Speech by Foreign Minister Baerbock on the National Security Strategy in the German Bundestag

16.06.2023 - Speech

Only few German words have made it into English language usage, famously “Schadenfreude”, “Zeitgeist” and “Wanderlust”. The Federal Chancellor has now coined a new word: “Zeitenwende”, which means watershed. This is precisely what our country’s very first National Security Strategy is about.

This Strategy is not only a plan of action, but is also a mirror. It reflects a new understanding in our country of how we think about security in the wake of Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine and against the peaceful order in Europe, namely no longer merely as security safeguarded by military and diplomatic means, for which there were once white papers by the Ministry of Defence and the Federal Foreign Office, but security as integrated security for all areas of our lives.

Precisely this new way of thinking is a watershed. Some people say – I’ve heard this time and again – oh, that’s so banal that the ministries are now working together. But, unfortunately, this wasn’t that normal in the past.

I’m grateful this has changed, and I’m really very pleased that everyone in this German Bundestag who believes in security, democracy and freedom has worked so intensively, not shying away from heated debate, on our aspirations set out in this National Security Strategy. Because when you do something for the first time, you need a lot of good ideas, you need discourse, you need a willingness to reconsider your own point of view. That’s precisely what we want to do as the Federal Government. We want to show how every policy area, every stakeholder in our society, whether universities, public utilities or citizens’ initiatives, is part of our security and can contribute to our security in order to make our country more robust, more resilient and more sustainable with a policy of integrated security that encompasses all areas of life.

After 24 February 2022, with Russia’s war of aggression, security is also, once again, much more a question of protecting ourselves from war and violence – unfortunately. The Ministry of Defence, and we in the German Bundestag in particular, have therefore launched a special fund to strengthen the Bundeswehr as a strong component of a European security and defence union, as a strong component of NATO, which not only increases its military capabilities, but also – and this is also a reflection of the watershed – finally thinks in an integrated manner and acts in an interoperable manner. We’re thus strengthening not only NATO and the European Union, but are also strengthening our ability to safeguard our freedom.

But integrated security means – and this is also a new departure in this Security Strategy – more than military plus diplomacy. It also means that we’re not spied on when chatting online with each other. Integrated security also means that we can get all the medicines that we need at pharmacies. Integrated security means that we can turn on the shower in the morning and hot, clean water comes out of it.

Here, too, we’re hearing once again – and we’ll certainly hear this in the speeches to come – oh, that’s all just stating the obvious. But that, too, is the honest reflection of the last few years. As it wasn’t taken for granted that gas storage facilities and gas pipelines aren’t just economic projects, but also part of our security, we put ourselves at risk.

Eight years ago, we discussed here in the German Bundestag why a gas storage facility was to be sold; some also warned against selling it. It was a mammoth feat when Economics Minister Robert Habeck ensured within the very shortest space of time that this gas storage facility wasn’t only retrieved, but also replenished as quickly as possible with the help of other partners. That is also a decisive part of our integrated security policy.

As security policy is also raw material policy, as security policy in the 21st century also concerns the security of supply chains and the security of critical infrastructure, security policy and this Strategy are not, as some have commented, meaningless. It puts our critical infrastructure at risk if we don’t protect our security, if we don’t protect our supply chains, also in the context of medicines. So this isn’t meaningless but makes us more secure because we’re no longer dependent on autocrats and dictatorships.

This Strategy was also a process of “working while writing”. We didn’t hold off on it until the press conference or today’s debate was held, but we had to implement some things already now while we were still discussing sentences and sometimes holding debates about them also here in the Bundestag because security is so challenging. That is why it was also a great feat by Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach when he said so pointedly when stocks of anti-fever medicine for children were running low – that was, of course, just before Christmas: “We’re not waiting now until we’re finished with the strategy”, and has already implemented what is part of this Security Strategy, for example, that in the future tenders for important medicines will take greater account of whether suppliers produce goods in Europe or elsewhere in the world.

Sustainability, another component of this Security Strategy, is also new. A few years ago, we were still holding debates also here about whether the climate crisis was a challenge or not. We’re witnessing around the world that the climate crisis is the biggest security threat of this century. This is why it is also part of this Security Strategy. But geopolitical questions also play into climate diplomacy. The colleagues who were with us at the Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh have come to realise that this isn’t only about negotiations in relation to CO2, but, of course, also a question of geopolitics, especially with China.

Zeitenwende” isn’t just a nice new word, but it also means an obligation to assume greater responsibility in this world, especially for countries that are even more vulnerable than we are with regard to the climate crisis and regional challenges. Our guiding principles are clear and are enshrined in our Basic Law. Our foreign and security policy is founded on the international order, on the Charter of the United Nations, human rights and international law. But the following question has also been the subject of controversial debate time and again in recent years – and still is today: do we have to stand up so strongly for human rights around the world? Do these rights actually serve our interests? We’re also making it clear in this Security Strategy that values and interests are not a contradiction in terms. The commitment to democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the international order serves our security interests and our economic interests.

I believe that the memorial event marking 17 June 1953 that we’ve just had made it very clear once again why the commitment to human rights, paying attention, even if it’s sometimes hopeless, is so important for people behind bars, in China or in Iran. For them, it’s crucial that we pay attention, just as it was crucial for the political prisoners who were imprisoned in 1953 that the world, that others, didn’t look away. That’s why, with this National Security Strategy, we’re supporting, for example, the African Union in its bid for a seat on the Security Council. That’s why we’re paying close attention to what’s happening in other countries around the world, especially with regard to women and children. “Integrated” means together with all of the ministries, but, above all, together in the European Union. This is why our Security Strategy is embedded in NATO’s Strategic Concept as well as in the EU’s Strategic Compass.

Zeitenwende” isn’t just a term that is now being used in English. “Zeitenwende” also means that our partners in Europe and around the world know that they can rely on us being there for them – just as many countries around the world, especially our European partners, have been there for us, for our security, for decades.

Thank you very much.


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