Welcome

Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the German Council on Foreign Relations

12.09.2007 - Speech

Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier on current German foreign-policy issues at the German Council on Foreign Relations Berlin, 11 September 2007

I am delighted to be here this evening and would like to thank the German Council on Foreign Relations for the kind invitation to present the foreign policy of the German Government and my own slant on things.

I am especially pleased that so many ASEAN Ambassadors are with us today. Contact with ASEAN and its Member States has intensified this year. The Foreign Ministers Meetings in Hamburg and Nuremberg during our Presidency of the EU were successful and yielded substantial results. Our Ambassadors Conference just a few days ago in the Federal Foreign Office was dedicated to Asia. The main keynote speech was given by the ASEAN Secretary-General, making this his fourth trip to Germany this year. I think it is fair to say that we have reached a whole new level in the relations between Germany, Europe and Asia. Germany is an interlocutor of choice and I believe this stretches beyond our Presidency.

The title that the German Council on Foreign Relations gave me for this evening is "Current German Foreign-Policy Issues". Now that almost sounds as if the Council just wanted to say "decide yourself what you want to talk about!"

Precisely because this is the way I interpret it, I don't want to start by talking about recent developments, but want first to outline to you my political principle that I apply to each and every question on the agenda. It is my firm conviction that if politics wants to do something good for the people, it needs above all to be far-sighted, long-term and sustainable. This is equally true for domestic and foreign policy.

In foreign policy, our focus this evening, I therefore feel committed to a principle that I call far-sighted foreign policy. Far-sighted foreign policy is for me on a par with active peace policy. The instruments we need are dialogue, understanding and the defining of shared interests, which in recent years seems to have been forgotten in foreign-policy culture.

What do we need to do justice to this highly demanding principle? First of all, an extremely precise, accurate and constantly updated analysis of our times and changes, insofar as we see them emerging.

So if we look at Germany and Europe in 2007: Where are we?

Together we are witnessing the start of the first truly global century. This means that in the next hundred years and beyond it will, for the first time in the history of our planet, only be possible to tackle and solve the central questions facing humanity if we work together.

Global burden-sharing means that a rapidly growing proportion of people all over the world can for the first time build their own prosperity. Today 1.5 billion people are living in developed industrialized societies. In 2030, it will be more than 4 billion.

This process which we ourselves always advocated brings with it huge opportunities and risks. If world trade doubles again by 2030 compared to current levels, many people will be able to break out of the spiral of poverty and repression. But at the same time, prosperity enjoyed by so many threatens to overburden the earth's ecological balance. However, man-made global warming is not just a matter for environmental policy, it is also becoming a strategic question for foreign policy in terms of security and stability. Spreading deserts, ever more scarce water, devastating storms and floods or ruined harvests mean expulsion, hunger and suffering.

The fuels of Earth's industrialization are energy and raw materials. We are seeing how the race for both these fuels is well underway. To date, thank goodness, these have been peaceful struggles but it is plain to see that there is a risk of escalation as soon as scarcity starts impacting economic growth and people's way of life. That is why I for a good two years now have been emphasizing above all else that, looking to the future, a cooperative energy security policy is one of the central pillars of far-sighted foreign or peace policy.

As the economy and people build more and more networks across the globe, we will also, logically, together become more vulnerable. A lending crisis in the United States can threaten the jobs and the futures of people all over the world – also here. How people in Asia generate electricity, what engines are in our cars and what energy grade our fridges have are all factors that will influence whether our great-grandchildren will ever see a snow-capped mountain in Germany. And the question as to whether different religions emphasize what they share or what divides them has a decisive impact on people's sense of security and a society's quality of life, no matter where that society might be.

So far-sighted foreign policy, the conclusion drawn based on the trends I have outlined, has to be designed to build a shared global domestic policy step by step. I know such calls were made 30 or 50 years ago, not at Ambassadors Conferences but at Church Conferences and gatherings of starry-eyed idealists. But the difference is that today, in this the first truly global century, global domestic policy is no longer a Utopian dream we can ignore but has to become one of the key concerns of hands-on politics.

To forge global domestic policy we must have a shared global awareness of how much we need it. Those wanting to shape the age of globalization need new mindsets and alliances. I know myself how difficult this is. Many people have been thinking in terms of tribes and clans for millennia and we Europeans have been working on the basis of nation-states for, let's face it, 200 years. And precisely when and because people sense that the protective function of these structures is disintegrating in this era where borders are falling away, they cling to them all the more tightly. That is what makes it so difficult to change the way people think.

