Interview with Foreign Minister Westerwelle in the Rheinische Post of 24 November 2010 on the NATO Summit, the euro and Afghanistan

24.11.2010 - Interview

Question: For the first time NATO has made disarmament one of its stated goals. What good will that do us?

I’m pushing so hard on disarmament because it’s good for our own security. Disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation are closely connected. We must prevent a situation in which more and more countries acquire nuclear weapons and eventually even terrorists get their hands on them. Disarmament is as vital for humanity as climate protection. After a decade of armament, it’s time to launch a decade of disarmament.

Question: Is a world without nuclear weapons anything more than an illusion?

It’s a vision, but unlike a former German Chancellor, I believe we need visions in politics if we want to achieve anything long-term. Our Christian Democrat-Liberal coalition received a mandate to govern and it’s our job to do what’s right for our country. Disarmament is security policy, which is why it’s a good thing this is now also NATO’s business. Never before has disarmament been so high on NATO’s agenda.

Question: At the NATO Summit Russia and Europe saw eye to eye in a way they never have in the past.

That the Russian President has been invited by NATO to participate in developing a joint missile defence system is a historic step. I was born in 1961, the year the Berlin Wall was built. I’d not yet turned 30 when courageous people in East Germany tore it down. Now, 20 years after German unity, those who during the Cold War confronted each other armed to the teeth are no longer adversaries but sit around the same table. That’s a huge success.

Question: Can Russia become our friend, in the same way as France?

The idea of friendship between Russia, Europe and us Germans is one we should cherish in our hearts. Partnership and modernization, however, must encompass more than merely economic matters. On freedom of expression and freedom of the press, on civil rights and the rule of law there are differences of opinion. Despite this, I feel we’re on the right track.

Question: The euro crisis goes on and on.Can it put the European Union’s political existence at risk?

First of all, it’s clear how right it was to put the rescue package in place. And how wrong the Opposition was, after the Red-Green coalition had watered down the Stability Pact, to then refuse to tackle the consequences of this historic mistake. Unlike early on with Greece, we are actually now prepared and we have a tool for managing the situation. I see no risk of contagion, by the way, as every case is different. What’s important is for a rigorous policy of budget consolidation to be pursued everywhere in Europe.

Question: Is it conceivable for you that bankrupt countries will be forced to leave the European Union?

No. Europe is the most successful peace project in the history of our continent, it’s the insurance policy that keeps us prosperous. The euro is a currency of peace. It would be crazy for us Germans of all people to forget how important Europe is for us. That we can live in peace in this European house of ours is a great boon. If you share a house with 26 other people, of course you’re sometimes annoyed by the loud music or the chores left undone. What’s crucial, however, is to strengthen the foundations of our house. For that we need an effective crisis mechanism and a tightening-up of the Stability Pact. This must include effective sanctions as well as, from 2013 on, the involvement of private-sector creditors. To make the taxpayer liable for any and every investment risk is just not on.

Question: In Afghanistan troop withdrawal is now drawing nearer.What happens if Afghan President Hamid Karzai asks Germany to stay longer?

It was the Afghan Government that set itself the goal of taking full responsibility for national security by 2014. We are supporting Afghan efforts here, for that’s how withdrawal of our troops will become a concrete prospect. The mission in Afghanistan can’t go on for ever. If the handover is successful, the last combat troops should leave the country in 2014. This doesn’t mean, however, that from then on we won’t be taking any responsibility in Afghanistan for things like civilian development or security forces training.


The interviewers wereMichael Bröcker and Gregor Mayntz.

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