Ladies and gentlemen,
European and German foreign and security policy currently faces huge challenges. I will refrain from using any superlatives at this point. But one thing is clear. At the moment we are facing a crisis situation which has reached an unprecedented dimension in terms of intensity and geographical extent.
You are well aware of the current trouble spots. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which has claimed well over two thousand lives, is not only a humanitarian disaster. The rapid spread of the virus is now threatening peace and security throughout the region. The progress achieved in recent years is in danger of being destroyed in one fell swoop.
The civil wars in Iraq and Syria and the brutality of the IS terrorist group are not only causing immeasurable human suffering. The dire poverty caused by the wars, the collapse of societies, the floods of refugees and the deployment of foreign fighters harbour the risk of long‑term radicalisation – which could have a ruinous impact on the entire region and could also deeply affect our societies in Europe.
But above all, the actions of Russia in the past months, totally unjustifiable and in violation of international law, have jeopardised the peaceful order in Europe that has been in place for the last 25 years. The Ukraine crisis was by no means just a “blip”. It represents a turning point in our relationship with Russia – and we in the EU and in NATO must work together to find answers to this new situation.
The escalation of the crises in our immediate neighbourhood shows that the need to discuss security policy issues is greater than ever before! Despite all predictions to the contrary, the issue of security policy is back at the heart of our society. People sense that safeguarding peace and stability is an ongoing task. Security policy is active peace policy! And that is why we also need a comprehensive approach to security policy that encompasses far more than just military operations. Germany and the EU are therefore working on many fronts – primarily at the diplomatic and political level and also by providing humanitarian, economic and development assistance.
Against this backdrop I am very grateful to be able to speak to you today at the German Forum on Security Policy. The Review Process that the Federal Foreign Office launched several months ago is designed to provide contributions to further develop German foreign and security policy. I hope that today’s event will inject crucial impetus into the current debate. I am therefore looking forward to discussing this topic with you today.
Amid the many current problems, the crisis in Ukraine is undoubtedly of central importance. Seldom has the Federal Government wrangled so hard to find a diplomatic solution to an international conflict. It is preposterous that almost 70 years after the end of the Second World War in Europe borders are being redrawn again by force. We cannot allow Russia to seriously damage Europe’s peaceful order, call into question fundamental principles of international law and by so doing push Europe to the brink of a new rift.
That is why, from the outset, we condemned the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s actions in Eastern Ukraine in the strongest possible terms. The EU and NATO responded immediately by taking a united stand. It was in no small part down to the EU’s concerted efforts – including the mounting economic pressure on Russia through the approved sanctions – that with the ceasefire agreed in Minsk on 5 September and the follow‑up agreement of 19 September it was possible to halt the escalation of the Ukraine conflict for the time being.
However, the danger of re‑escalation has not yet been eliminated. The ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine is fragile and could collapse at any time. Now our main goal is to continue to work as hard as we can to move closer to a political solution. Many practical issues are still unresolved: the future status of the Donbas area, the complete withdrawal of Russian troops and the effective securing of the Russian‑Ukrainian border under OSCE observation. The OSCE will play an important stabilising and de‑escalating role in the ongoing process, and it has our full support in this undertaking. The Federal Government is also currently examining what specific support it can provide to help monitor the ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine.
By adopting the draft legislation on the special status of Donbas and on the amnesty, Ukraine has demonstrated its willingness to implement the agreements made. Now we expect Russia, too, as a co‑signatory of the Minsk Protocol, to finally use its influence to fully implement this agreement, especially with regard to securing and monitoring the Ukrainian‑Russian border.
The development of the crisis has shown that Russia is not afraid of using a complex range of tools consisting of military force, clandestine operations, propaganda and disinformation, as well as the instrumentalisation of Russian minorities abroad. NATO has dubbed this “hybrid warfare”. We have to find joint responses to Russia’s actions within the EU and NATO – that, no doubt, will be one of our greatest security policy tasks in the coming months. We have already taken many joint steps in the past weeks and months.
Fears are running high, particularly among our Eastern and Central European alliance partners. I can well understand the anxiety of Poland and the Baltic states with regard to their own security – especially in light of their own experiences with decades of Russian domination and oppression. During the run‑up to the NATO summit in Wales at the beginning of September these states were understandably emotional in calling for the strongest possible NATO presence in their countries. They urged NATO to refocus on its core task of collective defence.
NATO intends to increase its capacity for response and its operational readiness significantly over the coming months. Through planning, logistics and more intensive exercises we are creating the conditions to enable the swift transfer of larger forces if it comes to the crunch. We all hope that this will not be necessary, but we have to be prepared for it.
The practical form and implementation of the decisions made in Wales will continue to occupy us over the coming months. Germany will play a substantial role – both in the so‑called reassurance measures and by contributing to the new rapid reaction force.
The developments in the past months have shown that Russia has fundamental problems with the policies of the EU and NATO in its immediate neighbourhood. And that is despite all offers of involvement and cooperation: the expansion of the G7 to become the G8, the formation of the NATO‑Russia Council and the long‑term project of a free‑trade area stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok have evidently had just as little impact as the offer of close cooperation between the EU and Russia. And although we should always subject our own conduct to critical scrutiny, in this case I am unable to identify substantial errors on the part of the EU.
