“Germany and NATO in times of change” - keynote address by State Secretary Stephan Steinlein at the opening of the conference 'NATO on the way to Warsaw'

24.11.2015 - Speech

Minister (Federal Minister Schmidt),
Dear Jerzy Marganski,
Members of the German Bundestag,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Some two decades ago, in the Press Division where I worked, NATO enlargement was one of the issues we dealt with. Yugoslavia would soon be torn apart by the bloody Wars of Yugoslav Succession.

In those days, the entire North Atlantic Alliance was focused on whether or not NATO should embark on new paths – specifically, whether it should assume a crisis management and stabilisation role beyond the Alliance’s borders. Senator Lugar put this debate in a nutshell when he famously said: “NATO must go out of area or out of business”.

Hearing this sentence today, we see the extent to which the situation in Europe has changed. Lugar’s statement first of all highlights what Europe was like at the time – a Europe in which collective defence was no longer a priority. A Europe in which NATO had to redefine its original purpose and raison d’être, for lack of a potential enemy.

Here, I would like to expressly contradict the claim that NATO took advantage of Russia’s weakness in order to drive that country into a corner, in strategic terms. On the contrary: as early as 1991, NATO created an essential group when it set up the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. It was established as a forum in which all former Warsaw Pact states, including the Soviet Union, could meet in a spirit of partnership to discuss post-Cold War issues and developments, as well as questions of European security.

It must be said, however, that countries in Central and Eastern Europe expressed a desire to join NATO very soon after regaining their freedom. For several years, the Alliance was not open to considering these requests. After giving much thought, however, it did gradually open its door.

But allow me to return to the so-called “out of area” operations: What began in the early 1990s with NATO’s operations in the Balkans later culminated in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, which continued for 13 years. NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended nearly one year ago. Today, the Alliance remains engaged in Afghanistan in a different way, to ensure long-term stability in the country. It trains, advises and assists the Afghan security forces in areas where shortcomings persist. And these do exist!

The events in Kunduz have shown how fragile security and development are in Afghanistan to this day. Last Wednesday, the German cabinet decided to extend the mandate for employment of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan, and to increase the number of deployed service members to 980. This mandate will be debated in the German Bundestag during the coming weeks.

During their autumn meeting early next week, NATO Foreign Ministers will most likely decide that their countries will remain engaged in Afghanistan through 2016 – not only in Kabul, but also in the different regions. The Federal Government campaigned strongly in recent months for this extension – among other things to not jeopardise, and to maintain, what has been been achieved in the past 14 years.

At the same time, NATO’s strategic environment has changed to such an extent that the statement by Senator Lugar I mentioned earlier must not be reduced to an “either/or” choice between collective defence and international crisis management.

With the conflict in Ukraine, the question of war and peace – which was far from our minds since the end of the Balkan Wars – has returned to Europe. With the illegal annexation of Crimea, the destabilisation of Ukraine – and by using rhetoric that irresponsibly speaks of the potential use of nuclear weapons – Russia is calling in question Europe’s peaceful order. A peaceful order that, it must be said, Russia helped to build, that it reconfirmed in Helsinki and in Paris, and the purpose of which was to end, once and for all, “the era of confrontation and division of Europe”.

This peaceful order is built on principles such as the recognition of state sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the inviolability of borders, as well as the pledge to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and to refrain from the threat or use of force – and, as was laid down in the Charter of Paris in 1990, on the freedom of states to choose their own security arrangements.

The Western community of states has reacted to this calling into question of our European order by imposing strong EU sanctions on Russia, and by credibly reinforcing NATO’s ability to defend its member countries.

NATO did not choose to refocus on its core task of collective defence. However, Russia must understand the seriousness of the concerns for European security that have been triggered by its behaviour – especially, but not only, the concerns of our eastern NATO Allies.

We Germans know only too well from our experiences during the Cold War how vulnerable the sense of security of a geographically-exposed country can be. Today, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our Allies in the defence of security and freedom, just as our Allies did for the free parts of our country during the Cold War. We are no longer primarily a beneficiary of security guarantees, but rather a country that guarantees the security of others via the architecture of the Transatlantic Alliance. We do so in full awareness of our responsibility towards our neighbours and partners, and for a pan-European security architecture.

