Our peace is fragile.
Our freedom is precious.
Our security is not a matter of course.
These are key lessons that we in Germany learned last year from Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. This war has catapulted our country and all of Europe into a new, more dangerous era.
There are some who say that this war shows that there is only power and interests in foreign policy. And that talk of values is naive.
I firmly believe that the opposite is the case. It is precisely because of Russia’s war that Germany’s foreign policy needs to adopt an even clearer stance today. A moral compass consisting of freedom and democracy, of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Perhaps Andrew Young, when he co-founded this centre 25 years ago, also had in mind the words of his associate Martin Luther King, who once said: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.”
This is why we couldn’t remain neutral about Russia’s war of aggression. This is why we didn’t want to nor will we look away. We had to and we wanted to make a decision: for justice and against injustice, for freedom and against oppression.
Together with our partners, we stand by the side of the victims – the people in Ukraine and the Ukrainian state: financially, diplomatically and, yes – with weapons for self-defence, for as long as it takes.
And yes, it goes without saying that we’re working each day to put an end to this war. Each day, we ask ourselves what else we can do. But if we’re honest – and we have to say as much in order to avoid supporting the forces of evil by oversimplifying matters – we will not accept a peace predicated on the subjugation of Ukraine.
A dictated peace would be a manifestation of tyranny and would spell even more death and suffering for the people in Ukraine – and not peace in freedom.
At the same time, a clear stance in foreign policy doesn’t mean that Germany has all the answers or lectures others.
No – pursuing values-led foreign policy means that we listen to others and reflect on their points of view – at times admitting that others are right, saying with backbone and a clear stance: Yes, we were sometimes wrong in the past. Yes, we too got some things wrong. But it’s precisely for this reason that we want to do things better together in the future.
Values-led foreign policy faces up to dilemmas. Especially when we see that there won’t be any quick and simple solutions. This goes for the Iranian people’s courageous fight for their freedom. The dilemma here is that they will only be able to fight and win this battle themselves. But what we can do is stand by their side and support their legitimate calls for fundamental rights. For as long as this takes. And it’s precisely for this reason that we’re continuing with targeted sanctions, putting pressure on those responsible in the Iranian regime.
And to those who say “but you still haven’t achieved anything – it’s time you dropped feminist foreign policy”, to them I say very clearly: no – if we haven’t achieved anything yet, then we must carry on. But we cannot afford to lose sight of the goal! After all, values-led foreign policy means doing painstaking work.
Values-led foreign policy also means that Germany assumes its global responsibility as a rich industrialised country. I say this primarily with the climate crisis in mind. After all, it’s precisely the countries – we’re all on the same page on this now, thank goodness – that have contributed least to climate change, that are suffering the most from droughts, heatwaves and floods today.
In all of this, one thing is especially important to me – something that you also emphasise in your work at the Center for Global Ethics: our values and our interests are not a contradiction in terms. On the contrary, they are two sides of the same coin. Upholding our values is our biggest interest, also economically.
Because if we stand by Ukraine in defending itself against the aggressor, then this saves human lives. But this also supports our interest in a world in which all countries respect international law.
If we ban products produced by forced labour from entering the European single market, then this protects millions of children, women and men – and protects our companies here in the European Union against unfair economic competition.
And if we draw on a feminist foreign policy to work to ensure that women around the world are involved in peace processes, that they are part of labour markets and are represented in parliaments with equal rights, then we promote long-term peace and stability around the world. We ensure greater security as peace agreements last longer if women have a seat at the table.
All of these examples show that the “Zeitenwende”, the turning point in German foreign policy, also means what Hans-Dietrich Genscher once said: “No power in the world can stop human dignity and freedom for long.” Also when we need great staying power for this.
We’re committed to this as the German Government, with our partners around the world, and with the European Union in particular. And this is why we have drafted a National Security Strategy for the first time, with a clear stance, a clear compass, in keeping with our values and our interests, reflecting reality.
And I believe it was precisely with this in mind that Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Andrew Young founded the Wittenberg Center for Global Ethics at the time. Because we as politicians need the wise council of research and of experts such as you.
To take a stand against evil so that we don’t support it by remaining silent.
I would like to offer you my warmest congratulations on your 25th anniversary and hope that you will have thought-provoking discussions today.