“Review 2014 – A Fresh Look at German Foreign Policy” - Closing Remarks by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

20.05.2014 - Speech

– Translation of advance text –

Dear guests,

Dear colleagues,

Many thanks to all of you who took part in this conference. I think that, during the past four hours, we have done precisely what Prof. Bertram, our Policy Planning Staff and I wanted to achieve in this critical examination of our foreign policy: We have come face-to-face with reality.

With reality in Germany and abroad. And with a multitude of scientific, political and personal realities.

Considering the wealth of impressions we have gained, I will not even attempt to summarise or draw conclusions here. This will not be a “review of the review.”

Half a year has now passed since I returned to this distinguished building at Werderscher Markt. My office had not changed from when I left it four years ago. Yet, during that time, the world around my office had shifted in fundamental ways.

Crises and conflicts have drawn closer to home. The environments in which we pursue foreign policy have evolved. One example is energy and climate change – Mr Röttgen spoke of this earlier. Eight years ago at the Munich Security Conference, I for the first time addressed natural disasters, as well as the scarcity of raw materials and water, as causes of future conflict. As I left the stage, Horst Teltschik asked me: “Mr Steinmeier, as Foreign Minister, will you be competing with Minister of the Environment Trittin?” At that time, it was simply not a foreign policy issue.

Germany is more interconnected on a global scale than ever before. A recent McKinsey Global Institute study places us at the top of the globalisation list. Interestingly, this ranking is based not just on our exports, but also on the flow of data and on human migration.

Every evening, when we switch on our TVs, images pour into our homes much more rapidly and vividly than they did only 10 years ago. These images are transported by mobile phones, online media, Twitter and Facebook. And they come at us much faster than our diplomatic channels are able to find solutions. That alone makes diplomacy look somewhat weak and unresponsive.

Finally, let us not forget: all this is happening in a world that has a new image of Germany, Germany as an anchor of stability in the euro crisis, a Germany that has more clout and that must meet greater expectations. This point was made very clear by the international participants in our first podium discussion.

So, in a nutshell, that was the situation in which I returned to my desk at the Foreign Office half a year ago – and in which I quickly realised:

What Germany needs is to find its bearings in this world that is so near and yet so hard to grasp. We must react not with self-pity, but by engaging in frank discussions and debates.

Meanwhile, in the space of only a few months, a true political crisis has arisen that is probably the most difficult one Europe has faced since the end of the Cold War.

Foreign policy once again takes centre stage.

The question we must ask ourselves is: Will this prominence of foreign policy be short-lived, or are we witnessing a structural shift in its public perception?

Right now, in the crucible of the Ukraine crisis, I see a lack of orientation – for example, when I read comments on my Facebook page, which can be divided into two categories:

First, there are those who have always tended to oversimplify. A picture drawn in black and white is easiest to understand – on both sides:

Some believe the Kremlin is filled with angels of peace. Others interpret every Western reaction as a sign of the United States’ insatiable greed for money and oil.

Then there are those who believe the strength of a foreign policy must be measured in terms of loud sabre-rattling, or Cold War rhetoric. By pigeonholing, we avoid giving something further thought – and steer clear of another debate!

There is a second reaction, as well: If the world really has become so hard to grasp – as some argue –, since things are neither black nor white, and because the tools of diplomacy are limited, we are best advised to keep the world’s crises at arm’s length.

In my honest opinion, ladies and gentlemen, this second reaction is dangerous. Because much as I believe that a policy of military restraint is the right path to follow, I also believe it is risky to react by saying that what goes on in the world is none of our business.

We are the largest country in the heart of Europe.

We are more interconnected with the world than any other country; the shirts we put on in the morning were produced in distant lands; our vacations take us to ever more remote regions of the world; every click of a mouse, and our daily life, connects us with millions of people around the globe; and our economic prosperity depends on world peace.

Our country simply cannot ignore what’s going on in the world.

Certainly for political reasons – but also for economic ones.

Our life depends on a peaceful and free world that – most importantly – is based on rules. And we are always the first to notice when someone breaks them. It is because we benefit so much from world order that we must also do our part to ensure it is maintained.

Moreover, I am strongly convinced that, when we bear responsibility, we bear it equally for action and non-action.

This is at least true when action is at all possible and solutions can be sought. That is not always the case. Concerning the current situation in Syria, for example, it is not easy to pick the right course of political action.

When I look at the poll of the Körber Foundation, one thing becomes very clear – Mr Wehmeier, you pointed this out earlier today:

The fact that our country is thoroughly interconnected with the world is engrained in our young generation.

This shapes young people’s perspective on foreign policy in a special way:

When Facebook, Easyjet and semesters abroad with the Erasmus programme erase boundaries in our everyday lives, this also means we cannot be indifferent to the joy and sorrow of others.

At any event, a majority of 18 to 29 year olds favours assuming greater global responsibility.

Not only that: young people want Germany to do more to promote human rights abroad.

“Do more for human rights” or “do more to fight poverty” – these are some of the most frequent responses that young people give, and that is encouraging to hear.

For all these reasons, we need an open, wide and nuanced debate on German foreign policy. Today, we helped get this debate off to a good start.

But that is only the beginning.

Seeing how the Ukraine crisis is being dealt with in the media gives us all the more reason – and not less – to put tremendous effort into our review.

Because the tool box of diplomacy gives us many more options than one might suspect when reading black-and-white reactions in the headlines that judge the quality of foreign policy by how willing it is to consider the use of military force!

So what lies ahead for this review?

There is a wise saying that grass will not grow faster if you pull it.

We cannot force Germany to find its foreign policy bearings. That is not what Review 2014 aims to do.

The bright spotlights directed at the Ukraine crisis cannot take the place of this fundamental debate.

On the contrary: the glare of these lights also reveals need for improvement.

Even more special features on TV about the Ukraine crisis will not add up to a foreign policy renaissance.

Because when a crisis ends, once the sun reappears, the grass will again wither.

This review is about something more fundamental.

It is about tilling and replanting our garden.

That is why I will not measure the success of this review by whether or not we one day win broad public support for specific foreign policy decisions. Rather, I will measure its success by whether in the corner pub, or at an editorial meeting, the question of how to properly engage with China or Brazil is discussed as animatedly as are civil servant pensions, or a road toll, or, dear Norbert Röttgen, by whether a young and energetic new Member of the German Bundestag is as keen to join the Committee on Foreign Affairs as to pursue a career in budgetary, education or development cooperation policy.

Ladies and gentlemen, Members of the Bundestag, diplomats, dear researchers, members of think tanks and journalists:

We’ve only just begun tending our garden – I look forward to our next opportunity for inspecting it.

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