In the Interview of the Week, Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle speaks with radio station Deutschlandfunk about the NATO Strategic Concept, disarmament and German Armed Forces missions.

14.11.2010 - Interview

QUESTION: Mr Westerwelle, as German Foreign Minister you are working towards disarmament and arms control, and so in the Bundestag on Thursday you once again called for the withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from Germany. Büchel Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate currently holds an estimated ten to twenty American nuclear bombs, which are to be deployed to their targets by German Tornado fighter planes in the event of a war. Now NATO wants to adopt a new Strategic Concept at the summit in Lisbon. We haven’t seen the final version yet but the draft version does uphold the stationing of American nuclear weapons on European soil on the grounds that this supposedly strengthens the principle of broad deterrence and collective defence. How does this line up with your call for disarmament?

Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle: In Lisbon we are going to undertake yet another major step in the direction of disarmament. Tactical nuclear weapons, the so-called sub-strategic nuclear weapons, are one part of our overall mindset of disarmament. We have two goals in Lisbon: the first is for NATO as a security alliance to address the major issue of disarmament and arms control.

I firmly believe that this will become a component of the NATO Strategic Concept, and secondly that we will show that NATO as an organization is not directed against anyone, particularly not against Russia, but rather invites cooperation. And the fact that Russia is being invited to missile defence talks is in itself a historical event. Russia would normally react very cautiously, but in this case we see that the Russian President is even travelling to Lisbon specifically for the NATO summit.

I think that in the 20th year of German unity we should understand what a spectacular, historic success it is that NATO, which was founded to – and worked to – defend against the Warsaw Pact, now expressly invites the Russian side to join in on shared security.

QUESTION: But doesn’t that still mean that for the foreseeable future you will at least have to resign yourself to American nuclear weapons on German soil?

On the contrary. The American side has already made promising gestures on the issue of tactical nuclear weapons. In the wake of the non-proliferation conference in New York, the role of tactical nuclear weapons is also being addressed and included in the context of disarmament negotiations. But it has always been my position that tactical nuclear weapons should be withdrawn from Germany – but that this is one part of our larger disarmament efforts.

Russia still holds a much larger stock of tactical nuclear weapons. And we want to bring about both, we also want to bring about disarmament there, where a great many weapons are still stationed. And I’ve always advised against Germany taking unilateral steps. We’re part of an alliance, we act together in the alliance, and the era of nations acting alone has passed.

QUESTION: In Lisbon, the NATO heads of state and government also intend to discuss the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan, that is, to deal concretely with the question of when responsibility for security can be handed over to the Afghans. What’s your prognosis?

In Lisbon we’re going to initiate the process of handing over responsibility, and thereby also work out a prospect of withdrawal. What’s also at stake in Lisbon is making clear that the handover of responsibility will begin next year on a regional basis. Then we will hopefully be in a position – this is our plan – to withdraw our troop contingents beginning in 2012.

It’s planned for us to then hand over full responsibility for security to the Afghan government in 2014. This would give us precisely the withdrawal prospect that I as Foreign Minister have undertaken for this legislative term.

QUESTION: Does this prospect of withdrawal also apply to northern Afghanistan, Germany’s area of responsibility?

I’m working on this and am trying to politically advance the definite inclusion of a northern province among the provinces in which regional responsibility will be initially handed over to the Afghans next year.

But to name a specific province would not be wise at this point, of course, as it would lead to corresponding backlash and disruptive actions, acts of violence in those regions. Which of course must be prevented.

QUESTION: Mr Westerwelle, the current security situation and the structural reform of the Bundeswehr demand a new way of thinking about defence policy in Germany. Defence Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg has recently provoked controversy by calling for, as he put it, uninhibited consideration of Germany’s economic interests in security policy. In response, the opposition accused him of seeking to deploy the Bundeswehr for economic wars. There was also talk of “gunboat” politics. This may well be an exaggeration, but as part of the EU-led operation ATALANTA the Bundeswehr is already securing sea routes by military means. Doesn’t the mission of the Bundeswehr need to be thoroughly redefined?

