“Seeing the world as it is”

28.08.2011 - Interview

In an article in “Welt am Sonntag”, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle comments on current international issues.

Article by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in “Welt am Sonntag”, 28 August 2011


I. A radically changing world

“We live in the age of globalization.” We’ve become so used to hearing this that we hardly bother to think about it any more. But it is not only our daily lives that globalization is changing at such a dramatic rate - via smartphones, the Internet, social networks: it is also changing the world outside our immediate sphere - and to such an extent that old certainties no longer hold true.

We are remembering just now the construction of the Berlin Wall fifty years ago. The black-and-white photos of those dramatic days are images of a world that no longer exists. No-one will say that politics was simple back then. Worries about the threat to peace, fears for the freedom of the people in the East, difficult decisions to be taken in Bonn, Berlin and the Allied capitals - no, those with political responsibility in August 1961 certainly didn’t have it easy. But there was a fundamental organizational pattern to the world at that time. The East-West conflict acted like a magnetic field in which the filings clung to their own pole. The opening of the Iron Curtain released tremendous forces. In the East of our continent, the force for freedom, new beginnings, democratic self-determination. In Afghanistan and elsewhere, the forces of a violent ideology which paved the way for the atrocious terrorist attacks of 11 September ten years ago and which has held our world in suspense ever since. In China and many other countries outside the Western world, an economic dynamism which has now radically changed the set-up of the international system.

Today’s world confronts us with an unprecedented degree of confusion. Global crises such as climate change or the volatility of networked financial markets demand new, global responses. Events which used to be tagged “disaster of the century” now occur several times a year: the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, the terrible flooding in Pakistan, the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and now in recent weeks the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. But not all new developments are necessarily worrying. For instance, the “Arab Spring” which early this year saw authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt toppled by their own population’s desire for freedom and self-determination, was one of the most promising and positive surprises since the people in the East of our country and continent knocked down the Wall.

The stream of events seems still to be gathering pace. Real-time media reporting around the globe demands constant multitasking by politicians. That is difficult and trying enough. All too frequently, however, it also demands rapid and simple solutions. Such things are rare. Now more than ever before there is a need for coordination and a search for compromises among more and more national and international actors; this requires a degree of patience which our quick-living age is loath to demonstrate. Anyone who bears political responsibility in this age of radical change has to be able to deal with the increasing complexity and confusion of the challenges while at the same time setting a course which at once remains true to our society’s fundamental values and preserves our interests despite the constantly-shifting goalposts.

II. Europe as the pillar of German foreign policy

It has been particularly interesting over the past few months to take a look at the European integration project from the edges of Europe. Whether in the Balkans, among the oppressed population of Belarus or among the people of North Africa and the Arab world currently fighting for democracy, “Europe” is an example, a model, a goal, a standard, a beacon of hope. Such views are sometimes naive, sometimes tied up with false expectations, sometimes far too idealized. But this view of our European Union from outside has something salutary about it in the midst of our day-to-day crisis management.

This Europe rests on two pillars. On the one hand, the union of peace which eventually provided a categorical answer to the “German question” after the “catastrophe of nationalism” (François Mitterrand) and its devastating wars, integrating the biggest country at Europe’s heart. On the other, the guarantee of prosperity for us Europeans in a world in which our relative influence is declining with the rise of new powers. Only by acting together, in a model of cooperation, were we able to establish peace on our continent. But Europe is far more than just a lesson learnt from the past. We need to re-establish it so that we can meet the challenges of the future. If we didn’t already have the EU, we would have to invent it now as our continent’s response to globalization. Only by acting together will we be able to help shape global governance in line with our interests - from trade regulations to respect for human rights and issues relating to peace and security. Europe is not only about overcoming the past, but also winning the future.

A delayed effect of the global economic and financial crisis is a debt crisis in all states, not just in Europe. Without a strong economic foundation and competitive, innovative economies, Europe can have no credible international presence. That’s why it’s so important to put our own house, the eurozone, in order. Lots of mistakes have been made in the past. It was not wrong to introduce the euro: but it was wrong to soften up on the agreed stability criteria. It’s not the euro that’s our problem, but rather the irresponsible government (and private!) spending in many countries. That’s why there is no simple, quick and preferably “radical” solution now, even if that’s what everyone is clamouring for. That’s why it’s wrong to say that Germany could have saved Europe and the euro the crisis of the last year and a half if it had been a bit more “generous” at the onset of the crisis in Greece. Germany was not stingy in its solidarity. But if Europe’s economies are to recover, a change of course towards budget discipline, consolidation and enhanced competitiveness is crucial. Greece, Portugal, Ireland and others who have embarked on this painful course deserve our solidarity and our respect. After all, it’s not as if we in Germany didn’t know how sweet a poison government borrowing is. By writing a debt brake into our constitution we prescribed ourselves a bitter but necessary pill - just in time, one might add. Europe is giving itself the instruments needed in this crisis to protect our single currency. Because there’s more than just the euro at stake. There’s also the European political project. So the crisis is also shaking the foundations of Germany’s foreign policy.