In our networked century, cultural conflicts are amongst the greatest threats to peace. We have to overcome cultural alienation so it does not become a source of politically motivated violence. That is something I say quite clearly today on 11 September – a day where we all remember what consequences it can have when cultural differences develop into fanatical hatred and ideological fundamentalism.

To combat international terrorism we have together to put up resistance, also and above all in an open society. But at the same time we need to summon up the strength to withstand traditional historical and cultural differences and yet seek out what we share rather than what divides. For me it is certainly clear that there is no future in provincialism, no fleeing to the comfort zone of the familiar, whether in domestic or foreign policy. Anyone preaching this message is playing with fire in terms of domestic policy and, turning to foreign policy, playing with peace.

But let's get down to brass tacks: How are these fundamental principles reflected in German foreign policy?

I want to start with Europe here, with the European Union whose policies are not dominating the headlines at the minute as they were a few months ago but which is more important for our future than any other political institution. Without wanting to deny the difficulties, we have in Europe in the last fifty years largely achieved what we are aiming for with the vision of shared global domestic policy:

  • creating awareness of a shared responsibility crossing national borders
  • building trust with the help of dialogue and the defining of shared interests
  • increasing the political integration of states – something which is now set in stone in the EU.

So for Germany, the European Union is no longer simply the project which has brought us sixty years of peace. It is also our response to globalization and its inherent dangers. With our internal market of 500 million people, the EU is of course the world's largest internal market. But in concert with a global population of six – and soon perhaps even eight or nine – billion people, Europe's voice will in the long term only be heard if it is united and in harmony. This brings us to the major challenge we now face: not restricting unity and harmony to economic and monetary policy, but increasing integration also on European foreign and security policy. That has to be our contribution on the road to global domestic policy. Europe has to remain an attractive model proving that multilateralism and cooperation are blueprints for a brighter future. Europe has to remain a shining example that in the long term it pays off to forego short-lived national advantages from time to time.

But Europe needs allies and this brings me to the second foreign-policy project which I feel is central: renewing and further deepening the relationship between the United States and Europe. We cannot allow indifference and scepticism to take root on both sides of the Atlantic. Thankfully, despite a degree of political alienation, people's fellow feeling has rarely suffered.

In the era of globalization, Europe and the United States are more dependent on one another than ever before. That is why, as I recently said in California, I want us to revive deep-rooted understanding, define shared focal points for the future and, to a certain extent, rediscover one another.

It is right that NATO continues to be the heart of shared Western security. But there is a growing belief that in the future many questions will not be solved first and foremost using military means but primarily using civilian instruments. Renewable energies could serve everyone's interests better than soldiers, tanks and missiles. But for an in-depth discussion of such issues, we need new fora beyond those offered by NATO.

I would like Europe and the United States to focus together on the central issues defining our future – starting with climate protection and a common approach to environmental and other technologies of the future, but certainly also embracing how to justly shape and regulate capital and trade markets. We are not strong enough alone, as we have seen from the Doha Round, the impact of the lending crisis and the handling of funds.

Furthermore, we should not shy away from taking unusual routes, for example my recent trip to California where I was the first German Foreign Minister to pay a visit in 50 years. California and other American states want to push ahead on climate protection. I am working so we can build a coalition of goodwill with these states to set up a shared trading system on CO2 emissions which would be a decisive step towards the global emissions-trading system we so urgently need.

When I talk about new mindsets and alliances, I am certainly also thinking of Russia. The strategic partnership with Russia to which we aspire despite current frustrations is a key question not just for Germany and Europe. We need Russia to shoulder shared responsibility for global stability. Neither the conflict in the Balkans nor the nuclear weapons dispute with Iran can be solved without Russia or bypassing Russia. It will likewise be impossible to achieve disarmament or peace in the Middle East or a peaceful and stable energy supply without engaging Russia.

What I hope – and I want to do all I can here together with other foreign-policy players in Europe – is that a more pronounced spirit of cooperation can take root on both sides in the difficult period leading up to the presidential elections in Russia and in the United States. We have to overcome the mindsets of the Cold War and the long shadow it continues to cast. It would be a grave error if we were to allow Russia to withdraw into isolation.

And I'm also saying this because I well remember how in late September 2001 – exactly two weeks after the attacks in New York and Washington – President Putin offered the West broad cooperation in the German Bundestag, not just on fighting terrorism but stretching far beyond. Whenever I can, I like to call to mind this time and this spirit. Our shared interests are just as important as the political differences which are plainly there. I am certainly working to ensure that we do not mindlessly destroy the bridges we have built but preserve them for the future.

One reason why this is so important is that there is an issue forcing its way back on to the international agenda – an issue that many thought was done and dusted. I'm talking about the disarmament debate. The topic of disarmament needs to go back to the very top of the international agenda.

