Peace, Justice, and Nuclear Disarmament: President Obama in Berlin

The highlight of his trip to Berlin, President Obama addressed a crowd of 6,000 yesterday in front of the Brandenburg Gate following private meetings with German Federal President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel. Fifty years after John F. Kennedy famously declared “Ich bin ein Berliner” and thirty years after Ronald Reagan demanded “Tear down this wall,” Obama returns to a city at the heart of the German-American friendship. Expectations were high that Obama would address the conflict in Syria, data protection, and transatlantic trade against this historical backdrop.

As Klaus Wowereit, Mayor of Berlin, and Chancellor Merkel did in their welcoming remarks, President Obama paid tribute to the historic events that took place in Berlin from the end of World War II until German reunification in 1989. The protests of June 17, 1953, asserted Obama, made clear that “no wall can stand against the yearnings for justice, freedom, and peace that burn in the human heart.” Through reunification and after, openness, tolerance, and freedom became the priorities for peaceful and reliable new partnerships with Europe, Germany, and the U.S.

Referencing Kennedy’s speech, Obama stressed that we must look ahead and face new challenges; much remains to be accomplished so that justice, freedom, and peace can be enjoyed by all.

Most notable during the thirty minute address, however, was Obama’s call to pursue a world without nuclear weapons. The president pledged that U.S. will reduce its own number of nuclear weapons by one-third, and will urge Russia to jointly “move beyond a post-Cold War posture.” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s almost immediate statement shows the difficulty ahead.  In order to initiate a new framework for peaceful nuclear power, Obama announced that the U.S. will host a summit on nuclear security around the world in 2016.

Obama also took the opportunity to point to further issues on his agenda: Increasing the share of renewable energy, closing the prison at Guantanamo, and improving the protection of privacy while also ensuring high standards of security. Germans were particularly interested in the last topic after recent leaks concerning the U.S.’ internet surveillance made headlines.

Following his speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Obama met with Peer Steinbrück, Merkel’s challenger from the SPD in the German federal elections in September. The one-day visit to Germany closed with a dinner at Schloss Charlottenburg, where Obama was joined by his family.

By Monica Schmidt
The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.