For Javier Solana, the big shakeup came a decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall. "Personally, the return of democracy in Spain was much more important in changing my ideas," says the 57-year old Solana. Growing up in Madrid, he joined the clandestine Socialist Party and hated the U.S. and NATO for supporting dictator Francisco Franco. But after Franco died in 1975, Solana realized that joining the Atlantic Alliance could help integrate Spain into the family of Western democracies. As Spain's Minister of Culture, he lobbied for entry -- and ended up as NATO's Secretary General in 1995.
Now, after leading NATO expansion into Eastern Europe and its 78-day air campaign in Kosovo, Solana has moved across town in Brussels to become what many are calling Europe's first Foreign Minister. Ever since the collapse of the Wall, he has felt strongly that West Europeans should push to extend freedom and stability across the Continent. In his new role, his top priority is to restructure the Balkans and improve relations with Russia.
When communism collapsed, Solana was serving as Spain's Education & Science Minister. In September, 1989, he visited Poland and spoke with President Wojciech Jaruzleski. "He told me he was going to see Gorbachev the following week in Germany, and he didn't know how things would end up," Solana recalls. During that memorable visit to Berlin, the Soviet leader gave East German President Erich Honecker his much-remembered "kiss of death," telling Honecker that he must accept glasnost and perestroika. "I knew everything was over then," Solana says. "Just the speed surprised me."
The smooth-talking Spaniard, equally comfortable in English, French, and his mother tongue, is no military expert. With a PhD in physics, he was a physics professor at Madrid's Complutense University before entering politics.
As Secretary General, Solana pushed for NATO to accept Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. He traveled often to Moscow, winning Russia's acceptance of NATO expansion. He helped work out the present plan to rebuild Kosovo and is keen to have Russia participate. "Our strategy is set," he says. "We just have to carry it out." But critics say stabilizing the chaotic Balkans and Russia may be beyond the power of any West European.
Solana's relationship with Washington may be just as trying. He wants Europe to become more responsible for its own defense by trimming down its large draft armies into more effective, mobile fighting forces. "The Americans want Europe to act with more maturity," he insists. But analysts in Washington question whether the U.S. really wants a truly independent European military since it could diminish U.S. leverage on the Continent.
After his stellar performance at NATO, Solana is trusted by the Americans. But will he have the final say in his new position? His title is the cumbersome High Representative for Common Foreign & Security Policy. In theory, that makes him the head of a future European Foreign Ministry. But lines of authority are blurry in Brussels. Still, Solana has already proved himeslf a master bureaucratic tactician. In Kosovo, he combined some good luck and talent to hold together NATO's 19 fractious members. He'll need a lot more of both to get Europe to speak with one voice on issues as sensitive as Russia and the Balkans.