Former leading US foreign-policy figures including Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Sam Nunn sounded the alarm at the start of the year. In the Cold War, a time when mainly two superpowers had their finger on the red button, the situation was dangerous enough, they maintained. But today, where more and more countries and leaders have nuclear weapons or the technical means to procure them, the danger is much greater and must be countered.

The German Government is providing initiatives in the sphere of disarmament policy. In the ongoing negotiations on the extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty we have presented a proposal on how to place the fuel cycle under improved international control when it comes to uranium enrichment without impinging upon the interests of the countries concerned. But we can only get movement into the whole disarmament equation if we convince the United States and Russia to stay on board and remind them of their responsibility to again take the lead.

We are concerned by the problems in the CFE Process. We Europeans have an interest in preserving this set of instruments dedicated to securing peace.

New alliances and mindsets – this is a call I also link to Turkey which is a country key to the future of Germany and Europe. Turkey is the bridge between European and Islamic culture. It has implemented important reforms at home and once again at the parliamentary elections – which in the middle of the holiday season and even though there are no postal votes had a turnout of 90% – the country has proved it is a mature democracy. I am confident that Turkey will prove to us all that Islam and democracy are indeed compatible. This is good news, especially for us as we have had people of Turkish origin in our population for 40 years. The German Government will do all it can to help Turkey on its road to Europe.

And as the third country key to peace in Europe and one of foreign-policy's most difficult problems at the present time, I want to turn to Iran. I appeal here today once more to the leadership in Tehran to take the necessary steps so we can resolve the long-standing dispute concerning its nuclear programme. I want us to finally talk about the questions which are also crucial to the region's future: the architecture of a new peace order for the Middle East, the role of other states in the region such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, the role of Iran as a potential spoiler but also promoter of peace.

Afghanistan – and this brings me to one of the most difficult domestic-policy issues in the coming weeks – would also benefit if Iran were to assume a constructive role. The country in the Hindu Kush remains dependent on strong international partners, also on Germany. After 25 years of war, civilian reconstruction in the country needs more time and patience, but also for a while military back-up. Our strategy for the coming year in Afghanistan is not "more of the same" but we want to focus on building and stabilizing state structures more quickly. The sooner Afghanistan can stand on its own two feet the better. But to do so, the country needs enough home-grown and well-trained soldiers, police, judges and public prosecutors. These are tasks we will focus on more.

The German Government also wants to continue its involvement on the anti-terrorism mandate, Operation Enduring Freedom. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that the reduction in the number of OEF soldiers and the increase for ISAF which has been underway since 2006 has to continue. Next year I want us to work with the Afghan Government and the relevant NATO states to take stock of the anti-terrorism strategy since 2001 and, if need be, draw the necessary conclusions.

But despite the scepticism amongst the population I say that we will not withdraw from Afghanistan and certainly not without giving it due thought. For me the reconstruction of the country is not just a political project but rather a highly humanitarian and moral undertaking. Not just many Afghans, but people in many Islamic countries are looking to see whether we will in the long term keep the promise we made so solemnly on the Petersberg, near Bonn, in 2001 or whether, when the going gets tough, we will leave people to their own devices.

This is a test of our credibility that we have to pass. I am therefore convinced that we need to continue all three mandates, but of course not without the process of parliamentary review.

I don't want to finish my speech without pointing to the rise of Asia in coming decades. We all know that Asia is going to increasingly become a global economic and political engine. China and India are booming and we in Europe are pleased. Yet on the other hand, if China and India with their 2.4 billion people were only to use the same per-capita amount of energy as the average Japanese, global energy needs would double.

I am, however, against whipping up emotions here. We all have to take care that we do not succumb to the anxiety-driven advice that we should pull up the drawbridge to protect ourselves from one another. Protectionism harms Europe and Asia alike!

Similarly, as far as climate protection is concerned, I am fixing my hopes on intensive dialogue and the defining of shared interests. I never tire of telling people in Germany that we cannot deny people in China or India their first car or fridge as long as we take heated swimming pools and air conditioning for granted.

As I draw to a close, let me say that people have presumably never lived in an age in which political, economic and technical change has happened so quickly. As our lives gain pace, it is hard to find bearings and similarly it does not make long-term policy planning any easier. This increases the importance attached to having a system of coordinates to steer by that one is sure is right. Such a system is of course never complete and has to be constantly adapted to the new realities as developments unfold.

That is why I am so grateful for the lively foreign and security-policy debate played out here in the German Council on Foreign Relations and which we will, I am sure, continue in just a moment. Foreign policy which needs broad support also needs a broad debate. I am looking forward to it!

Thank you very much.

Related content

Top of page