Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the German Bundestag on 9 April 2014 during the budget debate on Departmental Budget 05

09.04.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Foreign policy is clearly back on the political agenda, and with an urgency that hardly any of us would have wished for, not even the foreign policy specialists in the various groups of this parliament.

Less than a year ago it appeared to some that, of all the political disciplines, foreign policy was perhaps the one that should already be on the list of endangered species.

The fall of the Wall, the end of the East-West confrontation, German reunification – if not the end of history, it was at least the beginning of everlasting peace. Many of us thought that the time was now coming for us to start collecting our annual peace dividend. The need for the classic foreign policy approach of the 20th century appeared to no longer exist.

A large number of political commentators – and they were not alone in this – were vying with one another to provide ever new arguments as evidence that the significance of foreign policy had waned. Anyone who contradicted them was regarded as wallowing in political nostalgia.

As you know, I always held a different view.

The fall of the Wall heralded the end of the Cold War. We owe our thanks to the brave citizens in Poland and the former GDR, as well as to those who helped bring it about in the Czech Republic, Hungary and other countries.

But what had happened? The old order with its cynical certainties, which divided the world into two camps, into East and West, had been swept away. But a new order had not been established.

On the contrary, 25 years after the fall of the Wall the world is still looking for a new order, and its quest will continue. A whole new set of players has appeared on the global stage, in Asia and South America, who not only desire economic influence but are also wrestling for political power. New interests are emerging, and new conflicts of interests. The world is indeed becoming multipolar – but that doesn’t make it an easier place to live in.

What many people would not have believed is now being revealed in the Ukraine conflict. The Cold War is still casting its long shadow over this new, changed world. The Ukraine conflict is bringing us back down to earth with a bump. That is why now is not the time for reflection and justification. Now is the time to act. If we want to prevent a new rift in Europe, we now have to implement a powerful and wise German foreign policy in cooperation with our neighbours and the European Union. And that is what we are doing.

In this world, which for the last 25 years has been trying to establish a new pecking order and address new conflicts of interest, something has nonetheless sprung up on this continent which stands out amid the centuries of war and confrontation in Europe: a European security architecture, which has protected us from descending back into violence.

To put it another way: following immeasurable suffering affecting millions upon millions of victims and claiming countless lives, it has been laboriously erected over decades by many generations of politicians: a security architecture which rejects undue national zeal, and which embraces reconciliation, good neighbourliness, transatlantic relations, an EU eastern dimension, the CSCE, European integration, the tearing down of the Iron Curtain and the convergence of East and West.

Now, when sparks are flying on the borders of Europe, the states of Europe must present a united front to protect this bastion of peace. We must not allow this work of peace, which has been forged over decades, to be destroyed in just a few weeks. We cannot allow that to happen! We will do everything in our power to prevent it.

Since the beginning of the year we have been discussing our country’s responsibility in the world more intensively than usual. In one of my first speeches here after assuming office for the second time I warned against pushing foreign policy too far away from the public eye and the political sphere. We are a bit too big and a bit too important to always merely be commenting on international policy from the sidelines. Others expect us to do more than simply award school marks from our position on the fence, they expect more than public speaking and authoritative statements. If it is necessary and not counterproductive, they expect us to get involved, and at the very least to show commitment!

I want to remind you all that we can be culpable not only by what we do, but also by what we neglect to do, if we have the option of doing something.

“Taking responsibility in foreign policy” doesn’t mean the militarisation of foreign policy. Responsibility is not a more or less subtle code word for military action. Foreign policy cannot exclude military action as a last resort, but it is the opposite of undue military zeal. It is by its very nature designed to prevent violent conflicts, to prevent impasses, automatic triggers and escalation without any way of escape.

That is the path which German foreign policy wants to continue to follow. I am convinced that I can count on the support of this House for this approach, and for that I would like to express my deepest thanks!

Now, the path I am describing may sometimes be rather onerous and – I can assure you – even frustrating. It also calls for courage. It is risky to go down this path because the risk of failure becomes more easily visible. Nonetheless, in my view it is the only way we can live up to the responsibility we have.

This path is also difficult because political solutions take longer to come to fruition than public expectations. I appreciate that public expectations are driven by concerns, rightly so. Public expectations are driven by images. I can understand all of these concerns, all the impatience in the face of such crises – whether in Ukraine, Syria or Africa. Be that as it may, I would warn against expectations of simple or even very rapid solutions. On the contrary, where others act without thinking, we have to be all the more careful not to do so. We must be a voice of reason in foreign policy.

That is the position my two colleagues from Poland and France and I adopted when we travelled to Kyiv on 20 February, well aware of the risks and of the responsibility we were shouldering by travelling there.

