Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the first reading of the 2009 Federal Budget, 17 September 2008

17.09.2008 - Speech

In the budget debate, Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for a foreign policy which tries out new forms of cooperation, develops new formats and provides new instruments. In future, he said, a clever foreign policy would have to focus even more than in the past on looking ahead to minimize risks and seize opportunities to prevent conflicts.

- Translation of advance text -

Madam President,

Members of the Bundestag,

In Germany and Europe, peace and stability are taken as much for granted as sunrise or our daily bread. Unfortunately, – as you are well aware – that's not possible in many parts of the world. Remeasuring the world, as I call it and which you are all witnessing at present, has regrettably brought with it new uncertainties, unrest and many new, even violent, conflicts.

Yes, it's true that the universal solutions we are asking for and seeking in order to guarantee or promptly restore peace and stability don't exist. Therefore, I believe that a wise foreign policy must, in future, focus even more than in the past on looking ahead to minimize risks, and identify and seize opportunities wherever a conflict can be prevented.

What do we need for this? Above all, we need thorough analyses and – wherever possible – an independent assessment of any given situation. This requires an ability not to get lost in the deluge of information and – as we have experienced in particular recently – disinformation. In this increasingly complicated world, that is indeed a task which is becoming more difficult every year. That's due to the fact that the cynical certainties of the Cold War no longer exist and the US – the only remaining superpower – has lost some respect and, for the reasons already stated today, finds itself in the middle of a financial crisis. Whoever becomes the next US President will have to redefine the country's leadership role and, I'm certain, win back some of the authority lost.

What's more, there are new powers, namely China and India. Anyone who gets around the world knows that's not the full story. Mexico and Brazil are also on the rise and, in the long term, South Africa and Viet Nam will perhaps join them. All of these new powers are looking for a new role beyond the old certainties in ever-changing constellations of interests. That makes it so difficult at present to predict future developments.

What's more, we are experiencing a very dynamic growth phase, whose advantages we have described this morning. The disadvantages are evident at present in the form of the lack of regulation on the international financial and capital markets. This period of growth undoubtedly brings with it both opportunities and risks ranging from climate change to the scarcity of and higher prices for energy and natural resources.

This has led to the situation we are discussing now, in September 2008. It has made us realize that we have so far failed to strike a new and viable balance for peace and stability in this century. We have to carry on working towards this. I've made a conscious decision to say this in a general debate separate from the individual issues we still have to discuss, for example the extension of the Afghanistan mandate. Let me say right away that I hope German foreign policy will not become bogged down in the confusing complexities of day-to-day business but that we keep in mind long-term policy aims and challenges. I'd be glad if we could grasp opportunities like this one.

In the current conflicts in the southern Caucasus, at any rate, I've realized that the foreign policy challenges facing us will also put common sense to the test in the long run. It's not always as amply evident as I desire.

If we tackle foreign policy with common sense, then I believe we can achieve something which these new challenges require, namely integrating new powers. We need a foreign policy which tries out new forms of cooperation, develops new formats and provides new instruments. We cannot ignore the fact – this is, as it were, my message – that there are new powers on the international stage. Even if we sometimes desperately struggle to find solutions, we must not revert to patterns which have no longer been available since the end of the Cold War. They would merely create an illusion of security.

There's nothing else for it – and I know how difficult the path ahead will be –, we have to create what I call a global community of shared responsibility. We have to gradually work towards this goal.

Now I'd like to turn to what I believe are the key developments at present and which will determine our policies in the coming years. Let me just say a few words on Europe: despite the wretched situation regarding the Treaty and our failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty – even though it continues to be necessary – we must not forget that from an outsider's point of view the European Union is a beacon of reconciliation, stability, civil society, social justice and peace. Richard Sennett described this from the American perspective in a lengthy interview yesterday with the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

When I look at the European Union's recent history, I see that we have indeed failed to achieve some of the projects we have worked on. But after meeting Boris Tadic a few days ago and recalling how we discussed the European Union's relations with the Western Balkans – Serbia in particular – and seeing today that we have managed through an intelligent and balanced policy, as well as very courageous democrats on the Serbian side, not only to make Europe the centre of domestic debate in Serbia but also helped ensure the election victory of pro-European democrats and that stability has now been restored in the largest country in the Western Balkans, I believe that we're on the right path. This would not have been possible without Europe.

Nevertheless, the often expressed opinion that, in the final analysis, the European Union's voice will only be heard if we succeed in speaking with one voice is right. The question as to whether we have reached that stage yet is therefore justified. Is the definition of shared interests so far advanced that it really will enable us to act together? That continues to be a justified question in my opinion. We have just witnessed in the Caucasus conflict – indeed, everyone involved in finding solutions and restoring peace have experienced it – how difficult and ambitious this is in a conflict in which, as it were, people became victims in just a few hours overnight losing everything. If we're honest, many of us feared that this regional conflict would spread like wildfire, at least to the entire Caucasus region. In all modesty and in view of the criticism voiced about European foreign policy, which I know well, I want to point out that this conflict and the killing in the southern Caucasus ended because Europe took up this cause. Of course, it did so with help from others; I am very aware of that.

But we have to remember that the French President's trips to Tbilisi and Moscow to try and negotiate the key points for a cease-fire without any guarantee of success was by no means a given. Indeed, in my view he took a risk. In view of this, I find the way in which holes have been picked in the six-point plan negotiated between Mr Sarkozy and Mr Medvedev shabby. And I've already said so to the Committee. Of course it was incomplete; we realize that. However, isn't it cynical to argue the Europeans could have negotiated a bit more? Perhaps the last details would have been worked out and agreed upon in three to four weeks while more people would have died in the meantime. I'm certainly pleased that someone went there, that it was a European and that the six-point plan has provided a basis on which we can now fill in the gaps in the document, but with the guns silenced.