Because of our commitment to collective defence, we also have a genuine interest in credible deterrence. Deterrence – Abschreckung – is a difficult word in German. In current usage, it often has a negative connotation.

However, the most fundamental purpose of deterrence is to make conflicts less likely and, whenever possible, to prevent them. For deterrence to effectively prevent conflicts, it must be credible. Only when a potential aggressor believes that the consequences of an attack may be too severe, will he also refrain from taking such miscalculated actions.

With this in mind, NATO agreed on a whole set of measures at its Wales Summit. This sends a clear message: the security of the North Atlantic Alliance is indivisible. No matter what happens, we are bound by our commitment to protect each other.

NATO’s adaptation efforts are having an extensive impact on our security policy as such. The White Book that is currently being drawn up and that is scheduled for release in mid-2016 will contain clear guidelines to this effect.

Yet, ladies and gentlemen:

No matter how much we underline the importance of credible deterrence, we are and remain firmly convinced that deterrence and defence alone will not guarantee security in Europe in the long term. For a truly wise policy, NATO must look beyond the present day and draw valuable lessons from experiences during the last decades in European and transatlantic security policy.

We strongly believe that collective defence must always be complemented by certain elements of cooperative security! Security is the sum of deterrence and détente. Since Pierre Harmel issued his famous report in 1967, this piece of wisdom is engrained in NATO and has become part of its DNA. To this day, it has not lost any of its relevance.

I know that the road to success in this domain is often rocky. Mere wishful thinking will not work. What is needed for this two-pronged approach to even have a chance of success is honest willingness to de-escalate, along with shared interests and a great deal of strategic patience and determination.

To shirk responsibility and not decisively continue down this road would be completely irresponsible!

Last year at Wales, NATO committed to this two-pronged approach. After very carefully weighing all factors, we decided not to burn the bridges with Russia. Moreover, the Heads of State and Government underscored their commitment to uphold both the rules-based European security architecture and the NATO–Russia Founding Act, including the self-imposed limitations it contains for the Alliance.

We focused on ensuring rapid deployability of the NATO Response Force, a rotating presence on the territory of eastern Allies, and increased exercises. Contrary to what many were calling for and continue to call for today, we decided against the permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.

This was and remains the right decision. In our view, it is also essential that we continue our dialogue with Russia. As Foreign Minister Steinmeier said at the last Ministerial Council of the OSCE in Switzerland: The equation “monologue plus monologue equals dialogue” simply doesn’t add up! That is why we should quickly restart a political dialogue in the NATO–Russia Council – at least at the level of ambassadors.

In our view, there is no good alternative to dialogue – even though it may be quite some time before we can reach consensus on a new and revitalised European security architecture. It is important that we maintain as many of our valid agreements and rules for transparency as possible. For our part, we are respecting transparency regimes, such as the Vienna Document, in both letter and spirit. This can be seen, for example, in the invitation we issued to Russian observers to attend the recent large-scale NATO exercise on the Iberian Peninsula. This sends an important signal in times of communication standstill and distrust between NATO and Russia.

With that in mind, the Alliance – at Germany’s insistence – has established a mechanism through which, at military level, contact can be rapidly established with Russia in times of crisis, to de-escalate dangerous situations and prevent misunderstandings.

However, for this mechanism to have a practical impact, both sides must be prepared to use it. NATO has repeatedly proven that it is willing to do so. I want to take this opportunity to urge Moscow to use this mechanism as well.

Although reliable channels of communication for use in times of crisis are essential, they will by themselves not be sufficient. In view of increased manoeuvre and military activities on both sides, especially at sea and in the air – and considering the strong associated risk of accidents, mistakes and unintended escalation – we must put in place measures that reduce these risks to the greatest extent possible.

We therefore have an obligation to take full advantage of the well-established reciprocal military codes of conduct – or to look for new ways to minimize risks. This conviction, too, will guide German policy on the road to Warsaw.

Efforts to promote dialogue and cooperation, as well as to build confidence, will also be the focus of Germany OSCE chairmanship, which we will assume next year. We are well aware of the challenges that our chairmanship will encounter in these turbulent times.

