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Maintaining Transatlantic Unity in a Complex World“. Rede von Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier im Zentrum für Strategische und Internationale Studien, Washington.

12.03.2015 - Rede

Ladies and Gentlemen,

these are troubling times. The violence in the Middle East, Syria, Libya, Iraq, the terror of Boko Haram in Africa: The headlines that you saw in this morning’s newspaper are just the same that people back home in Germany woke up to. --- Well, perhaps with the exception of the news that spring has finally arrived in D.C., and that you no longer have to wade through piles of snow to even get to the newspaper kiosk!

We are facing a multitude of crises around the globe which, to somebody from my generation, seem unprecedented in their density and in their shocking violence. We have joined hands across the Atlantic to address these conflicts: our struggle to rein in the raging terror of ISIS in the Middle East and our efforts to strike a deal on Iran’s nuclear program are two key challenges we are facing together. And I hope we will discuss them in depth during our debate!

But I would like to focus on a different conflict now. It is a conflict that I believe is of great importance to both of us, across the Atlantic. Not only because it has cost thousands of lives over the past months. But also because it undermines the very essence of the international order that we, the United States and Europe, have been carefully constructing as transatlantic partners over the past decades: I am, of course, talking about the conflict in Ukraine.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the separatism in Eastern Ukraine that is stoked by Russian military support mark a dangerous escalation.

It is an escalation that openly calls into question our European security architecture, our peaceful order, an order based on international law, multilateral institutions, peaceful mechanisms for conflict resolution, and - underneath all that - the sovereignty of states.

The United States has underwritten this international architecture for many decades and my country, a re-unified Germany, has profited immensely from it!

What Russia is setting against this concept now, however, are old recipes of power politics and bullying - instruments of politics we have been working to overcome for decades.

It is a challenge to our international order and to our joint values that we cannot and will not accept!

We have reacted with determination, solidarity and resolution. And we have done so using a large range of tools: from political pressure and economic sanctions to persistent engagement.

Germany and France have engaged in a resolute diplomatic effort to bring about de-escalation and to pave the way for a political process. We are basing our efforts on a closely coordinated European and transatlantic strategy. Our focus is on four pillars:

First, it is clear that this is about Ukraine! Only a strong and internally stable Ukraine will be able to overcome this conflict. That’s why it is crucial to us to help stabilize the country. We are doing this through political, financial and economic measures, ranging from humanitarian aid to mediation projects involving civil society and bilateral financial support. Yesterday’s decision by the IMF Executive Board is an important step, providing immediate relief to Ukraine. But let’s be clear: When it comes to long-term economic stabilization, we all know we still have a momentous task ahead of us!

Second, we agreed with our NATO partners in Wales last September to strengthen the Transatlantic Alliance: to increase our resilience and to reassure our most exposed allies in Eastern Europe militarily.

Third, we have joined hands to apply a calibrated set of sanctions to convey to the Russian side that we will not give in to their aggression and to urge them to join us at the negotiation table. I believe this is having an effect.

And lastly, we realize that we must look beyond this conflict to our future relationship with Moscow. That means we must not cease to engage Russia, using the last existing channels of communication, to explore a potential off-ramp and – for the future - to explore paths to a more cooperative relationship. This is maybe the most delicate task: Envisioning the prospect of cooperation while not giving up our determination to hold our ground in the actual confrontation.

I strongly believe that the Minsk package provides an opportunity for calming the situation – as fragile as it might be. Minsk outlines the difficult path towards a politically negotiated solution. What is most urgently needed now is readiness and willingness by all conflict parties, especially Russia, to implement Minsk! What is needed next is an OSCE mission that is substantially bolstered and that is able to monitor and verify what is happening on the ground in Eastern Ukraine. These days highlight how invaluable the OSCE’s tools are in times of crisis. By assuming the OSCE chairmanship next year we want to continue to strengthen collective security in Europe. But we also need to redouble our efforts to help Kiev focus on the most pressing reform needs.

We are not there yet. We still see some violations to the agreed ceasefire. But we do see some signs of progress. Violence has gone down significantly. And both parties, the Ukrainian army and the separatists, have finally started their withdrawal of heavy weaponry. The OSCE has access to a greater number of places in Eastern Ukraine. But much more needs to be done. We must continue to work in this direction!


The confrontation at our doorstep is a dangerous challenge to Europe’s peaceful order that we need to answer. And this development is all the more disconcerting because it is happening amidst an erosion of international order on a much larger scale.

Across the globe, I see two major forces at play: First, a diversion of power away from governments and a challenge posed by non-state actors: The violent extremism of the ISIS terror groups in the Middle East and that of Boko Haram in Africa both bear terrible witness to this development; they are the most extreme, but not the only examples of the growing fragility of states and its impact on the world as we know it.

Secondly, the rise of newly emerging players, who are not just economic powerhouses that change patterns of production, trade and consumption worldwide. They also want a greater political say and question the rules of the game. This is illustrated by the remarkable rise of China, for instance.

