On Friday (31 March), Sigmar Gabriel took part in the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels. The agenda included not only current missions and burden-sharing but also the situation in Ukraine and in the Western Balkans as well as relations with Russia. The meeting also served to prepare the NATO Summit due to take place in May.
Challenges facing NATO
With just under two months to go, the NATO Foreign Ministers met in Brussels to make key decisions for the NATO Summit in May. “NATO is facing major challenges both in Europe and in Europe’s neighbourhood”, said Foreign Minister Gabriel at the start of the meeting.
One important issue discussed was relations with Russia. The annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine have set back NATO’s relations with Russia, which had been developing well before these crises, Gabriel stated. He went on to say that he was glad that the NATO‑Russia Council had convened just one day before the Foreign Ministers meeting. Efforts had to be continued to find ways to improve relations with Russia once more.
Furthermore, the NATO Foreign Ministers discussed the situation in the Western Balkan countries. There was concern that old resentments would surface there again and lead to new conflicts, said Gabriel. NATO’s role in the Mediterranean and the conflict in Syria were also addressed.
Message of unity from the summit
Gabriel stated that a strong transatlantic alliance was especially important against this background. NATO member states shared values and interests. In order to master the current challenges, the Foreign Minister added, the summit in May would have to send a clear message of unity . Rex Tillerson, the new US Secretary of State, took part in a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers for the first time.
Gabriel: We need a broader definition of security
The time when the US carried a large share of the burden had to be over, stressed Gabriel – Germany, too, wanted to further increase its contribution.
At the same time, Gabriel called once more for a broader definition of security and greater dovetailing of defence and security policy. The Foreign Minister said that not only military spending should be included in a country’s NATO expenditure. Rather, contributions to peace, stability and security should play a bigger role. He added that conflicts such as those in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq had shown that problems cannot be resolved by military means alone. On the contrary, “Security can only be achieved through social, economic and political stability”, emphasised Gabriel.
He went on to say that Germany was already making major contributions in these areas, also in the humanitarian assistance sphere and in the efforts to manage the refugee flows. In 2016 Germany had invested 1.2 billion euros in humanitarian assistance.