Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle interviewed for the newspaper Die Welt

04.01.2013 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle spoke to the newspaper Die Welt about the euro debt crisis, the situation in Syria and the German Government’s arms exports policy. The interview was published on 4 January 2013.


Minister Westerwelle, foreign policy quite often equates to crisis management. Have you had the time over New Year to give more fundamental consideration to the challenges to be faced in 2013?

I am convinced that we in Europe and in Germany need to use 2013 to focus our attention far more strongly on the outside world once again, looking towards the breathtaking historical changes taking place on the global stage. Because of the debt crisis, we in Europe have kept very busy with our own affairs. That needs to change. We need to redouble our efforts and keep multiplying and strengthening our network of strategic, economic and political ties with the world’s new centres of growth and power. That is what will determine whether we can maintain our prosperity in the long term.

Do you share your Cabinet colleague Wolfgang Schäuble’s assessment that the worst of the euro crisis is over?

We have put the worst of it behind us – but we’re not out of the woods yet. For that, we need to stick with stamina and discipline to our three-pronged strategy of budget consolidation, policy for growth, and solidarity. The principle that you cannot fight a debt crisis by running up more debt has to be grasped in every last corner of Europe. That way, the European Union will end up stronger than it was before the crisis.

Wouldn’t you say that we’re seeing the EU developing a north-south divide?

No. Where opinions are divided, it is not so much a split between countries as between Europe’s political groups. For example, the French Government’s goal of joint liability through eurobonds has the support of leading members of Germany’s Opposition. One of them hopes to become Chancellor. We, on the other hand, believe that you cannot solve a debt crisis by making it easier to accumulate debt.

The President of Cyprus thinks the EU’s austerity measures have worsened social injustice. Will the German Government nonetheless consent to the 17 billion euro rescue package Cyprus has requested?

I don’t want to speculate about this, but I will say that Cyprus won’t be made a special case. There are recognized stability mechanisms in place in Europe, which we agreed on together. The EU is prepared to show solidarity, but only if real structural reforms are undertaken in return. Greece wasn’t given a blank cheque, and Cyprus won’t be getting one either.

How do you intend to stop those using Cypriot bank accounts to launder Russian money benefiting from the EU’s assistance?

Banking transparency is one of the areas which Cyprus will have to address in the context of structural reforms.

Looking beyond Europe, will the Assad regime in Syria survive 2013?

We mustn’t create the impression that the regime is already beaten, so I’d avoid naming a specific timeframe. However, we can say this much: the process of erosion wearing down the Assad regime is accelerating. This encourages us and above all people on the ground to hope the Assad era will soon be over and the way clear for a fresh start led by the National Coalition. That said, it must be a fresh start predicated on democracy and pluralism, and all religions must have a place in the new Syria.

Should NATO stand ready to intervene militarily after Assad falls?

I am strictly against any speculation about military intervention by NATO. And I am in good company – that position is shared by our partners.

Not by all our partners – NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen is said to have recommended planning for intervention, in view of the regime’s possible use of chemical weapons, and to have had US, Turkish and UK support.

We have explicitly warned the regime not to use its chemical weapons. However, we have no specific indication that they intend to do so.

Your predecessor Joschka Fischer predicts that another branch of the Muslim Brotherhood will take power in Syria, bolstering the Sunni religious group Hamas in Gaza and making a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians unlikely. Is that a realistic scenario?

There are a lot of different scenarios that need to be thought through, but general predictions like that suggest a level of inevitability that I don’t buy. Revolutions release enormous impetus of their own. The point of active foreign policy is to use the available opportunities to influence what we can. History is still being written in Syria, as in other countries in the region. No one in Egypt, for instance, could have predicted that a Christian Democratic party would emerge out of an Arab revolution. The key question is whether the Islamic parties are prepared to support democratic and religious pluralism.

Disarmament is a topic that’s important to you. Will there be any new initiatives in 2013?

We adopted a NATO strategy in 2012 which opens up vast potential for disarmament, including tactical nuclear weapons. That was a success not least for this Government’s foreign policy. In 2013, we will be building on that success. Budgetary considerations in these straitened times may be a useful factor here. Just like Glasnost and Perestroika in the 1980s had a lot to do with shrinking financial resources in the Soviet Union, the pressure to cut costs which many countries are feeling may help drive disarmament forward.

And this is where the Opposition in the Bundestag ask how the rising figures for German arms exports fit in with this disarmament you champion?

I see that suggestion from the Opposition as party-political manoeuvring. Weapons exports made up only slightly more than a thousandth of all German exports in 2011. Their proportion of total exports is lower than it has been since 2002. In some years when we had SPD-Green and CDU/CSU-SPD coalitions in power, more arms were exported even in absolute terms than were exported in 2011 under the CDU/CSU-FDP Government. As you see, Germany is adhering to the restrictive arms-export policy which I personally stand for as well.

You can’t deny, though, that, as the Opposition have pointed out, a growing proportion of exports is going to so-called third countries – that is, to countries outside NATO and the EU, some with rather questionable human rights records.

If anyone now in Opposition throws accusations at the Government, they need to be prepared for them to bounce back at them. Decisions about complex arms projects tend to go a long way back. Many of the exports of 2010 and 2011 were actually based on decisions taken by previous Governments. These things of course start with preliminary enquiries from manufacturers or countries wanting to buy something. Then the request needs to be authorized. It can be years before the authorization goes through and the goods are actually exported.

Should the Government debate openly about whether it can justify supplying countries like Saudi Arabia?

Any German Government will treat preliminary enquiries as confidential, and rightly so. After all, we are talking about our partner countries’ sensitive security interests. If we broke confidentiality, they would presumably use companies in other countries instead. We have to bear that in mind. Besides, it’s not as if we were trying to hide anything, since all exports authorized are published in the Federal Government Report on Military Equipment Exports.

After the fact, yes. Would it not be possible to involve the Bundestag in the process of making export decisions, meeting behind closed doors in the same way as the Parliamentary Control Panel does to monitor the intelligence services?

If the Bundestag wants more involvement than the Report on Exports provides, then that desire needs to be expressed through parliamentary procedures. I think it’s right that MPs should really scrutinize decisions about arms exports. Their doing so is good for democracy. However, it would be wrong to conclude that everything should be discussed publicly, from the preliminary enquiry, to authorization, to the export itself.

Is the Government pursuing a strategy in its foreign policy of deploying troops to hot spots less often and instead empowering partners in the regions in question, including by providing weapons?

We are not supporting any doctrine that would undermine the restrictive arms-export policy that has stood Germany in good stead for decades. But it is true that this Government and my own convictions foster a culture of military restraint. Take Afghanistan. We have put measures in place to ensure that the deployment of combat troops will come to an end in 2014 after more than ten years. We have also brought about a considerable reduction in the total number of soldiers posted abroad.

You did reduce the number of soldiers deployed from 8300 when your Government came to power to around 6000. On the other hand, you are planning new missions for the Bundeswehr, such as in Turkey…

Turkey is our partner within NATO! You can’t compare that with missions in places like Afghanistan. This is about purely defensive measures to help protect an ally.

or in Mali.

The UN Security Council was right in its decision to facilitate an African-led mission. The European Union has expressed its readiness to support that mission by training African soldiers. That too was the right decision, but there are conditions to be met before it can be implemented. Mali needs a political roadmap for restoring constitutional order and re engaging in dialogue with the North. A lot of issues still need to be resolved, so it would be premature to announce Germany’s participation in some training mission in Mali.

This interview was conducted by Thorsten Jungholt and reproduced by kind permission of Die Welt.

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