Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier on a pan-European security partnership

11.12.2008 - Speech

In a speech to the Heinz Schwarzkopf Foundation in Berlin, Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier proposed a new charter for a pan-European security partnership. A series of concrete confidence-building measures would be the prerequisite for such a charter.


Ladies and gentlemen,

A direct path leads from Willy Brandt's “Ostpolitik” to the fall of the Berlin Wall, to overcoming the division of Germany and Europe.

Those days, the days of the major changes of 1989, were filled with a sense of anticipation, with a special sense of hope that could be felt in Germany, in Europe and around the world.

With the end of the division of Europe came hope for a new world order and for the goal of a lasting and just order of peace that would stretch from Vancouver to Vladivostok – a peace order that would include the North American democracies, Europe and Russia.

This hope found its official expression in the 1990 Charter of Paris. The Charter spoke of a new era of democracy, peace and unity in Europe.

Much has been accomplished since then: there are no longer soldiers stationed along borders in the centre of Europe, no war games about deploying tactical nuclear weapons in the Fulda Gap, and the “Schwarze Kanal” (The Black Channel) has also disappeared from television screens.

Those who carelessly speak of a new Cold War today seem to have forgotten what all of this, what a wall and barbed wire, what ideological opposition and massive atomic stockpiles really meant.

At the same time, it is true that we have not managed to banish war from Europe.

Peace in our European neighbourhood has not yet been secured. The war in Georgia demonstrated that military force is still being used as a political tool in Europe. Mistrust and threat perceptions have re-emerged more strongly than we could have imagined.

This return to an old way of thinking contradicts the lessons of Europe's painful history. And what's more, it prevents us from doing what is needed now; namely, shaping a common future for greater Europe.

The new challenges to our security do not differentiate between West and East. They require common action from the US and Canada, from the European Union and its eastern neighbours, including Russia.

Climate change, the financial crisis, combating terrorism – in light of the challenges we face in the 21st century, dialogue and interaction and the balancing of interests will be the strategic imperative of our time.

What this means for me in concrete terms is that we need a peace order that rests on an understanding of common interests, common values and common security.

This is about nothing less than a renewed security partnership for the 21st century, which will secure lasting peace. This will not be possible without the close transatlantic partnership with the US and Canada.

As early as 1969, Willy Brandt emphasized the necessity to seek understanding with the East in cooperation and coordination with western partners.

That is why it is encouraging that in his Berlin speech, Barack Obama advocated moving beyond thinking in Cold War categories and building a partnership that encompasses the entire continent – meaning Russia as well.

Indeed, we will not succeed in making progress on any of the pressing issues – from energy security to arms control to the fight against terrorism – without, or by challenging, Russia.

For that reason I say quite openly: we need Russia – as difficult as that sometimes is – as a partner, not as an opponent when it comes to the common responsibility for security and stability in Europe.

But the opposite also holds: Russia needs us. Russia will not be able to take on the enormous task of its modernization without Europe.

That's why we should listen when Russian President Medvedev expresses interest – also here in Berlin – in a new attempt for pan-European security.

No matter what form a security partnership takes in the end, we can agree on one thing today: such a partnership requires confidence, first and foremost.

Confidence that has slipped away from us again over the past few years.

Confidence that we now need to take concrete steps to rebuild.

That's why I am proposing a concrete agenda of confidence-building for Europe:

Firstly, we need a fresh start in conventional arms control. We cannot allow the agreement on conventional arms control and its system of confidence building to continue to erode.

Rather, we need to adjust the treaty to meet the new realities of post-Cold War Europe. On this point, I will invite a number of high-ranking experts from the states concerned to take part in a meeting in Germany shortly.

Secondly, we need to make progress on nuclear disarmament and arms control. Europe's and the world's security in the 21st century will not be ensured by the weapons of the past century. On the contrary.

With the non-proliferation treaty, the nuclear powers committed themselves to further nuclear disarmament. They need to make good on this promise. And further concrete steps are required. Here the priorities are reaching understanding on a successor agreement to the START I treaty, which will expire in the coming year, and implementation of the nuclear test ban treaty.

When the giants of American foreign and security policy, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, George Shultz and William Perry, resolve to achieve the goal of a nuclear-free world, we should support them with a European answer. And this has to consist of more than just renouncing possession of our own nuclear weapons, it must take up the question of how to eliminate the risks that come with the proliferation of the civilian use of nuclear energy.

To this end, I have made a concrete proposal on internationalizing fuel cycles. It is intended to give states that want to use nuclear energy access to the technology, without permitting the development of the risk of proliferation, a threat to us all.

Thirdly, a fresh start is also urgently needed in NATO-Russia relations. That's why the NATO-Russia Council should meet again as soon as possible – especially now when we find ourselves in somewhat troubled waters. International diplomacy cannot afford “fair-weather institutions”. We should utilize the possibilities that controversial discussion – even outright argument – holds, especially in times like these.

