Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the German Bundestag debate on the Federal Foreign Office budget

11.09.2014 - Speech

Mr President and colleagues!

I would have liked to have been able to see you back here in Berlin after a long summer break and to have had good news for you. But firstly, the summer break, if you can even call it that, was shorter than planned. We already had to come back for a special session here in the German Bundestag last week. And secondly, there was absolutely no break for politics this summer.

Every day, things got worse in the crisis and conflict regions stretching from Ukraine to the Middle East and Africa. Every evening, the news showed images of violence, expulsions and victims. These images were also broadcast to German living rooms.

The world has come loose from its moorings. That is the impression that ordinary people in Germany have, and even foreign policy experts find it hard to refute.

But the world has not only come loose from its moorings far away in the Arab world or in Africa. Here in Europe, we too have gradually had to realise – and I admit that this has come as something of a shock – that peace apparently doesn’t come with a guarantee for all time.

This is not just what foreign policy specialists think. On the contrary – I receive many letters from members of the public who are gravely concerned. And I am sure that you also get the same sort of letters.

Older people ask me if war is returning to Europe. Younger people ask if the open and peaceful world they have known since birth has now come to an end.

I understand these questions. And as German Foreign Minister, I would love to be able to answer both questions with a resounding “No”.


Willy Brandt once said, “Nothing comes from nothing and there is little that lasts.” He was referring to peace and what he meant was that we now have to concern ourselves with peace more than we did five, ten or fifteen years ago. As the Federal Government, we promise to do everything we can to safeguard Europe’s peaceful order, which generations of politicians have worked on since Helsinki and which has brought us decades of peaceful development in Europe. And we promise that, despite the Ukraine conflict, this peaceful order will not constantly be called into question.

At the moment, it seems as if we have perhaps avoided a hot war. But we also don’t want to return to the decades of the Cold War, a war that paralyses everything and poses a constant threat of escalation. Germans, who lived on both sides of the Iron Curtain on the front lines of the military blocs, know better than anyone else what this is like.

We don’t want a Cold War – and we certainly don’t want a hot war. We want to uphold Europe’s peaceful order!

And this is the reason why we are so concerned about the Ukraine conflict. I don’t think anyone is more unequivocal in its condemnation of Russia’s attack on Crimea in violation of international law and its conduct in eastern Ukraine than we are. Seventy years after the end of the Second World War in Europe, we cannot start revising Europe’s borders. This cannot be allowed to happen.

And 25 years after German and European reunification, we must not pave the way for a new division in Europe either.

We are talking about a blatant violation of international law and a return to an era that we had in fact left behind us. We must not tolerate either of these things.


At the same time, and slightly less urgently, I would also like to warn against making short‑sighted and dangerous comparisons. Yes, the Ukraine crisis is the most dangerous crisis Europe has experienced for decades. Yes, relations between Europe and Russia are not what they were in recent years. Yes, it is true that the territorial integrity of a European country has been breached. There is no reason to play this down. I completely agree with all of this.

But what I don’t like in this debate is the self‑reproach of some Europeans who see our policies as appeasement and are quick to make comparisons with Munich in 1938. Leaving aside the fact that I for one think that it is simply not possible to compare the historical situations, I do not understand why Europeans are so self‑critical in a situation like this.

It is not as if Europeans have kept out of this Ukraine crisis or stood by in silence. There was unanimous condemnation of the annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law. The European Union and NATO reacted immediately. No one said that it can all simply continue this way. Everyone said that we have now reached a point where business as usual is no longer an option.

We were the first to travel to the Baltic countries and the Visegrad states to tell the people there that we understand that they feel particularly threatened in light of what is happening in Ukraine and to assure them that they could count on NATO’s solidarity and that Article 5 applies to them.

And we didn’t just say this – from the outset and without hesitating, we were the first in Europe to participate in reassurance measures in Europe in terms of air and sea surveillance, especially in the Baltic countries. Where necessary, we increased the political pressure, and we also did not hesitate to deploy measures to increase the economic pressure on Russia, particularly after the shooting down of flight MH17.

That is what I am saying, ladies and gentlemen, and I would like to point out that this is anything but appeasement.

That is why I find it so dangerous to reproach ourselves for allegedly appeasing Russia.


Anyone who wants to learn from history can be certain that the dark 20th century unfortunately has much to teach us Germans.

My advice is that we do not merely refer to 1938 in such debates, but that we also reassure each other that the commemorative year of 1914 has much to teach us, lessons that we Germans are not allowed to forget.

And this is why I repeat that military reassurance, political pressure and economic pressure were all necessary, and that I support each of these elements. But looking at the summer of 1914 as German Foreign Minister, I also say that breaking off relations, isolation, a complete breakdown in communication, and the failure of foreign policy fanned the flames of what was then still a small regional conflict that turned into a war.

That is why I say that Germany must not behave in a way that could see it accused once again of not doing everything it could to prevent a conflict from escalating.