Both developments pose a new challenge to our world order – and to our transatlantic unity.

We are facing a dual challenge: crises and a changing world order. What is our answer to these tectonic global shifts?

It is a question my country has a particular interest and responsibility in addressing. Germany is linked to the rest of the world like few other countries. A recent study showed that we are in fact the most interconnected country on the globe: Connected not just through trade, the flow of goods and capital but also by the flow of data and through the increasing migration of people. This is the reason why more than most other countries, we Germans depend on a rules-based and peaceful international order for our prosperity and our security. So in turn, we Germans not only have an interest but an obligation to contribute to maintaining the structures of international order and to building new elements of it.


How do we go about this? Let me sketch out four answers.

First, we need to use the full spectrum of the instruments in our diplomatic toolbox. One mistaken assumption I have come across both here in the States and at home is that foreign policy is caught between two extreme options: either idle diplomatic soft-talk or full-fledged military action. But there is so much more in between!

Take the example of the Ukraine crisis again! The choice is not between „meaningless talk with Russia“ on the one hand and the fueling of military escalation by delivering weapons on the other! From the onset of this crisis, we have sought out all means of de-escalation, political resolution and pressure: from the OSCE observer mission to national reform dialogue in Ukraine, from a multilateral regime of sanctions to political mediation, from acute humanitarian relief to longer-term economic stabilization efforts. Have we solved the crisis? Certainly not. Can weapons solve it?

You know my doubts. I understand that many of you, many experts, are calling for a more rapid - and therefore determined, and therefore military-based solution. But knowing the genesis and the structure of the conflict, the status of the conflict parties and their capacities, it is obvious from my point of view that the discussed alternatives to our approach have the potential of increasing the number of victims, of extending the conflict zone and of transporting the conflict to a next phase of escalation. Perhaps to a point of no return.

There is no guarantee that our approach, the Normandy approach, will lead to success. But I am sure that there is no guarantee for success in the alternatives that are being discussed. I am afraid: The contrary is the case.


What we need is strategic patience. Henry Kissinger wrote something very insightful in his latest book: If we insist on achieving the end result immediately, we risk setbacks.

He is right. Our foreign policy context is hardly ever black and white, and we need to spend much time and effort on sorting out the many shades of grey. By the way: When I say many shades of grey, I don’t say fifty.

My experience after several years in foreign policy is:

It might only take days to spark a crisis but it could well take years to resolve it. In diplomacy, even more than in real life, tenacity is a virtue!

Again, take the current tensions with Russia as an example. Their context is highly complex. Russia raises long and varied historical memories in every individual country of Europe, especially in Eastern Europe. We need to be sensitive to these histories and to the future: To us in Europe, Russia will always be our biggest neighbor. It can’t just be „Friend or Foe“. Let me be clear: We are not naïve. It is no secret that as regards Russia, trust is at its lowest point. But we need to find a new basis for an engagement, even if it takes years or decades.


Third, German foreign policy can only work in and through Europe. Germany will thus seek to be „Europe’s CFO“.

And by that, I do not mean we will serve as the Union’s Chief Financial Operator – although some of the media comments on the Greek financial crisis might give you this very wrong idea.

No. If as „CFO“, I see Germany as a „Chief Facilitating Officer“, a ready convener, a responsible broker, forging an ambitious and unified response to the challenges we are facing. Again, take the Ukraine crisis as an example. It is no easy task to maintain and leverage European unity over a conflict which every European state sees through the lens of its own individual history and interests. That’s why a careful analysis of these diverse interests is a precondition for a unified response. And it is exactly this unified European response that continues to be critical for all that Chancellor Merkel or I do.

Only in and through Europe will we have the strength to respond to crises effectively. Only in and through Europe will we be able to shape the rules and norms of globalization.

And only in a strong, united Europe will the United States find its most important partner when it comes to the pursuit of a just, peaceful and resilient international order.

That brings me to my final point: Our transatlantic partnership is key for addressing today’s challenges.

And this is true beyond the current international political crises.

That is also why concluding a mutually beneficial TTIP agreement is crucial to us. If we find an agreement living up to the high standards that we both have, then the US and Europe together can set the tone for the future path of globalization.

In doing so, we will not always agree on tactics, maybe not even always on strategies.

That does not worry me. We have had disagreements across the Atlantic in the past, some of minor and some of major importance. And not all of them – like our views on surveillance and privacy protection rules, for example -- have been resolved.

But the past decades have proven that we are strongest when we stand together --- bound by our joint values, a deep shared commitment to personal freedom, the prosperity produced by open markets and a rules-based international order.

And I believe that in this shifting world order, with all the new and diverse players, transatlantic unity is needed more than ever.

Why is that? Well, sometimes you don’t need to quote Henry Kissinger to make your crucial point - but you can simply refer to the music of Sister Sledge: „We Are Family“.

Thank you.

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