On Tuesday (30 June), Federal Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier, Federal Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg celebrated the 60th anniversary of Germany’s NATO membership with a joint ceremony in Berlin. In his opening speech Steinmeier emphasised that Germany especially now had to be a particularly dedicated champion of an order which safeguarded peace – with and through NATO.
German responsibility for the international order
A partner with equal rights and equal obligations is how Germany could be described in its 60th year of NATO membership. In 1955, however, only ten years after the end of the Second World War started by Germany, the country’s acceptance into the transatlantic defence alliance was by no means a foregone conclusion. Distrust of Germany was rife, as Foreign Minister Steinmeier and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg stressed in their speeches to mark today’s anniversary. Speaking to around 350 guests in the Federal Foreign Office Weltsaal, Steinmeier pointed out that Germany consequently had a special responsibility: “It is clear to me that Germany, once a firebrand and an instigator of disorder, must now more than any other country be a particularly dedicated champion of an order which safeguards peace – also with and through NATO.”
Patience needed for partnership with Russia
This responsibility is particularly relevant in the current challenges facing the North Atlantic Alliance – above all the Ukraine conflict. In his speech Foreign Minister Steinmeier specifically addressed the Baltic and Eastern European NATO allies and assured them of support: “Your concerns are our concerns. Your security is our security.” He stated that these were the foundations on which NATO itself was built as well as the principles on which German security policy rested.
With regard to relations between NATO and Russia, Steinmeier emphasised that patience was needed:
As much as we would like to see a return to a relationship based on partnership with Russia – as set down in the NATO‑Russia Founding Act of 1997 – we have to be realistic. As things stand, restoring the spirit of partnership will not be a one‑hundred‑metre sprint but is more likely to resemble a marathon – which means we have to be all the more far‑sighted and wise in planning our strategy.
New threats require new responses from the Alliance
Being there for one another: Stoltenberg commended Germany’s engagement within the context of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force as one example, in which Germany, together with the Netherlands and Norway, had assumed a pioneering role. He also acknowledged the development of the multinational headquarters in Szczecin into a hub for activities in the Baltic region and Poland. Against the backdrop of the disaster of the Second World War, Defence Minister von der Leyen highlighted the fact that in Szczecin, 70 years after the end of the War, German soldiers were now serving under Polish leadership and vice versa.
All three speakers mentioned the way in which the challenges facing the Alliance had changed. Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed that “collective defence” was now once again playing “a more central role in the Alliance’s activities” following years of intensive crisis management in the Balkans and Afghanistan. He said that this was the case in both the eastern and the southern neighbourhoods. He went on to say that responses therefore had to be found to new challenges such as the violation of territorial integrity, cyber attacks, “failing states on Europe’s doorstep” and terrorism, explaining that these could be national, European or transatlantic.
NATO needs to become more European
Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Defence Minister von der Leyen stressed that NATO needed to become more European. They said that the Americans currently shouldered a much greater burden than Europe in dealing with the tasks in hand. Von der Leyen called for more relevance in conception and implementation, citing the example of the Framework Nations Concept. She said the goal must be operational readiness, for, “We want to apply the European maxim that keeps cropping up at the moment, which states that together, we are strong – but we can only be strong to the extent to which every player is willing to do their part.”
In this context the Minister added that the Federal Government intended to boost the defence budget. Steinmeier and von der Leyen underscored the need to use funds more effectively – with the goal of continuing to work towards implementing a European Security and Defence Policy. In conclusion, Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed that Germany still believed in a combination of deterrence and détente to achieve security and the defence of freedom, prosperity and the vision of a peaceful world order, even 60 years after joining NATO. He said this was a piece of strategic wisdom coined by Belgian Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel in 1967 and added that it was now time to get down to work, for “the challenges are considerable”.