of the changes around the world. However, the differences of opinion do not in any way threaten the solidarity of NATO. He said Germany can not always expect to get its own way.
The issue is expected to be discussed at the NATO summit meeting in Washington in April.
On another issue, the German chancellor said that, in general, military action by NATO or the European Union should require the approval of the United Nations, although there could be exceptional cases when action is needed without waiting for approval.
Our correspondent in Munich says Schroeder's comments provoked questions from several members of the audience. The issue has become the subject of debate in Germany and some other countries because of the possibility of military strikes in Kosovo.
Schroeder said that in his government's view, out-of-area military action by NATO or the European Union "must be based on an unequivocal mandate under international law. As a rule, this would be a mandate of the U.N. Security Council or action under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE)."
He said that a community defined by values such as the trans-Atlantic alliance can not afford to take any other road.
Schroeder added: "This principle may be abandoned only in exceptional cases: to prevent humanitarian catastrophes and grave violations of human rights -- that is, when immediate action is urgently called for on humanitarian grounds."
He stressed that the ability to resort to "exceptional cases" should not be misused. He said it should not be used as an excuse for unilateral action by any single country.
German diplomats at the conference said Schroeder was referring to concerns recently voiced by France that the United States sometimes resorts to unilateral actions in international affairs.