In his speech to the German Bundestag on the OSCE chairmanship, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said: “Trust does not come about on its own, but rather develops through cooperation on very concrete topics. This is the only way to recreate the shared awareness that has been lost – the awareness of common threats, but also of common interests.”

It is in our own best interest to include Russia, so that it can live up to its responsibilities, and so that we can jointly tackle our common challenges. This is true for the conflict in Syria and for the fight against international terrorism, and with regard to a security architecture in the Middle East. On these issues, headway can be made only with, not without, Russia – and certainly not against Russia.

The agreement that was reached with Iran has demonstrated how years and years of persistent negotiation can, ultimately, lead to success – no matter how many demoralising prophecies of doom are uttered. It is precisely in turbulent times like these that we need diplomacy! The Iran nuclear deal opens up new opportunities for the entire region.

However, what is essential now is that all actors concerned also seize these opportunities. Recent months have shown that this is by no means the natural course of events. One successful negotiation does not absolve diplomacy of its responsibility. Rather, diplomacy is under a new obligation to use the opportunities that have been created – as we are trying to do now, by finding ways to address the conflict in Syria!

The breakthrough achieved in the Iran nuclear dossier in Vienna is now being followed by intense Vienna negotiations to resolve the conflict in Syria. We can at least say that serious efforts are again under way to find a political solution. That alone is progress!

This is just as true for the conflict in Ukraine: the Minsk agreements mark only the beginning of a long and difficult process with a view to de-escalating and resolving the conflict. Certainly, we cannot be satisfied with what has been achieved so far, if only for the fact that we are behind schedule on implementing the Minsk Agreements. At any rate, the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine has held for more or less than two months now, and there has been a dramatic drop in the number of fatalities. That is already enough reason to continue down this path.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In recent months, German policymakers have shown that Germany is prepared to assume greater responsibility for the security and stability of Europe. This applies to the refugee crisis as much as it does to the efforts to stabilise the conflicts in Syria and in Ukraine. It also applies to our ability to deliver security and to defend ourselves.

Our American friends are right to demand transatlantic burden-sharing. It is an important factor for sustainable security policy.

However, we also know there will be no sky-high increases in European defence budgets anytime soon. In Germany, we did manage to reverse the trend, something that was long overdue: In 2016, the Federal Ministry of Defence’s budget will be increased to 34.4 billion euro, from 33 billion. However, our leverage will remain limited, due to the refugee crisis and the continued need to consolidate public spending.

It is therefore all the more necessary to make true progress on the “pooling and sharing” of capabilities, and to move forward multinational development and procurement projects. Bilateral and multilateral flagship projects with France, and with Italy, are leading to closer cooperation in this domain – be it on satellite reconnaissance or on work to develop a European reconnaissance UAV.

We need enhanced European transparency as regards capability development, as well as better harmonisation of the defence planning processes of the European Union and NATO. The European Defence Agency needs to play a more proactive role than it has done so far. For this to happen, the Member States’ insistence on sovereignty will need to take more of a back seat. We also need progress on the establishment of a common armaments market in Europe: norms and standards must be harmonised; certifications must be recognised on a reciprocal basis, also in the military domain; tenders must be issued Europe-wide; and procurement cycles must be aligned with one another.

Above all, NATO’s potential to catalyse integration must be fully exploited. Nowhere else in the world are multinational forces as closely interoperable as in the North Atlantic Alliance. That is where we need to begin.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I began my speech by referring to Senator Lugar and his claim regarding “out of area or out of business”. If Lugar meant that NATO’s raison d’être is fully dependent on missions abroad, then from our present-day perspective we must strongly disagree.

The Alliance and collective self-defence are not any less relevant. On the contrary, they are more important now than ever.

The summit in Warsaw will underscore this fact. Hopefully, it will also send a strong signal of Alliance cohesion. As Allies, we are bound by our commitment to protect each other. At the same time, our sights are set on what lies ahead. Just as is laid down in the Charter of Paris: “Security is indivisible and the security of every participating State is inseparably linked to that of all the others.” The self-evidence of this statement has unfortunately been forgotten somewhat in recent years. Let us work on firmly anchoring it again in everyone's mind.

Just one final thought: the fight against terrorism was already described as a shared, multilateral task in the Charter of Paris.

Thank you.

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