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Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Lord Peter Carrington

May 10, 1988

The President. I know that here we have the NATO Ambassadors. We have some Members of our Congress, other guests. And, Peter and Lady Carrington, we're all here today to honor you on the occasion of your final visit to the United States as NATO Secretary General. You've done a magnificent job at NATO. Your efforts on behalf of all of us during the past 4 years have set a new standard. But we're recognizing something more than simply 4 years of a job well done. Your stewardship of the alliance has continued a life's work in support of human decency and the ideal of freedom—the very basis of the compact for peace we call NATO. It is that commitment and that contribution which the American people are honoring today.

Your first taste of working in this alliance came as a highly decorated tank commander of the Grenadier Guards during World War II. I'm sure, Peter, that there have been times as you've presided over the North Atlantic Council, with its 16 sovereign members seemingly going off in as many directions, when you've been reminded of the confusion of the battlefield. You may even have had a moment or two when you preferred the confusion of the battlefield. [Laughter] But one of your special gifts has always been an ability to find common ground, and nowhere is that more important than at NATO.

When you took over the reins in 1984, common ground seemed a precious, scarce commodity in the alliance. The decision by NATO to deploy Pershing II and groundlaunched cruise missiles in response to the Soviet SS-20 threat had placed a number of allied governments under enormous political pressure. The Soviets were waging an aggressive propaganda campaign aimed squarely at the cohesion and unity of NATO, and those were difficult days. But our adversaries have rarely understood the strength of our democratic societies and political leadership, and they certainly had not taken your measure, Peter. No one did more to hold the alliance consensus of INF together than Peter Carrington. You believed in NATO when it counted, and that spirit has been contagious.

The results of your leadership speak for themselves. Recognizing that we would not back down, the Soviets returned to the bargaining table in Geneva. And last December General Secretary Gorbachev and I signed the INF treaty. What it should have taught us is that political solidarity with our allies and a shared willingness to do what is necessary to defend ourselves are the indispensable keys to better relations across the board with the Soviet Union.

Keeping a firm hand on the NATO tiller has not been your only accomplishment, Peter. You've also shown uncommon vision in charting the way ahead. As frustrating as it must be at times to have to accommodate to so many views in NATO, you have understood perhaps better than any of us that it is in our diversity and independence that we find our strength. Reconciling the occasionally differing views of the European members of the alliance with those of the North Americans—on a special challenge-you have quipped to me that it can be cold and lonely out there in the mid-Atlantic, where you do your work. But just as your leadership fortified the alliance during INF, it has been your gift of statesmanship which has brought our transatlantic partnership to a level of unity and common purpose unparalleled in the history of NATO.

If there was any doubt about where the alliance was heading in the earlier part of this decade, that doubt is surely gone today. Under your able hand, we have recommitted ourselves to the indispensable task of maintaining our capacity to defend ourselves and each other. You have set in motion major new programs within NATO to help all the member states better utilize the defense resources which our publics have entrusted to us. We and our partners have settled on an arms control agenda which can move the world to a new era of international political relations. Perhaps most important, you have personally symbolized the higher values which hold the alliance together: political and economic freedom, the protection of basic human rights, and a fundamental decency in the way in which nations deal with each other.

You will be sorely missed at NATO, Lord Carrington. Believe me, I know a hard act to follow when I see one. But as I said at the outset, your 4 years in Brussels have been only a small part of four decades of commitment to the ideals which unite the West. I am confident that you will continue to channel your singular talents and energy to the service of all that the alliance represents.

And so without further ado, let me, on behalf of the American people, present you with this nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And let me read this citation:

"Foreign Secretary, Defense Minister, Parliamentary leader, and tank commander, Peter Alexander Rupert Carrington, the Sixth Baron Carrington, has proved himself the devoted servant of Her Majesty's government, a friend of the American people, and the faithful defender of human freedom.

"As Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, his tireless efforts have at a critical moment in history strengthened the cause of peace and freedom for all humanity. For his selfless service the American people honor him and extend to him their gratitude and warmest affection."

This is our highest civilian award, the American Medal of Freedom.

Lord Carrington. Thank you. Mr. President, you must realize how deeply honored and moved I am by the award which you have just given me, and immensely grateful. I know how rare an honor it is for an American to be granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom. How much more so for a foreigner—but a foreigner, as you have reminded me, who sits marooned in the middle of the Atlantic, not obviously the world's most hospitable ocean. The NATO General Secretary does indeed have to detach himself from his own national roots if he is fully to serve the interests of the alliance, and particularly if he is going to keep the transatlantic bridge in good repair.

Now, you, Mr. President, have made that task for me an easy, an enjoyable, and a satisfying one. Your door has always been open to me. You have always been ready to listen when I've tried to convey the views of your European allies and my impression of the state of our alliance. And my task was not only made easy by your openness to me personally but also by your leadership of the alliance.

Throughout your Presidency, you've shown us a dynamic America—sure of herself and sure of where she's going. Your European allies have greatly benefited from the results and the vigor of your leadership. And when you met them in the NATO Council, as you last did just 2 months ago in Brussels, yours was a reassuring and a strengthening presence. You've seen to it that America's defenses remain strong, and thus that our collective security was preserved. With clarity and force you've shown how Atlantic security is indivisible, how its tight mesh unites all the 16 member countries of the alliance. We're united in the strategy to defend our peoples, our homelands, and our freedom.

And you have reminded us that to deter any potential aggressor we must maintain together a balance of conventional and nuclear forces. And your own and the American people's commitment to our collective security can, of course, be seen most clearly in the presence of 300,000 American troops you've stationed in Europe. And less visible, but of course equally important, are the U.S. strategic nuclear forces, which are the ultimate guarantor of our security. But security must go hand in hand with political effort to enable all of us to live more sensibly together. And we have in the INF treaty an historic agreement, the first negotiated reduction in nuclear forces since the advent of those terrifying weapons. And that in itself may hold out the promise of even better things to come.

Sir, we would not have managed without you. You and Vice President Bush have been supported by statesmen and public servants of great quality. George Shultz has been a rock of stability. He has taken Herculean pains to consult your European allies over every move in our relations with the Soviet Union. Frank Carlucci and Cap Weinberger have restored to American forces in the alliance a dynamism and an elan which could not have been imagined 8 years ago.

Mr. President, over the years it's so often been said that NATO is in crisis or that the alliance is beset by danger. No one would pretend that we don't have our problems and our challenges. But as I once said, though that we may not always as an alliance sing in unison, we nearly always manage to sing in harmony. And as I leave NATO after 4 rewarding years, I am as optimistic about the future of the alliance as I was when I first became associated with it, now over 30 years ago. And not least because the generous and the farsighted spirit of the American people continues to live today through the leadership which you, Mr. President, have given us in these last 8 years.

Note: The President spoke at 1:18 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Earlier, the President and Lord Carrington had lunch in the Residence.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Lord Peter Carrington Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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