Speech by Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe, to the German Bundestag on the extension of the mandate for continuing Germany’s participation in Operation Active Endeavour (OAE)

03.12.2015 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Mr President,
Fellow members of the German Bundestag,

There has been a lot of discussion recently in Germany about solidarity and military support among partner countries. Here in the German Bundestag this week, we are looking at the question of whether and how to also provide military support to our French friends in the fight against terror following the brutal attacks in Paris.

And it almost seems like déjà vu because 14 years ago, we discussed another military operation in this House that was a direct response to Islamist terror – the attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York and Washington.

At the time, NATO had invoked the mutual defence clause in accordance with Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty for the first and, to date, only time in its history. This resulted in the launch of Operation Active Endeavour in October 2001. The aim was to ward off the threat of terrorism at NATO’s southern flank by monitoring the Mediterranean. The operation has been extended several times since then.

The Bundeswehr currently assesses the threat of terrorism in the Mediterranean area as “abstract”. So why do we still need this operation in 2015?

Firstly, we should not allow ourselves to feel too safe. Several times recently, we have seen how quickly an abstract threat can turn into a very concrete attack.

Islamist terrorism has claimed hundreds of lives not only in Paris, but also in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey.

And Mediterranean countries are not only the targets of such attacks – they are also the places where terrorists are recruited and trained. The threat posed by international terrorism to our European societies is now more tangible than it has been at hardly any other time since 2001.

Secondly, the security situation in the Mediterranean has become far more complex since 2001.

Organised crime, human traffickers, people smugglers and Russia’s increasing and unpredictable presence in the Mediterranean are developments that we need to understand in depth so that we can protect ourselves from the threats they pose if necessary.

Thirdly, we must also remember something else. International terrorism does not only pose a threat to our security, but also to one of the most crucial lifelines of our economic prosperity. The Mediterranean is extremely important for Germany as a transport and trade route. In 2014, over 300 million tonnes of freight were imported and exported to and from Germany by sea. Most of the trade routes to and from Asia pass through the Mediterranean. This means we are also vulnerable in economic terms in the region.

All of these points show that there are still good reasons today to continue Operation Active Endeavour.

However, there is no doubt that the operation must be refined and adapted to the changed requirements.

Its original focus dating from 2001 no longer does justice to the reality of the deployment. We now need a far broader deployment profile to allow us to take the complex risks and threats in the Mediterranean even more into account.

This means moving away from the robust deployment of the early days to broad‑based reconnaissance and the creation of a platform for working with southern Mediterranean countries and other nations involved in the operation.

The legal basis that has applied since 2001 and is founded on NATO’s mutual defence clause in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is now – 14 years after the terrorist attacks in the United States – no longer appropriate.

This is why the German Government has been working for several years to have the deployment profile adapted to current needs and no longer based on Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Defence Minister von der Leyen launched this process in February 2014 via a joint letter to the NATO Secretary General. Since then, we have been working very hard in Brussels to convince others of this approach.

Our aim is to have the operation changed into a NATO maritime security operation. It should be adapted to the specific requirements in the Mediterranean and based in all parts on a solid legal foundation.

NATO’s Alliance Maritime Strategy of 2011 provides a suitable starting point for this. It lists seven security tasks:

(1) reconnaissance, (2) helping coastal states to build up their own maritime security capacities, (3) the fight against terrorism, (4) the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, (5) the interdiction of sea areas, (6) safeguarding crucial maritime infrastructure and (7) protecting the freedom of the seas.

Of course, not all of the Alliance Maritime Strategy’s seven tasks are equally relevant to the Mediterranean. For this reason, the future profile of the operation should choose between active and latent tasks.

The latter should only be activated in cases of clear and concrete need by a resolution by all 28 NATO members.

Our endeavours were successful. On 3 July 2015, all NATO members voted unanimously to change the basis of the operation. This means that the implementation of this compromise, which also includes decoupling the mission from Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, is well underway.

Now we need to draw up a new operation plan. We are confident that this will be achieved by the time of NATO’s summit in Warsaw on 8 and 9 July 2016.

In order to conclude this work, we ask you to agree to Germany’s continued participation under unchanged conditions. However, this should be limited to 15 July 2016.

This will also send a signal to the Alliance that we fully expect the transformation of the operation to be completed by the time of the NATO summit in Warsaw in July 2016. Once that has happened, we will ask the German Bundestag once again to approve a mandate.

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