Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier on the Government's position on missile bases in Eastern European countries

21.03.2007 - Speech

Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier spoke about the planned missile bases in Eastern European countries in the German Bundestag on 21 March 2007: “The number of countries with nuclear weapons has increased since the end of the Cold War. ... This development makes me very uneasy. And my reaction to it is that we urgently need new momentum for a new disarmament policy. ... Lasting peace is today based less than ever on military deterrence, and more than ever on the willingness to cooperate and to overcome political divides.

Mr President,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It's been a long time since disarmament was considered a cutting-edge issue in politics. And it is not an issue that should be taken too lightly.
I have on various occasions mentioned the need for and the forthcoming renaissance of a new disarmament policy - most recently in the disarmament debate here in Parliament - but, it must be said, attendance was never very high on these occasions. That is why it is good that all Parties are now giving the issue the attention I have long thought it deserved.

I would like to emphasize once again that the world is at a crossroads. The number of states with nuclear weapons has increased since the end of the Cold War. Ever more countries are able to build nuclear weapons, and terrorist organizations are quite possibly also attempting to procure materials to make so-called dirty bombs. In addition, some countries are working on the development of delivery systems which could make European capitals viable targets. The crucial difference between the Cold War era and now is that back then it was basically only the USA and the Soviet Union that threatened each other with such weapons - the situation was relatively straightforward.It may not be long before many more states have gained nuclear status. Herein lies the danger of a new arms race and the probability that someone somewhere might one day press that red button would be considerably greater.

This development makes me very uneasy. And my reaction to it is that we urgently need new momentum for a new disarmament policy.That's why, ever since my first day at the Federal Foreign Office, I have devoted so much energy to the conflict over Iran. If one day Iran were to possess nuclear weapons, the new dangers would not emanate only from Iran. No. Other countries, in the region and beyond, would be forced to respond to the new situation. And that would have unforeseen consequences, not least for security in Europe and Germany.

We must make sure that this Pandora's box is never opened! Iran is however also a reminder that we can only master the great challenges, the most tricky problems of our time, if we work together. People from Auckland to Alaska, from Spitzbergen to South Africa are all in the same boat - and not just when it comes to climate change.For that reason I am stressing my position once again - lasting peace is today based less than ever on military deterrence, and more than ever on the willingness to cooperate and to overcome political divides.
This is at the root of the dispute over missile defence. The fundamental question is what strategy do we want to choose to protect ourselves against the new threats posed by missile technologies and weapons of mass destruction.

The USA basically wants to meet the threats by establishing a global defence shield. It is prepared to use significant funds to achieve this end - it has so far earmarked at least 100 billion dollars for the project.The prime objective of our efforts to date has been, by means of preventative diplomacy - and that includes exerting pressure - to create a climate in which interested states abstain from developing weapons of mass destruction and missile technologies. Such a policy requires wise and resolute action on the part of the community of states - as we are now attempting in Iran and as has already led to some initial success in North Korea.But it also requires, as stated in the trailblazing article by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn in the Wall Street Journal, a clear message from the nuclear states that they are serious about their disarmament commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They must not further undermine the existing disarmament framework by acting short-sightedly.

Indeed, the Cold War era is over. But it casts a long shadow of distrust and incommunicativeness, as is well illustrated by the dispute over the planned establishment of missile defence bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. This dispute is bringing to the surface the old, ingrained reflexes from the Cold War days - in the United States, as in Russia and Poland. I can only recommend that you read Henry Kissinger's article in today's Herald Tribune, which is a wise appeal for a greater understanding by America and Russia of each other's security interests and their perceptions of the threats they face.

It is my impression that it is precisely this understanding that has been lacking, and perhaps it is indeed a sign of progress that both the US Secretary of Defence and Secretary of State have indicated that they see a need for further talks.Even if international politics is often a complicated business, the rules are no different from those in normal life: Trust can only be established by frank talks and by taking time for one another. This is what we now need in the dispute over the planned missile defence system. We must all sit down around a table and carefully weigh up our positions and interests. Many technical questions remain unanswered, as above all do political and strategic questions.

I can understand America's desire to protect itself against an attack from long-range missiles. But let me say that military superiority alone cannot forcibly establish friendship or peace. For this reason I would like to ask the USA to think very carefully about the price that would have to be paid for controversial decisions on missile bases, specially given that the Iranian long-range weapons they are designed to shield us from do not yet exist. The danger of driving a wedge through Europe and NATO, and of reviving old reflexes in Russia, is in my opinion very high a price.

German foreign policy has as its goals the preservation of unity in Europe, the transatlantic partnership and the strategic partnership with Russia. A new Cold War between the US and Russia, even if it were a war of words, would be detrimental to the security interests of our country.For this reason I also call on Russia to accept the offers of talks from Europe and the US and to show some interest in dialogue.
In this way, the dispute about missile defence could even be turned into an opportunity, if we don't look at this issue in isolation, but as part of a transatlantic-Russian dialogue, a dialogue in which we can seriously address how best to deal with the new proliferation risks, since at the end of the day these do not only affect the West but also Russia. Or if we see it as our task, as Hans-Dietrich Genscher did 20 years ago, to work towards building an area of shared security from Vancouver to Vladivostok. This is an aim that Egon Bahr, another no less famous birthday boy in German foreign policy circles, has also recalled in numerous speeches and articles.

One possible answer - and let me stress the possible - is to firstly consider whether a common missile defence system or at least common efforts towards missile defence is a possible and desirable goal, secondly, to counter proliferation risks jointly, above all by means of preventative diplomacy (an approach that seems to be doing some good with respect to Iran and North Korea), and thirdly to remember that nuclear powers must also take appropriate action if the number of nuclear states is not to multiply unchecked.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty obliges all nuclear powers to disarm, and any state that does not adhere to its terms undermines the substance of the Treaty. To conclude, please permit me to mention a fourth point that doesn't seem to get enough attention. The European disarmament architecture, which we have been working on together for decades, is a model that could be adapted for other conflict regions. We must not put this successful model at risk! For that reason, too, particular care must be exercised when taking any decision on missile bases.

We Germans have a strategic interest in stopping the dispute over missile defence from escalating, and in transforming it into a source of newfound trust and a new spirit of understanding. Let us not use this debate to seek short-term gains at home, but to enhance the long-term security of the people in Germany and across Europe. I personally will do all I can to help solve the dispute over missile defence in a manner that achieves this goal.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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