“A historic step”: Foreign Minister Westerwelle in an interview on 19 November 2010 with Deutschlandfunk on the NATO summit in Lisbon

22.11.2010 - Interview

Before the start of the NATO summit in Lisbon Foreign Minister Westerwelle gave the following interview to Deutschlandfunk on 19 November 2010.The interview focused on the Alliance’s Strategic Concept, relations with Russia, disarmament and the Afghanistan mission, as well as the two German nationals detained in Iran.The interviewer was Gerwald Herter (Source: www.dradio.de).

Question: Mr Westerwelle, you’ve said that historic issues will be discussed in Lisbon.It’s time to overcome Cold War mindsets.But who still has a Cold War mindset today, the whole of NATO perhaps?

Foreign Minister Westerwelle: No, for that’s precisely the sea change we’re currently witnessing. Twenty years after the establishment of German unity, we now have a great opportunity. For the country once regarded by NATO as an adversary is now becoming part of a cooperative approach to security. The fact that NATO has invited Russia to cooperate on a common security policy, for example on missile defence, is a historic step. And the fact that the Russian President is travelling to Lisbon to discuss this issue with NATO states is likewise a historic step, and an enormous one at that.

Question: Let’s stay with Cold War mindsets.Is the idea of deterrence also part of the mindsets we have to overcome?

No. It’s right in principle that as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world NATO itself should have them as a deterrent. At the same time, however, we have to initiate a disarmament process. A disarmament treaty isn’t on the cards in Lisbon. The summit will be about designing a strategy for a defence and security alliance. It’s also right to say that NATO considers itself to be a political union of shared values, a security alliance, within which truly global political issues are not only discussed but also decided together. And the danger posed by nuclear proliferation is, of course, a huge threat to humanity. It’s no less, for example, than the danger posed by climate change to humankind. If ever more states acquire nuclear weapons, there is a very great danger that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist groupings or organized crime, and that would jeopardize everyone’s security. Disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation are thus also included in the initiative we are jointly promoting within NATO. And I’ve reason to believe that, in contrast to 1999, when the last NATO Strategic Concept was adopted, this time clear signals will be sent on disarmament and arms control.

Question: You, of course, know the communiqué text, Mr Westerwelle, but when will the American nuclear weapons be removed from Germany, from the Eifel region?

That’s our stated goal but, of course, it’s only one aspect of the disarmament issue and we simply have to recognize the progress already made this year. For the first time, the United States of America – and not only the United States – has signalled that tactical nuclear weapons can also be part of a disarmament agenda.

Question: And that’s enough for you?

Westerwelle: Yes. That’s a huge step forward within just a few months. Don’t forget that the whole of the last decade was a decade of armament, a decade of complete standstill in the sphere of disarmament. During the current decade, this still young decade – in the course of this year indeed – the NPT Review Conference in New York was a success, unlike when it was held five years ago. The United States of America has put forward a nuclear posture –certainly partly thanks to our advice and influence – which reduces the role of nuclear weapons and which enables tactical nuclear weapons to be included in disarmament initiatives for the first time. And finally, it would be no mean achievement if all 28 NATO member states were to commit themselves to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. That would be quite a sensation, considering where we were 20 years ago.

Question: But that’s perhaps also down to the still relatively new American President!

Westerwelle: Yes, I’m quite certain that the American President has played a pivotal role here. You’re absolutely right to say so. And the German Government is very keen for his agenda to succeed, also in the field of disarmament. The outstanding speech he made in Prague, where he outlined his vision of “nuclear zero”, that’s to say a world free of nuclear weapons, has since borne tangible fruit. I’m thinking, for example, of the New Start Treaty, the disarmament treaty concluded between the US and Russia. And we’re pressing for this disarmament instrument to be ratified in both the US and Russia.

Question: Mr Westerwelle, let’s move on to Afghanistan, another main topic of discussion at the summit.The withdrawal of the Bundeswehr is to begin in 2012, you’ve again made that very clear.In which province should the Bundeswehr hand over responsibility to the Afghans first?

Our goal this weekend in Lisbon is to begin the regional handover of responsibility and to reach political agreement on this in 2011. In other words, we want several provinces – I won’t mention them by name – to be handed over next year. These should include one in northern Afghanistan, that’s to say within our area of responsibility. And once we’ve achieved sufficient progress in this sphere and if the security situation allows it – and our new Afghanistan Strategy should help create the right conditions – then in 2012 we intend to reduce our Bundeswehr contingent for the first time. That’s how we’re working towards the prospect of withdrawal. For complete responsibility for security is to be handed over to the Afghan Government in 2014. That doesn’t mean that we won’t need soldiers anymore, or that civil engagement will no longer be needed. But it does mean that we’re working towards the prospect of withdrawal – which has to happen. For everyone knows that in the long term this Afghanistan mission cannot be accomplished by military means. Rather, a political solution is needed. That really sums up the change in strategy this year in our Afghanistan policy.

Question: Isn’t it time to admit that in many respects NATO has failed in Afghanistan?

It’s right that there are still a great many problems in Afghanistan. There have been setbacks as regards security. However, we can only get a true picture if we also acknowledge the progress made. After all, we’ve been able to foster stability in important areas. We also have to acknowledge the progress made in Afghan society. Major progress has been made, for example, when it comes to enabling women and girls to participate in community life. And safeguarding fundamental human rights is, of course, an integral part of our strategy for Afghanistan to take charge of its own security. That’s the way forward.


Question: Two German journalists are in an Iranian prison.They’ve been accused of spying and have been shown on Iranian television.What can you do for these men?

Westerwelle: We’re working tirelessly to ensure quick and regular consular access to the two Germans. We’ve now managed that for a second time. Nevertheless, the men’s situation remains very difficult. For example, during the more than 40 days since their arrest they haven’t had an opportunity to speak with a lawyer. Naturally, we won’t slacken in our efforts to help them. I expect Iran to comply with international law. In particular, this includes ensuring appropriate conditions of imprisonment. And I’ll be sending my Director-General for Near and Middle Eastern Affairs, Andreas Michaelis, to Iran for talks at the beginning of next week with this clear message. I myself have spoken to my Iranian counterpart on several occasions. Our aim is for the two men to return to Germany unharmed as quickly as possible.

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