I can assure you that even at the end of the day, after 30 hours of negotiations, when the bloodshed had ceased, none of us were under any illusions. Even before we left Kyiv, before we even knew that Mr Yanukovitch would abandon his own country and the people of Ukraine that day, we conceded that what we had achieved was at best an intermediate step, but not a political solution.

Unfortunately each day shows us how justified this fear was. A few days later the crisis escalated once again, largely as a result of the politically unacceptable, unconstitutional annexation of Crimea, which was a violation of international law.

Anyone who wilfully starts correcting international borders in Europe seven decades after the end of the war is not only violating international law but also opening a Pandora’s box which will release new animosities.

We in Europe may not do everything right all the time, but it is Russia who will be held responsible for this.

But what does it mean in the current situation? Even if we say that Russia is responsible for the situation we now face, we cannot be indifferent to what now happens in and around Ukraine. This is a conflict in our immediate neighbourhood. I still hope that Russia, too, will eventually recognise that it can be neither in its own nor in the European Union’s interests for Ukraine to suffer political and economic collapse in the area between us.

That is why we are trying to organise assistance, through the IMF, through the European Union. But it will also need to take place at a bilateral level. God knows, this is not just about money.

What is the next step for Ukraine? A fight against corruption, which for many of us is a prerequisite for providing financial assistance; administrative reform, which has to take place from the bottom up; judicial reform, so that trust in a properly functioning judicial system can be re‑established; decentralisation, of which people in Ukraine have only a vague idea because they have never experienced it.

All these fields require not only sound advice but also active support. For this reason state secretaries from five federal ministries travelled to Kyiv last week to spend a day assessing where support and advice is needed. We will compile a programme based on their findings.

I would also like to express my sincere thanks to this House for its readiness to send a parliamentary delegation to eastern Ukraine in the last few days. By doing this we send a clear message which says: you are not forgotten. I therefore want to say in my role in charge of German foreign policy: many thanks for taking this initiative, and many thanks to those who are travelling there!

All this is necessary for stabilisation. But it doesn’t bring us any closer to a political solution. Our ambition must go further. You have seen how hard it was to convince the international community to deploy an observer mission. Thankfully we succeeded in doing this. But even that has only given us some breathing space, because the situation in eastern Ukraine – in Donetsk, Luhansk and other cities – is escalating further by the day.

We can only be grateful that so far nobody has lost control of themselves and nobody has been killed. But we see every day how precarious the situation is. I am therefore convinced that our next step must be to succeed in achieving what we have been discussing publicly for weeks, namely in getting Russia and Ukraine to engage in direct talks regarding what has to be done in the coming days and weeks, supported by the European Union and the United States.

Many new alerts are indicating that the international contact group, towards which we are working on a daily basis, may hold its first preparatory meeting this coming week and will then begin its work. This is necessary and I hope we get there.

We are focusing on Ukraine. In the debate this morning someone complained that we are losing sight of the fact that lives are still being lost in Syria. That is why we have to ensure that we once again focus more intensively on the civil war in Syria and the Middle East peace process in the coming weeks. I will speak to the American Secretary of State later today and discuss with him the status of talks as well as the Middle East peace process.

At the weekend I will be in Hiroshima to commemorate the events of the Second World War and remember the many victims. On my way back I will visit China and discuss China’s responsibility in the Security Council, especially in view of the current question of China’s position on the situation in Ukraine.

Ladies and gentlemen, all this is important. Yet equally important, and indispensable in the sum of things, although less of a priority in the public eye, where debates on sanctions are much more exciting, are the many instruments in our diplomatic toolkit: a German school in Athens or Mexico, a hydroelectric power station in Angola, police training in Afghanistan, the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, a German‑African legal institution in Dar es Salaam and a German-Russian year of literature.

Allow me to conclude by saying that classical foreign policy, too, must acknowledge that the conflicts in the world are changing, that denominational, religious and ethnic dimensions are now dominant factors in international conflicts and that we have to adapt our perspective on the world. We will no longer be able to employ the geostrategic approaches of the 19thand 20thcenturies to find solutions to the problems.

Henry Kissinger once said that foreign policy was all about perception. We have to try and think with the minds of others, or at least to try and view things from their perspective. To this end we need cultural relations and education policy. This includes the exchanges organised by the Goethe‑Institut, the interaction of the many students brought together by the German Academic Exchange Service, and many other initiatives.

Ladies and gentlemen, we, too, are going to need this, because from a demographic perspective we are an ageing society. We therefore need plenty of young people. I am quite sure that it will not be enough to display brochures from German universities in our embassies. We have to visit these countries and, by teaching the German language, to establish ties with our country to awaken in young people an interest in Germany from an early age – during their first years of school and not only at the end of their educational career.

That is why I say to you that in this area of cultural relations and education policy, foreign policy is not only worth every penny. With a view to the coming years we need to jointly examine how much we have to do to catch up with France, Britain and many other countries.

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