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“Terror cannot be defeated with bombs alone”

01.12.2015 - Interview

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an interview on Germany’s support for the fight against ISIS. Published in the BILD newspaper on 1 December 2015.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an interview on Germany’s support for the fight against ISIS. Published in the BILD newspaper on 1 December 2015.

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Today the Cabinet will decide to openly join the war against ISIS. Why now and not sooner?

Questions like that don’t help anyone. War is waged among states, and ISIS is certainly not a state. However, ISIS is exporting terrorism to Europe. For our friends in Paris, the choice of words is an expression of their determination to fight terrorism. We stand shoulder to shoulder with France, and have done so not just since the attacks of 13 November. Back in the summer of 2014, we established the alliance against ISIS together with the US, our European partners and Arab states. We've been involved militarily from the outset in the form of weapons and training for the Peshmerga – with considerable success. But I remain convinced that terror cannot be defeated with bombs and missiles alone. Ultimately that can only be achieved through political means. That’s why it’s so important that we’ve finally brought all the key international players to the negotiating table in Vienna.

The coalition has launched air strikes – and on the ground Assad’s army is to fight against the Islamists. Have we entered into a pact with the devil?

No-one in the German Government has forgotten the terrible crimes for which Assad is responsible. Yet it’s also right to say that as long as the parties involved in the Syrian civil war only fight each other and wear themselves down ISIS will have the last laugh. That’s why we agreed in Vienna to work towards a political process and a ceasefire between the Syrian army and opposition – so that all forces can be mobilised for the fight against ISIS. The regime can demonstrate now whether it really is prepared to fight against the ISIS terrorists or whether it will continue to deploy barrel bombs or chemical weapons against its own population.

What interest should Assad have in fighting for the West only to be chased out of Damascus afterwards?

Assad is fighting for one thing alone: his own survival. However, his backers in Moscow and Tehran, who are standing by him for the time being, have first-hand experience of the threat posed by ISIS. I’m quite certain that this will ultimately be more important to them than holding onto a political figure – Assad. And it’s very much in the interest of us all to prevent the complete collapse of the Syrian state.

The Bundeswehr is sending 1200 troops – is that the final word? Or is it just the beginning?

At the request of our French partners, we’re providing resources to help with reconnaissance, logistic support and protection. Our offer has been carefully weighed up: we’re doing what is needed in military terms, what we can best provide and what we can justify politically. What’s more, we’re talking about the ceiling provided for in the mandate with – as always – an ample security buffer. I don’t think we’ll have so many troops abroad at once. And as for the areas controlled by ISIS, only tornado pilots will be in action there.

How long can the war against ISIS last?

We need a lot of patience with an adversary like ISIS. It has already lost control of a considerable area in northern Iraq and elsewhere – especially where its adversaries have put aside their differences and are working together. If the Vienna process enables us to achieve that throughout Syria, then ISIS won’t be able to withstand for long. However, there’s a long way to go before we reach that point.

Interview conducted by Rolf Kleine. Reproduced by kind permission of Bild newspaper.

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