We should systematically examine the dialogue with Russia for potential areas of cooperation. I'm thinking, for instance, of containing drug-related crime in Afghanistan, or if Russia might, perhaps, have an interest in participating in efforts to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa.

And hasn't the time come to start working seriously on a common missile defence project?

The US, Europe and Russia also share an interest in countering the risks that arise from the proliferation of nuclear delivery systems. We should consider whether we could also develop a common defence against these risks. This potential threat should unite – rather than divide – us.

The NATO-Russia Council is exactly the right forum for discussing these issues.

Fourthly, there is an acute lack of confidence in the stability of the European order in Russia's immediate western neighbourhood.

The ominous history of the 20th century lives on in the hearts and minds of these people – and with it the image of an imperial Russia, formed in most cases over 70 years as part of the Soviet Union.

Russia itself should have every interest in eliminating its neighbours' perceptions of threat.

Here, substantial progress towards resolving the territorial conflicts in Moldova, Nagorny Karabakh and Georgia would be a practical contribution.

None of the three conflicts will be solved without Russia's constructive participation.

This applies particularly to Georgia. Only by initiating a political process that brings all sides to the table, will we be able to achieve freedom and stability there. The Geneva talks on Georgia provide the appropriate framework for doing this; that is why they must be continued – even beyond the end of this year. Therefore, it would be good if Russia refrained from acting on its stated intention to continue the talks only until the end of this year.

Fifthly, the EU can also contribute to building confidence by intensifying its neighbourhood policy towards the east.

Last week, the European Commission presented concrete proposals that are a step in the right direction: an “eastern partnership” with Ukraine, Moldova, the countries of the southern Caucasus and also Belarus, if the current positive development there continues.

We support the Czech EU Presidency in its goal to draft concrete decisions on this in the spring.

Yet, we shouldn't narrow our focus too much. We need a broad-based initiative for the stabilization of the Black Sea region and the southern Caucasus.

This initiative should be open to involvement from Russia, Turkey, international financial organizations, and also interested Central Asian countries and the US.

Here once again, the need to strengthen the EU's responsibility for security and stability in its eastern neighbourhood comes into play. The Georgia conflict showed what the EU is capable of contributing in this respect – and it also showed that the EU cannot shirk this responsibility by any means.

It would not have been possible to achieve a ceasefire in Georgia in just a few days and alleviate the suffering of the people there without the spirited intervention by the French Presidency.

A fresh start in conventional and nuclear disarmament and arms control, reviving and realigning the NATO-Russia Council, building confidence in our shared neighbourhood – these are all essentials of a confidence-building agenda in Europe.

Resolutely taking on these issues is one of the key political tasks for 2009.

Only if we manage to gradually reverse the downward spiral of mistrust and lack of dialogue can we then take a second step to realize the greater vision of a security partnership for the 21st century.

The culmination of this process could be a binding document that expresses our common understanding of European security. Here I'm thinking of a new charter that would build on the Charter of Paris from 1990 with a renewed agenda. All countries from Vancouver to Vladivostok would have to be able to take part in developing it.

The Charter of Paris focused primarily on classic security risks. Since then, additional new threats have emerged: organized crime and illegal migration, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, climate change and resource scarcity.

A new charter would therefore have to be based on a broader, contemporary understanding of common security.

That doesn't mean that we should forget the principles and fundamentals of the CSCE and OSCE. Quite the opposite: respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, observing territorial integrity, refraining from the threat and use of violence, equal and undivided security for all, the freedom to choose one's alliance – all of this remains indispensable for peaceful coexistence under our common European roof.

The renewed charter would also have to build on the existing institutions. The EU, OSCE and NATO all remain essential for stability on our continent. But we should summon the courage to consider the next steps for the European security system and develop it accordingly – NATO as well.

In 1967 a document known as the Harmel report marked a paradigm shift in the Atlantic alliance's strategy. It identified a lasting and just peace order for all of Europe as the alliance's highest political goal.

And it described a new strategy for reaching this goal: it advocated moving away from military deterrence towards a dual strategy of security through defence capabilities and detente.

I say, today we need a similarly comprehensive, innovative concept for the future of the alliance in the 21st century – a type of new Harmel report.

Such a concept would have to provide a convincing answer to the pressing issues concerning the alliance's future. This also includes the issue of how to shape a security partnership with Russia across the area stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok and, if necessary, even beyond.

“Peace policy is a sober task,” stated Willy Brandt in Oslo. There's no question about that. But it also holds the promise of great rewards! Peace is the necessary condition for overcoming the major issues facing humanity.

Willy Brandt was right, “peace is not everything, but without peace everything is nothing!”

Pursuing peace policy against the background of global challenges – that meant the same thing in 1971 as it does today: promoting a policy that combines strategic goals with a sense of what is possible.

Willy Brandt's thinking is no less relevant today. “Nothing comes from nothing and there is little that lasts,” he said. This is also true of peace, even if it is something we have come to take for granted in the EU over the last 50 years. Let us rather understand it as a task, especially the younger generation!

Related content

Top of page