Question: Minister, China is the new challenge for NATO. How dangerous is the country actually?
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas: Our relationship with China is defined by the threefold role of partner, competitor and systemic rival. Unfortunately, we are witnessing the aspect of rivalry becoming increasingly prominent – as a result of China’s behaviour. And we need to respond to this. For example, by examining in our role as G7 nations how China uses its economic clout to expand its geopolitical influence in the world. We are providing a counterweight to this with our infrastructure initiative.
Question: Are the messages that have been sent out from the Summit to Beijing clear enough?
Maas: We already issued a clear statement during the G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting. We share not only the same interests but also the same values – human rights, democracy, freedom of the press. And we are most effective in defending both our interests and our values when we present a united front. That goes well beyond the NATO framework, of course, but there, too, it is a fundamental principle that we are all working once again to promote a rules-based international order.
Question: On the other side there is an increasingly aggressive Russia. Is the old principle of deterrence becoming more important again?
Maas: I wouldn’t want to reduce the Summit topics to China and Russia. Our goal is to make NATO as a whole fit for the future. To achieve this, we need to pay even greater attention to security issues such as climate or cyber issues. But of course I’m observing the current developments in Russia and also on Russia’s borders with great concern. The core tasks of NATO as a defence alliance therefore remain crucial; we owe that to our European allies and partners. Regardless of this, we need to continue to engage in dialogue with Russia. For me this is not just an empty phrase, but a fundamental tenet of foreign and security policy.
Question: The dispute about finances remains one of the issues that NATO has to grapple with. The Union is holding on to the two-percent target. What is your stance?
Maas: To be honest, I don’t see any issue here. It was actually the previous US President who caused considerable damage within NATO by throwing his weight around. Germany stands by the arrangements that have been made. Ultimately, our goal is to make NATO as a whole fit for the future. Germany has increased its defence expenditure by around 50% since 2014, but with the goal of ensuring that our soldiers are better equipped, not to build up arms.
Question: How would you describe the status of NATO following the Summit?
Maas: The NATO Summit Communiqué begins by stating that we want to open a new chapter in transatlantic relations. That is a crucial and central message. Not so very long ago, NATO wasn’t exactly in an ideal state. Or, to express it in football terms since we are in the middle of the European Cup: We are aiming for the same goalposts once again. And this Summit will inject new momentum into our game.
Interview conducted by Hagen Strauss