Interview for the Süddeutsche Zeitung with Foreign Minister Westerwelle on the situation in Ireland, Korea and Afghanistan and on disarmament

27.11.2010 - Interview

The following interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was published on 27 November.Peter Blechschmidt, Daniel Brössler and Nico Fried asked the questions.

Question: Minister, let us begin with a quotation.“There are some states which have made really remarkable improvements in their levels of prosperity. With its tax system and economic policy, Ireland has grasped the opportunities offered by globalization and used them to its advantage – helped, I might add, by the EU.” Do you recognize these words?

I suspect I said that – and it is quite true.

Question: You wrote it in 2008, in your essay entitled “Richtung Freiheit” (“towards freedom”).Why is it still true today?

There is a temptation to say Ireland is in trouble so everything was wrong. We must recognize, however, what progress Ireland made in terms of prosperity in the last 20 years. The trouble the country is now experiencing principally has to do with the fact that the Irish Government needs to stabilize its banking system. This has happened to other countries too, like the USA and Germany. The only difference is that we are larger, stronger states.

Question: Ireland is not capable of solving its problems under its own steam.Does that not show that liberal dreams have failed?

Far from it. It shows how vital it is to stick to the liberal principles of the social market economy. If you want to bring home the profits from your investments, which are often enough highly speculative, you cannot shed your responsibility by pushing the risk permanently onto the taxpayer.

Question: There is a combination of two things in Ireland: an evidently underregulated financial system and a national budget with very low tax revenue.That is why Ireland now needs help.Do you share this view?

The FDP already warned of the need for better banking supervision a decade ago. At the beginning of next year, the world’s first ever transnational system of banking supervision will be introduced in Europe. We are taking action. By contrast, the decision to extensively deregulate was taken while the SPD-Green coalition was in government. In fact, the problems we now face also have a lot to do with the historic error that saw the SPD-Green coalition watering down the Stability Pact in 2004 and 2005. And in tax policy, Ireland is taking action.

Question: Does the error not lie even further back, in the formation of a monetary union without economic union?

We have been coordinated our economic policies more and more closely for a long time now. Besides, the euro is more than paper and coins. It is also a currency of peace.

Question: Do you accept the criticism that José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, has levelled at the German Government for calling for the involvement of private creditors?

I refute that criticism. We have to do the right thing and apply the lessons we have learned from the crisis to our structures if we are to avoid getting the EU into substantial difficulties. Firstly, this means getting all the states in Europe back to sound budget policy. The German Government’s call for this has been successful, as you can see in more and more countries. If countries evade their share of our common responsibility in the long term, it should be possible to impose sanctions, within a system safeguarded against political opportunism. Secondly, it must be possible to involve private creditors in the efforts to deal with the consequences of the crisis in the period after 2013. If investors could take the profits but leave losses to the taxpayer – that would seriously undermine the foundations of the European Union.

Question: Let us turn to another crisis entirely: is there a threat of war in Korea?

It is a serious situation which we hope will not escalate further. We welcome the level-headed way in which the President of South Korea has responded to North Korea’s violent aggression. China has a pivotal role here. This shows how important it is to maintain an intensive, fair and cooperative partnership with China and Russia. We saw the same thing in our joint stance on sanctions against Iran. In the case of Korea too, we are keen to see China play a constructive role. But we in Germany and Europe need to recognize that we are not in the driver’s seat when it comes to solving certain regional conflicts – we just have to lend a helping hand.

Question: The UN Security Council’s sanctions hardly seem to have borne fruit so far in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme, do they?

Well, the UN sanctions have been extended again thanks to the concerted action of the 27 EU states. Even though the Iranian leadership keeps insisting that they are not impressed by this, I have a feeling that the opposite is true. The fact that talks look likely to be resumed on 5 December offers an opportunity. If Iran acquired nuclear weapons, the danger would be that a number of other states would follow within a few years – and that terrorists would also at some point gain access to nuclear weapons. Disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation are therefore no less vital for humanity than climate protection.

Question: As long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.That is what it says in NATO’s new Strategic Concept.Is that what you would call a commitment to nuclear disarmament?

Well, I say that too. As long as there are nuclear weapons, NATO, in the interests of our security, needs to have nuclear weapons. Progress towards our vision of a world without nuclear weapons will only be made step by step, and sometimes only millimetre by millimetre. The essential condition for this is that we actively work for disarmament and arms control – as now enshrined, thank to our urging, in NATO’s new Strategic Concept.

Question: Do you regret having been so direct in your call to have the US nuclear weapons removed from the Eifel region?

No, and indeed that too has now borne its first fruit in that a discussion has now finally begun about reducing sub-strategic nuclear weapons, which were described in NATO’s previous Strategic Concept as essential. I never said that if we entered government we would send a lorry into the Eifel to load up the last nuclear weapons and remove them from the country. As I have always said, this is an issue that we deal with as part of the Alliance. I do not believe in going it alone. And it goes without saying that we want to see Russia, which may well have a hundred times more tactical nuclear weapons, involved in this disarmament process too.

Question: You spoke to ISAF Commander General Petraeus this week.What does he think of your intention to start reducing the numbers of German troops in Afghanistan in 2012?

I saw many areas of agreement. What US President Barack Obama said was similar. The essential caveat is of course that the conditions on the ground will have to be right.

Question: Setting dates like that surely has a lot to do with domestic politics.You all have to deal with populations in which a majority are against the deployment of troops in Afghanistan.

I must absolutely contradict that suggestion. This is about taking on the responsibility to ensure the success of our deployment in Afghanistan, not about domestic considerations. We need this timetable in order to create the requisite pressure so that the conditions for our withdrawal are met. Principally, this means that responsibility for security has to be handed over to the Afghan security forces and that these therefore have to be suitably trained. Afghanistan is to take full responsibility for security in 2014.


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