The future of Europe is the key issue in German foreign policy. It touches on the heart of Germany’s raison d’être. The correct response is not to indulge, as some people occasionally do, in fantasies about making a distinction between the hard “northern euro” and soft “southern euro”, nor is it to take Germany out - a move which would endanger not only our prosperity, but also the European peace order based on mutual trust. A return to nation-states would be a dangerous mistake. The opposite is true: we need now to take the step we couldn’t yet quite manage in Maastricht - towards greater coordination of economic, financial and monetary policy, with clear rules which will prevent a new debt crisis and fulfil policy requirements.

We are at a double crossroad. Do we choose more or less Europe as a response to the crisis? I am firmly convinced that it is in our own vital interest to opt for the path towards more integration. But then there’s the question of who’s coming with us. All EU member states are invited. But anyone who doesn’t want to go along must not be allowed to hold the others back. Not when it comes to the single currency, and not when it comes to the Common Security and Defence Policy. This deepening - and differentiation - is the main task in shaping European policy over the coming years. France and Poland should be our indispensable partners in this task - not our only partners, but indispensable.

The European way of life exerts an attraction not only on the peripheries of the EU, in countries which hope to become members soon. Many countries of the world present economic and career opportunities nowadays. In Europe, though, life is also safe; the air is clean; consumers have rights; and everyone has the freedom to develop fully as individuals. That’s certainly enough to make Europe attractive for the many people who want to come here. We should not be afraid of this, but rather we should be proud that our European culture and societies are so attractive to others. Europe is attractive only as an open, liberal society, confident in the power of its own ideas, which stands up for peace, security and prosperity not only within but also in the countries to its east and south. That’s why it is so important to resolutely counter those muffled and defensive voices within Europe which are trying to shut us off and others out, claiming that turning back the clocks and putting back old obstacles and barriers will somehow make things cosier, more manageable, simpler. We must not call Schengen’s freedom of movement into question, and we must ask ourselves whether the alleged gain in security really is always worth the price we pay for our visa policy, which often appears to be something of a deterrent.

III. Peace policy and global security

The preamble to the Basic Law charges us “to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe”. German foreign policy is peace policy because it’s geared in the broadest sense towards greater security.

We have been doing that in a very special way since the start of the year on the United Nations Security Council, the body specifically charged with this task - the maintenance of international peace and security - in the Charter of the United Nations.

Germany is not afraid to shoulder international responsibility. This may, as a last resort, include the use of military force. It was this Federal Government which set Germany’s engagement in Afghanistan on a new footing and also sent additional soldiers to the Hindu Kush. That decision, early in 2010, was anything but easy, given the dangers facing our soldiers on the ground. Rarely does the burden of responsibility weigh so heavily as at memorial services for fallen members of the Bundeswehr.

Germany has participated in numerous foreign missions since reunification, and no Federal Government can reasonably rule out further deployments in future. However, in both its foreign and its security policy, Germany remains fundamentally committed to a culture of military restraint. The decision to deploy troops is the most difficult one a politician has to take, and we will continue to weigh it up carefully in the awareness of both our responsibility for the soldiers in our service and our international obligations. The responsibility to protect vulnerable civilian populations must be matched by a realistic capability to protect. Otherwise, something intended to be a policy for peace will take us down a dead end. We are pleased that the Libyans, with the aid of the international military operation, have succeeded in bringing down the Gaddafi regime. We respect what our partners have done to fulfil UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Together with our partners, we will do everything in our power to assist the Libyan people with the difficult process of transition.

Peace in Germany and our country’s security are scarcely in any danger within Europe itself today. “Traditional” conflicts such as that on the border between Kosovo and Serbia have become the exception. Global terrorist networks which take advantage of the collapse of government authority, as in Yemen or Somalia, spreading piracy or local and regional conflicts with a global impact have largely taken over as the prime threat. At the same time, new dangers are emerging: desertification, rising sea levels, extreme climate change - all of these can set in motion refugee flows which might lead to conflict. The sharp rise in population in the least developed countries and the often chaotic urbanization there exacerbate existing conflicts, and there is increasing competition for ever-scarcer foodstuffs and resources. Globalization, which sweeps away borders, brings increasing health risks from pandemics, gives economic and financial crises the potential to destabilize entire states and exposes us to new dangers on the Internet. The 21st century is starting off as an age of asymmetric threats.

Against the background of such complex challenges, security policy today must operate at global level and at the same time be primarily targeted towards the protection of the civilian population. To this end, we have a concept of networked security, a mixture of diplomacy, development cooperation and economic partnerships. The instruments available to a forward-looking policy like this include the peaceful settlement of disputes and balanced interests, the promotion of cross-border cooperation, as well as of rural development, cooperation in education and science, and the development of administrative structures, police forces and state-building. Wherever possible and sensible, we pursue this policy within the framework of the United Nations and its organizations. Security policy for the 21st century is a security policy with civilian primacy.

