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"Achievements of the peace movement may be swept aside"

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel talks to Passauer Neue Presse newspaper (interview published on 8 July 2017).

Minister Gabriel, the G20 Summit is being overshadowed by a great deal of violence. Is it still appropriate, in our day and age, to hold such a summit in a major city?

To be honest, any initial criticism should be directed not at the event, but at the violent protesters. How can anyone speak out for a more just and peaceful world and then resort to using violence in one’s own country? I very much understand the criticisms that are expressed about G20 meetings, and I share many of them. However, in democratic countries like Germany, it must be possible for Heads of State and Government from around the world to meet and talk to one another. You certainly don’t have to agree with everything that’s being done here. But the world will not become a better place if governments stop talking to one another. Next year, we will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Back then, the world sleepwalked into a bloody war because there were no talks, negotiations or diplomacy.

The US president continues to pursue protectionism. Is a trade war with the United States imminent?

I hope not. However, if the United States does decide to declare the import of German and European goods to be a threat to its national security, which would be necessary to circumvent the international ban on punitive tariffs, then Europe cannot sit back and do nothing. We will defend ourselves. But it’s also clear that, ultimately, everyone involved in such disputes loses. We hope we can convince the United States of this fact.

Would some rapprochement between Washington and Moscow, accompanied by a little bit of progress on crises like the ones in Syria and North Korea, not already be considered a success?

I absolutely believe this would be the case. Moreover, we need small steps toward progress, to make big steps possible again. In Syria, we are seeing initial positive developments, because in the south of the country Russians, Americans and Jordanians are cooperating. Without rapprochement between Russia and the US all of these wars will continue, because most parties to the conflict are hidden behind these two superpowers.

US President Trump is calling for more defence spending. You, by contrast, are calling for more spending to support development and fight global poverty.

There is not only a difference between us and the United States. Since the CDU/CSU election manifesto was published only a few days ago, there is also a tremendous difference between Angela Merkel and the SPD. The CDU and CSU are heeding the call of Trump’s strange policies and are actually seeking to double military spending to more than 80 billion euros annually over the coming years. At the same time, the CDU Finance Minister is proposing that funding for crisis prevention be cut, and he’s planning to increase the budget for fighting poverty by less than 2 percent. There are even voices within the CDU leadership proposing that these increases in military spending be offset by cuts to the social welfare budget. That is plain madness.

Will this be a big issue in the election?

In my view, it’s the biggest issue there is in this Bundestag election campaign. The CDU/CSU, however, would like to keep this under wraps. They sense that people in Germany do not want this great rearmament programme. That’s why Angela Merkel, Horst Seehofer and the entire CDU/CSU are not talking about it. The fact of the matter is that if we Germans simply go along with it, then after the Bundestag elections there’ll be a rude awakening. We would see the implementation of a large rearmament programme that includes conventional and unfortunately also nuclear weapons. All achievements of the 1980s peace movement may be swept aside. I simply cannot comprehend how we could be so subservient to the rearmament policy of the United States. There is a very large credibility gap between Angela Merkel’s speeches in Bavarian beer tents, in which she was critical of America, and her actual policy. All of this will not happen with the SPD. Martin Schulz is right about one more thing: every new euro that is spent on defence should be matched by at least 1.50 euros of spending on the fight against poverty and to promote development assistance. Every soldier will tell you that peace and stability cannot be achieved exclusively through weapons. This may be the most controversial issue in the upcoming Bundestag election. We Social Democrats want disarmament and arms control to finally be put back on the political agenda. 

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