The Munich Security Conference commemorates Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist

Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist (1922-2013)

With the death of Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist we have lost a truly remarkable German patriot.


Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist was born in Gut Schmenzin in Pomerania on July 10, 1922. As a young lieutenant of the Wehrmacht, Ewald von Kleist joined the resistance movement of Col. Graf Claus von Stauffenberg. After the failed assassination plot of July 20, 1944, he was arrested by the Gestapo und detained in the concentration camp Ravensbrück. His father, well known for prior resistance activities, was charged as co-conspirator and murdered by the NS regime in Plötzensee Prison on April 9, 1945.


After World War II, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist became a publisher in Munich. In 1952, he was one of the founding members of the Gesellschaft für Wehrkunde, an association devoted to defence issues.


During the Cold War, especially in the course of the Cuba crisis and the Berlin crises, the lack of an independent transatlantic forum to discuss pressing issues of security and defence policy outside official channels became apparent.


Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist was the man behind the "1. Internationale Wehrkundebegegnung", which took place in Munich on November 30 and December 1, 1963. Participants included political leaders, senior officials, military officers, academics and writers. Henry Kissinger and Helmut Schmidt, German Chancellor 1974 – 1982, were among this initial group.


During the following 35 years, Ewald von Kleist developed the Wehrkundetagung – later to be named “Conference for Security Policy” – into an ever more important annual forum. While the program of the first years focused on the Cold War, its specific threats, and the transatlantic discourse on political and military issues, new global and regional challenges were added to the agenda more recently. In 1998, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist passed the chairmanship of the conference over to Horst Teltschik, the former Foreign and Security Advisor of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Since 2008, Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger has been the Chairman of the Munich Security Conference (MSC). MSC will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014.


With the establishment of the Wehrkundetagung and its subsequent evolution into the current Munich Security Conference, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist has generated a unique international forum on security, defence, crisis management and conflict prevention.


Based on his experiences of World War II and his active resistance against the National Socialist regime, it was Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist’s deep moral conviction that the central objective of security policy should always be to protect lives and to avoid bloodshed. In an article honoring his 90th birthday in July 2012, the Süddeutsche Zeitung called him an “active-pragmatic pacifist”.


On the occasion of a ceremony commemorating the 66th anniversary of the failed assassination plot against Adolf Hitler, Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist delivered a key-note speech in front of the Reichstag building and once again emphasized: “We have had a decade of 65 years of peace in Central Europe. ( . . .) It is not to be taken for granted and this oasis does not bring peace to the people all over the world. Peace and freedom, these two are interlinked. (…) It has to be the goal of security policy to protect that.”


The Munich Security Conference will continue to be, in the spirit of Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist, a forum for independent dialogue on security and peace as well as on cooperation and conflict prevetion.


Since 2009, the Munich Security Conference annually bestows the Ewald-von-Kleist-Award upon outstanding leaders, thus keeping the memory of our founder alive.


Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and his family.

Wolfgang Ischinger


Chairman of the Munich Security Conference


13 March 2013, by MSC