The transatlantic alliance with the United States and Canada remains the proven anchor of German security policy. Within NATO, we have agreed on a new Strategic Concept which fits us for today’s new challenges. Picking up on President Obama’s initiatives, we have anchored disarmament and arms control in the Strategic Concept as NATO objectives. As a result of the spread of weapons and missile technology, the nuclear dangers have markedly increased since the end of the Cold War despite some success in stemming the threat. The uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials is one of the greatest threats to our security today. Against the background of globalization, non-proliferation and disarmament are questions of survival. That’s why we, along with nine other states, launched a Non-proliferation and Disarmament Initiative to enable us to work together to ensure that weapons of mass destruction don’t become the scourge of globalization. And that’s why we are working in the E3+3 format with France and the United Kingdom, the US, China and Russia towards a transparent solution to the nuclear dispute with Iran, whose behaviour is destabilizing not only the region, but the entire non-proliferation regime.

IV. Strengthen old partnerships, establish new ones

Europe is our foundation, NATO and the transatlantic partnership our strong security anchor, and Israel’s right to exist part of Germany’s raison d’être. Maintaining, nurturing and intensifying these ties is not only a long-standing tradition, but also an obligation for German foreign policy in our own very best interest. We engage in a dense network of visits, exchange programmes, discussion rounds and consultations with these close partners. After decades of cooperation we have learnt how to arrive at compromises and develop joint solutions even if we start out from different positions.

At the same time, the world has changed dramatically since 1989. Back then, Germany’s gross domestic product was still one and a half times that of China. Today China’s share of global GDP is twice as high as Germany’s. A hundred years ago there were some 1.7 billion people on earth, including 65 million Germans. In 1990 there were around 5.3 billion people in the world. Today Germany, with its over eighty million inhabitants, accounts for little more than one percent of the world’s current population of over seven billion. And this proportion will continue to fall. With its 500 million inhabitants, the EU of 27 still accounts for just over seven percent of the global population. Global demographic developments will challenge us more than we want to admit just now - and in all spheres, from education policy to foreign policy.

The pulsing, booming cities of the emerging societies provide the liveliest impression of the dramatic shifts in international structures. In China, India and Brazil the desire to grab the future in both hands is almost tangible. But in Viet Nam, Mexico, Colombia and Turkey too, there is a noticeable dynamism which is producing not only prosperity for broad sections of the population but also the desire and claim to participate in and codetermine what’s going on in the world.

Just a few years ago, the BRICS states - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - were an acronym familiar only to investment bankers, who identified them merely as emerging markets. Over the past ten years our exports to these countries have multiplied, as have those of our French, British and Italian neighbours. Thanks to their increased economic strength, these states have grown into a political force without which no global solutions can be negotiated or agreed. Not even by Europe and the US together. Behind this group of countries there is another wave of demographic and economic heavyweights ever more loudly demanding political participation as well. Their rise is fundamentally changing world politics. The old order is wavering, but there is no new one as yet; only its vague contours are visible.

Global governance, i.e. the ability to find global solutions to increasingly complex and increasingly global problems, will not appear as if by magic, for instance with the establishment of the G20. The United Nations enjoys hugely valuable, global legitimacy, but it is only as strong as its member states allow it to be, and the membership of the Security Council certainly does not reflect the world as it is today. That’s why strategic partnerships with the world’s new power centres - partnerships built up with patience, respect and openness - are key elements of effective global governance.

In many of these countries we have considerable reserves of trust and confidence from which to draw; in some we can pick up on historical ties, and in others we can develop close trade and investment links. We want to broaden these relations to include political issues - peace, security, the rule of law, respect for human rights, internet freedom - and to build up a network serving our values and interests. We will succeed in some of these aims. Because globalization is not just a matter of ever-faster economic competition; it is also a globalization of values and lifestyles. And in some of these attempts we will fail. Not all of these countries will become partners with shared values to the same extent, as Japan or South Korea, for example. We do not hide our values. But nor can we afford to cooperate only with those who share them entirely. We owe it to ourselves to stand up for those who defend human rights all around the world. Let’s be realistic enough to accept that we cannot force our values on others, and at the same time self-confident enough to trust in their attractiveness. The rule of law and human rights are ideas which exert a tremendous power.

It is in our own very basic interest that the new centres of power become real powers in shaping globalization, that they don’t regard global governance as a Western construct but make it their own goal. These new partnerships are the consequence of the changes in the world. If we want to help shape them, then we have to see the world as it is today, not as it was when we were growing up. The world will change again over the next ten years, just as much as it has done since reunification. We need to be ready for that - in our thinking, in our presence, in our foreign policy. But not just at national level, also at European level, where we have undertaken to focus particularly on these strategic partnerships. Europe needs to get its own house in order. Then it will be attractive enough to make its voice heard even in the polyphonic choir of tomorrow’s world. As a true political union Europe can itself be a power in shaping globalization.

V. German and European responsibility

We are living on the threshold of change. Technological innovations are changing the way we communicate. They are also changing the world around us, at a breathtaking rate. And they are changing the image we have of the world, as well as how we try to find solutions. More people have the chance to enjoy freedom, human rights, education, peace and prosperity in today’s world than ever before. It is worth fighting and working to ensure that even more people have the chance to do so in tomorrow’s world. German and European foreign policy is committed to this aim.

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