I don't want to embellish things: The situations we have experienced during the last three or four weeks have highlighted that the 27 European member states still have 27 national, emotional and very different angles on the history of their peoples. The history of past centuries, in particular of the last century, memories of war, occupation, systematic and ideological coercion, as well as withheld autonomy or independence, have had an impact. All of this plays a role in cooperation within Europe and it will be with us for a long time to come – years or even decades. Part of European foreign policy will be to know all of this and, nevertheless, to never stop building a common European foreign policy.

The second long-term policy concerns relations with America. The United States of America will remain our most important ally. What we've already said about others applies even more to the US. We will need the US to resolve all key problems discernible at present, including our common security. Because that's the case, I very much want to see particularly viable, future-oriented relations with the United States with an agenda for a – as I once called it – new transatlantic partnership. Although security should continue to play an important and central role in this partnership, we should also reach agreement on all important and central challenges of the future, from a technology partnership in the sphere of climate change to regulation of the international finance and capital markets and a common disarmament policy. I believe we should flesh out this new transatlantic agenda as quickly as possible.

The new partners in the world order – China, India and many others – are claiming their places in the international community, places which, at the very least, are commensurate with their increased economic weight. We need much foreign policy savvy and foresightedness in order to create an optimal balance. I'm not saying this because I underestimate the task but, rather, because I foresee that we Germans – German foreign policy – will be called upon to play a role in creating this balance, sometimes even beyond our capabilities.

We are obviously considered to be a potential partner for this because, firstly, we have much to offer economically, secondly, because we have experience in creating a peaceful order, which is how the European Union is seen, and thirdly – and this is important for many African countries – because we do not carry the baggage of a colonial past. All of this would suggest that we will be expected to play a bigger role than ever before in creating a balanced world order.

I recall what Karl Lamers said, namely that foreign policy means seeing the world with someone else's eyes. I'd like to say something similar: in order to pursue an intelligent foreign policy, you don't have to assume the perception of the other side. However, you certainly must know it and take it into consideration when developing your own positions.

I'm firmly convinced that any country which takes this to heart isn't giving anything up. Rather, it can stand by its principles and positions without being condescending to other nations.

That takes me to the last key question I want to address here: terrorism. In an open society, terrorism holds dangers which we have outlined to each other many times. I don't want to talk about Afghanistan at length but merely to remind you that terrorism is the reason – the anniversary of 11 September was just a few days ago – why German troops continue to be deployed in Afghanistan. My simple request – I'm saying this in view of the remarks by Fritz Kuhn this morning – is that we conduct the debate in this House honestly. I'm assuming that mandates are not automatically rubber-stamped by any parliamentary group. On the contrary, each parliamentary group must discuss this issue carefully, but with the right arguments. We have to make a decision on Germany's contribution and I therefore ask you, firstly, not to put forward arguments based on, in your view, different or wrong decisions other countries may have made on their deployments. Secondly, I hope that you won't argue that the mandates should not be approved because we need a new strategy when the time comes to debate this issue in detail. We have often talked about a new strategy, also in this House. I would just like to say before I go on that this Government has been united in advocating a new strategy which emphasizes our commitment to civilian reconstruction, also in NATO fora. I can say that for myself, as well as for Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung. We have managed to bring about this change in strategy.

It is evident not only in our own budgets. If you look at all member countries engaged in Afghanistan, you can see that the share of resources for civilian reconstruction has increased considerably. I therefore say: let's not simply repeat the old arguments and accusations. Rather, let's assume that we've learned the lesson that a military presence alone won't resolve the problems in Afghanistan but that we need a commitment to civilian reconstruction and that this commitment has been made. As far as I can see, however, we need a continued military presence for the foreseeable future in order to guarantee security and a stable environment.

That brings me to disarmament. I want to talk about it because I sense that someone will bring up India in a minute.

I've told you that I have been working hard to put disarmament back on the international agenda. We've succeeded in this, and not only in the case of small weapons and cluster munitions. In the sphere of nuclear disarmament, too, I have put forward proposals on the internationalization of the fuel cycle which have been received with great interest by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the states involved. I said during the first debate in this House on the nuclear trade with India that what normally applies to the issue of the importance of multilateral integration also applies to this case.

In other words – I said this then and I stand by it – if the IAEA and ElBaradei, with whom we are also working closely on various other conflicts, manage to conclude a safeguards agreement to bring India closer to cooperating with the international nuclear monitoring system, then I will take this into account in my assessment of the situation. India is therefore no further away from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, much less will it be rewarded for disregarding the Treaty. Rather, the appropriate means will be deployed to bring it towards accepting controls carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Although this doesn't apply to 100 per cent of its facilities, it does apply to about two thirds. At any rate, I'm pleased that consensus has finally been found in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, also among those who were even more critical than we are.

Now we've spoken about many issues but not about culture. I would therefore like to close by saying a few words on that. I always said during past budget debates that the international changes I've described mean that we have to strive to make ourselves better understood, by putting forward our arguments and explaining our position. This also includes cultural relations and education policy. I'm pleased we have at least managed a turnaround on the Goethe-Institut, that we are no longer talking about the closure of Goethe Institutes but –thanks to your help – are talking today from a consolidated base about extending our commitment.

During the last few years we have done much to promote the German schools abroad. When I say “much” that not only means providing public funding but also seeking cooperation with the business community, trying to convince it of the worth of such schools so that those who graduate from German schools then have a chance of an internship, a chance to study or to start an apprenticeship in Germany. I'm glad this is on the right track.

Thank you all very much.

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