For this reason the more actively we try to meet our allies’ increased need for protection, the more we also have to send confidence‑building messages in Russia’s direction. For in spite of all our differences, it will not be possible simply to ignore Russia in future. Russia will remain our neighbour! Even if the current situation makes it difficult, it is strongly in our interests not only for Russia to be our geographical neighbour but also for us to become strategic partners again in the medium term.
For many years the EU has pushed forward the conclusion of a new partnership agreement with Russia. All doors were and remain open to Russia also in the context of the Eastern Partnership, the content of which was negotiated over many years. The Eastern Partnership project was never targeted against Russia! We can ensure that our doors remain open and invite Russia to join us. Yet it is also clear that ultimately Russia has to step over the threshold itself.
In defence policy, too, we need confidence‑building measures. In Wales we therefore deliberately avoided calling into question the NATO‑Russia Founding Act. We specifically decided against permanently stationing combat forces in NATO’s eastern territory.
Instead we reiterated our belief that a partnership with Russia, based on respect for international law, continues to be of strategic value.
For all parties are aware that a stable European security order without or against Russia is hardly conceivable. That being the case, we intend to base our activities in the coming months on the following key questions:
- How can we help prevent the re‑escalation of tensions with Russia? Will we succeed in salvaging arms control regimes or adapting them to the new situation, notwithstanding the current hardened fronts? Nobody wants to see a new arms race between East and West!
- How can we avoid a permanent confrontation over non‑negotiable principles in the countries which Russia counts among its sphere of influence without calling into question our own principles – such as democratic decision‑making and the right of sovereign states to choose their alliances freely? This question will continue to occupy us in the context of the EU’s association agreements with Moldova and Georgia.
- How can we maintain the necessary degree of cooperation with Russia on international issues? Even though dialogue has become more difficult, so far Russia has refrained from withdrawing its cooperation on dossiers such as Iran and Afghanistan. Likewise, particularly in these turbulent times, we cannot afford to risk losing the UN Security Council as a place for conflict resolution in the medium term.
The world’s crises have moved closer to Europe. Yet that also means that the European Union cannot simply bury its head in the sand and stay out of these conflicts. In future the EU will have to become more involved in foreign and security policy – one reason being because the United States is increasingly cutting back on its international engagement.
That will only work if in future the EU continues not to allow anything to divide it, but speaks with one voice and takes a united stand. Germany will have an important conciliatory role to play in this area.
To shape European security in future we need a European Union that is even more successful in shouldering its increased responsibility for foreign and security policy. The time is ripe for the EU to become more effective in terms of its external action. One key task of the new EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, will be to coordinate the policymaking of the commissioners working in the sphere of external action. Commission President Juncker’s announcement that he will hand over the responsibility for this coordination of the external affairs cluster to Ms Mogherini is a major step forward. Her position as Vice‑President of the Commission will also lead to more effective implementation of the comprehensive approach, i.e. the optimal application of the whole range of foreign policy tools.
We are also on the threshold of a new beginning as far as the European Neighbourhood Policy is concerned. Together with Poland and France, Germany has spoken out in favour of a fundamental reform of the neighbourhood policy. The aim is to critically scrutinise our toolkit – from security policy, through development aid and trade agreements, to cooperation on issues of education, migration and the rule of law. Our neighbours are very diverse; a one‑sided, “one size fits all” policy is therefore doomed to failure. We thus have to tailor our approach even more closely to the individual needs of each country.
Despite buoyed hopes in the EU’s capability to act in the area of foreign policy, it is clear that the EU will not be able to overcome foreign policy and security challenges now or in the future single‑handedly.
The United States is and remains our most important partner in this task, in spite of all our confrontations and differences in recent months. We are united by a relationship that is more than just a sporadic partnership of convenience. We cooperate closely and in a spirit of trust on a wide range of key foreign policy and security issues. Together with the United States we are a community of shared values that is committed to promoting respect for human rights and the rule of law as well as democracy on an international scale.
A European security architecture that is not anchored in a transatlantic relationship will not endure in the face of today’s and tomorrow’s crises. It is at times of crises like these that our partnership with the United States proves its worth. The NATO summit in Wales in early September convincingly underscored this once again. Some even ironically describe Russia’s President Putin as the “renewer of the West”, as we have been able to reconfirm our allegiance to the transatlantic community of shared values through our joint response to the crisis in Ukraine.
At the same time, the United States is urging Europe to share more of the burden in security policy. We Europeans will not be able to count on the United States making available its security blanket to the affluent societies in Europe forever. This debate has acquired a totally new dimension in Washington due to painful domestic budget cuts and a focus on nation building at home. The question is no longer whether Europe should assume greater responsibility for security policy but in what way we should approach this task bilaterally, but also and primarily within the EU, the OSCE and NATO.
“The world is out of joint,” as our Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier said in a recent speech to the German Bundestag. I think with those words he summed up the feelings of many of our compatriots as well as of many Europeans and other people throughout the world.
However, I am also convinced that Germany, allied with its partners in Europe and NATO, is in a good position to help overcome the major foreign policy and security challenges of our times and get the world “back on track”.