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Speech by State Secretary of the Foreign Offiec Markus Ederer at the event of the German Marshall Fund: Germany, Japan and the U.S.: Regional Perspectives on the Liberal International Order

23.06.2016 - Speech

Dear Daniel [Twining],
dear Ambassador Shinyo,
dear Volker [Stanzel],
dear David [Gordon],
Ladies and Gentlemen,

When talking about the liberal world order, especially today, we also have to talk about the state the European Union is in, and we have to talk about the need to listen to our constituencies at home more closely.

This is also what Ambassador Samantha Power referred to when she was awarded the Henry Kissinger Prize here in Berlin just two weeks ago. In her speech, she warned of the “rise of extremist and isolationist voices in the US”.

She stressed the need for those of us who hold dear the fundamental internationalist assumptions that sustain the liberal world order to unite in their defence.

Ladies and gentlemen, some might quip that with Samantha Power receiving the Henry Kissinger prize, the need for unity in defence of the liberal world order must be urgent indeed.

But - on a more serious note – Ambassador Power’s remarks point to a notion that many of us would share: That the liberal international order, which has been developed after WW II under US leadership is under serious challenge today.

When examining this challenge a bit further, we find four levels on which this is taking place:

First, it seems challenged by a multitude of crises within states: By the fragility – and some say failure – of states themselves. This is happening not only in faraway places, but right at Europe’s doorstep: In the Ukraine, in the Middle East and in the Maghreb. And some would argue in the EU as well.

Second, transnational challenges such as climate change, terrorism or cyber threats make us realize that even well-functioning states can no longer address such issues by themselves. As a result, we see “global governance gaps” as well as gaps between growing expectations and limited state capabilities.

Third, the liberal international order seems to be challenged by the rise of new powers such as China, which increasingly put into question regional orders, seek to extend their spheres of influence, and demand more of a say on issues of global order and governance.

Fourth – and coming back to Samantha Power’s speech – the liberal international world order seems today also challenged from within, which I personally feel is perhaps the most critical of all:

Whether it is in the US, in France, in Poland, in Germany or in the UK, where the British people cast a crucial vote at this very moment about the future of their country and of Europe: everywhere within our liberal societies, extremist, isolationist, anti-globalist and even tribalist voices and forces are on the rise, questioning the very assumptions of internationalism and integration that have hitherto sustained the liberal world order.

Ladies and Gentlemen, what does this fourfold challenge of the liberal world order mean for us, for Germany, for Japan, for the US?

Let me talk a bit about the German perspective which is obviously the one I know best.

Germany’s successful development is based on the stability provided by this very liberal world order: Rule of law, democracy, European integration, market economy and free-trade have made us what we are today, one of the most-integrated, connected and prosperous countries in the world.

Yet we must also acknowledge that in order to sustain our success and stability, adaptation to a new form of globalization and governance, with new players and stakeholders, is paramount. A modern liberal international order needs to recognize that global challenges need global solutions.

So what follows for us from this perspective?

For one, we indeed must “unite in defense” of the liberal order. Together with our partners such as the US and Japan, with whom we share the same values and principles, we need to preserve the existing foundations of the liberal world order. Convincing others of its usefulness will also be important.

It also follows, however, that it is not enough to just unite, but also to be open-minded. After all, could it be that our feeling of a fraying order might primarily be rooted in our disappointment over what I would call the “illusion of convergence” in the early 1990s? And that we therefore should conceptualize that we are no longer exclusively in the driver’s seat?

Eventually, we are in a contest of ideas, in which we have to deal with other conceptions of order and convince others of the attractiveness of our conceptions. Here, we need to continue to be guided by our principles and the need for legitimacy and effectiveness as the main pillars of stability.

Our ability to understand and integrate new challenges and new challengers, our ability to engage constructively with new ideas to upgrade the existing rules will be crucial.

For us in Germany - and this has been a discussion since the speech delivered by our Federal President at the Munich Security Conference in 2014 - it is also clear that Germany needs to assume greater responsibility for stability and order in the world. This is not always easy for a country with our history. But, while taking this legacy into account, we can – and must - build more actively and strategically on our strengths:

our vast network in the worlds of diplomacy and business and especially on our proven capacity as a “bridge-builder”.

But there is more we can do to strengthen the liberal order on the global level:

By invigorating multilateralism in existing fora, such as through our candidacy for the UN Security Council 2019/20, our support for UN-reform, our current OSCE-chairmanship and our imminent G20 presidency in 2017.

But also by actively contributing new elements of order in areas like cyber security, climate change or global migration policy. We would be well advised to actively engage with new ideas and initiatives on connectivity, global finance, development cooperation and global justice questions - as long as these complement and support rather than erode global order. An example of the former is our approach vis-à-vis the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, whose first annual meeting will be held in two days in Beijing.

There is also more we can do to strengthen rules-based orders on the regional level. And this is one of the key issues for German foreign policy. And to that aim we must not shy away from strongly opposing regional hegemonic claims that endanger stability. We are therefore working towards further supporting multilateral organizations such as the African Union or ASEAN, but also play our own part in Europe, whether it is in Ukraine, the Balkans, through NATO or the OSCE.

Finally, there is more we can do to strengthen the liberal international order at its most basic level – and that is often overlooked – namely within states. Stabilizing legitimate statehood through crisis prevention, mediation, humanitarian assistance and post-conflict reconstruction has become a focus of our efforts. We have therefore established a new department in this parliamentary term dedicated to these issues under the leadership of Foreign Minister Steinmeier.

Ladies and Gentlemen, with all these measures we strive to guarantee the effectiveness and legitimacy of the liberal international order; not only for us – that is “the West” – but also more inclusively, for the global south, for emerging countries and even for those who currently seem to challenge the liberal international order.

I am confident that jointly, together with countries like Japan and the US, we are able to do so. I even think that such need for more burden-sharing can be an amazing opportunity: If the liberal world order is more explicitly lived and perceived as a common good maintained by a variety of actors, rather than decried as “pax Americana”, an American “burden” or “presumption” it might just become more legitimate and effective in the future.

And one of the lessons that I have learned from my time in China is that our ability to lecture others or convince them to adopt the principles we stand for is becoming increasingly limited. And this is even more the case when we do not live up to those standards ourselves. How credible are we and how susceptible are we to accusations of “double standards”? This is also something we have to consider when thinking about the future of the liberal world order. The liberal order begins at home.

Thank you very much.

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