The accusation of “gunboat” politics is not merely an exaggeration – it’s preposterous, ludicrous, absurd. The issue here is that we naturally follow two lines in international politics. The first of these is to fulfil our international responsibilities, for example by combating piracy. By the way, it’s not primarily for economic reasons that we’re combating piracy, but rather we have also started this operation so that, for example, aid deliveries are able to reach African harbours. And it goes without saying that we have the right to protect our ships and our citizens. This precisely is a part of the mission which an overwhelming majority of the German Bundestag has approved.

The second question and the second line is the culture of military restraint. This will remain as it is – you have my word as Foreign Minister. Military engagement is always the last resort, it’s to be used only when all other options have been exhausted. And only when we find that we must defend ourselves – for example, against terrorist attacks – are we prepared to turn to the military. It is not an end in itself, it’s a means to the end of protecting our freedom, our security.

QUESTION: According to the Basic Law, the main task of the Bundeswehr is national defence. Beyond this, however, international Bundeswehr operations within the scope of a system of collective security are also compatible with the Basic Law, as the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in 1994. As we all know, the world has changed decisively in the years since. Shouldn’t the Basic Law be amended as well to ensure absolute conformity to the constitution in the carrying out of international military responsibilities?

I don’t see any need to amend the Basic Law. Quite the contrary. Germany has been served well by having a parliamentary army and not a governmental army, as it were. This means that foreign deployments of the Bundeswehr always require the consent of the Parliament. The Government makes a proposal but the Parliament decides. And this is also an expression of our culture of military restraint, so that every representative in the German Bundestag feels responsible for our Bundeswehr and nobody can shirk this duty, everyone has to say whether or not they would like to take on this mission.

QUESTION: Taking on more international responsibility will be somewhat easier for Germany since the election to the UN Security Council, where Germany holds a non-permanent seat for the next two years. Of course, a permanent seat as a result of comprehensive reform of the Security Council would be even better. Are you not a bit disappointed that US President Obama’s recent comments on this issue included India and Japan but not Germany?

The American President was on a trip to India and not a trip to Germany. And when the American President speaks to the Indian Parliament, he talks about India’s role and not Germany’s role. Anything else would have come as a surprise to me. I fully support President Obama’s remarks. Yes, Asia is underrepresented on the Security Council, yes, it would be good if India got a permanent seat there.

We’ve joined together as the group known as the G4, that is, India, Japan, Brazil and Germany, and our aim is to advance the reform of the United Nations. The foremost issue here is not the German vote, though that is our own vital concern, but rather the changed architecture of the world. The lack of permanent representation for Latin America on the Security Council is a mistake and just doesn’t reflect current circumstances. The lack of representation of the entire continent of Africa on the Security Council is likewise a mistake. A permanent seat must be created there too. And Asia is also underrepresented.

We want to join in, we’re ready to take on responsibility. For the time being it was an excellent decision, a tremendous show of trust in German foreign policy and in our country as a whole that we were the only country to be voted into the Security Council right away in the first round of voting with a two-thirds majority against two very respectable opponents. That really shows high regard for our work. What more could one ask for?

QUESTION: In what other areas has German foreign policy been particularly successful since you took office?

For example, the issue of disarmament comes to mind. Disarmament began a year ago, after a decade of standstill, and in part even of increasing arms arsenals. And we’ve succeeded this year in turning a tiny trickle of disarmament into a rushing river. But disarmament is a very complex process that requires many participants – above all, those who have nuclear weapons. And it takes patience to convince the nuclear powers that disarmament is necessary, patience and negotiating skills.

And there’s one thing it definitely doesn’t take: overbearing directives or commands from individual countries. That impresses nobody, not in Russia and certainly not in the United States. And that’s why we will work calmly and persistently to move this matter forward through our initiatives. Why is this so important? The issue of disarmament is in my opinion just as important as climate protection, it’s of similarly profound significance for the future of humanity. Because when ever more countries arm themselves with nuclear weapons the danger grows that terrorist groups, for example, could also gain access to these nuclear weapon systems.

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