The two things go hand in hand: political and economic pressure, where necessary, along with keeping the channels of communication open and returning to the negotiating table.


This is why our policies in this Ukraine crisis always comprise three elements:

firstly, pressure on Russia;

secondly, protection of those who feel threatened;

and thirdly, the search for political options and de‑escalation – because we all know that a military solution is not an option in the end and that no one wants a military solution.

There is no guarantee that this will work.

When you look for these types of solutions, you have to be prepared for setbacks, failures and disappointments.

But during this phase of shattered trust – and trust has not only been shattered between Russia and Ukraine, but also between Russia and Europe – our aim was simply to make sure that the communication channels did not break down completely and, above all, to foster direct dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow.

This included our suggestion to get the OSCE involved. It also included our suggestion to hold the Geneva meeting. And it included setting up the Contact Group and the talks that we have conducted with the Ukrainian and Russian Foreign Ministers in Berlin, as well as the countless number of phone calls made by the Federal Chancellor and myself. And finally, it also included our position at the NATO summit where we said, “Yes, we have to react, and this reaction must include enhanced protection measures by NATO, but we do not want to completely break with what we set up in the past.” That was why we voted to uphold the NATO‑Russia Founding Act.


No, we still don’t have a political solution, and the future of eastern Ukraine still isn’t safe. But I firmly believe that political solutions do not come from rifle fire!

This is why we should not play down our achievements. President Poroshenko and Putin held direct talks in Minsk. These talks were halting and not particularly conclusive, but they have now led to a 12‑point plan. Another achievement is that the ceasefire is being upheld to a certain extent.

Hopefully, this will be more than just a pause for breath and will provide an opportunity to establish sustainable political agreements.

In such a heated conflict that poses a very grave threat to Europe, a huge amount has been achieved. We should not play down these achievements.

But this doesn’t mean that the whole thing is over now as far as we’re concerned. We’re not going to turn our backs now and say that they should sort it out among themselves.

Instead, we will use the options available to us to help ensure that the recent agreements are actually implemented. The unity of Ukraine is the main priority. Unity means that parliamentary elections can be held all over Ukraine. It means that a national dialogue must take place, and that not only Germany, but also the entire West, must keep the promises made. We also have to be on hand to help Ukraine get back on its feet economically. And this has to be accompanied by constitutional reform in Ukraine, with decentralisation and the protection of minorities at the heart of this reform.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we have done and this is what we will continue to support. I believe this is correct and good German foreign policy.


I don’t want to say much about Iraq today. But I was very annoyed yesterday by a comment by Ms Göring‑Eckardt, who gave the impression that I or another member of the Federal Government had acted as if sending a few weapons to the Kurds would be enough to get rid of the problem of ISIS.

I don’t know how many more statements I have to make! I am constantly saying that of course the future of the Middle East does not depend on the Peshmerga’s arms – of course not. The difficult decision that we demanded of ourselves can only be justified if what we are now doing in terms of equipping the Kurdish armed forces is embedded in a political strategy.

Firstly, this strategy involves a domestic policy in Iraq that remedies the mistakes made in the past and includes the religions and regions that have been marginalised so far. Al‑Abadi’s cabinet appointments show that this is exactly what he wants.

Secondly, it involves removing the core of ISIS and taking away the support of Sunni clans by returning Sunnis to Iraqi politics.

Thirdly, it involves us talking to the neighbouring Arab countries and urging them not to get caught up in their mutual conflicts of interest on the Persian Gulf, but rather to recognise that all Arab countries share the same interest, namely to curb radicalised and terrorist Islamist groups such as ISIS. Achieving this forms part of a political strategy. And by the way, this is also part of the speech that President Obama gave yesterday.

We will now take concrete steps. On Monday we will attend a first meeting in Paris at the invitation of the French Government. I myself have issued an invitation to a G7 foreign ministers meeting during the next session of the UN General Assembly. We will discuss this political strategy with the Arab countries at this meeting.


When we talk about this and other crises, then we also have to talk about human suffering – and about humanitarian assistance. Given that there are far too many refugees in the world and that refugee camps are growing, we constantly have to readjust our policies and ensure that aid is distributed properly.

But we need the resources to do so. So I hope you will understand when we refer to this again during the budget discussions and assure each other that we will not just promise humanitarian aid, but will also actually provide it on the ground, and that we cannot do this with the current budget.


I would like to make a final comment. We are also talking about the United Nations. I told my Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov that the reason it is so important to resolve the Ukraine conflict is because the UN Security Council will be blocked as long as the conflict continues. This blockade of the Security Council must stop so that we can address the far more serious conflicts in the world.

Things are connected internally, even if they are so far away from each other in geographical terms.

We face a difficult task. But I believe that the progress that we painstakingly achieved in the Gaza conflict, and that we may now be making in the Ukraine conflict, show that foreign policy can get results.

I hope that we will achieve positive results.

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