“There is no absolute security”

20.07.2016 - Interview

In an interview with the news agency Reuters on 19 July 2016, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier talks about the fight against terrorism, Germany’s role in the EU’s foreign policy as well as the situation in Britain and in the US.

The IS is increasingly under pressure militarily in Syria, Iraq and Libya – at the same time, terrorism seems to be on the rise throughout the world, the most recent occurrence being the attack in a train on the outskirts of Würzburg on Monday evening. How does that add up? How great do you think the risk of a major terrorist attack in Germany is and what should be done to prevent it?

Past attacks have shown that there is no absolute security. Terrorist attacks are completely arbitrary and any one of us can be affected. The fact is that we urgently need even closer cooperation among police and security forces in Europe, as well as a better exchange of information. At international level, we have to continue taking decisive action against terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and to create prospects for the future for people in the liberated towns and villages. We’re more active than any other country in this field. In the long term, we can only counter the risk of terrorist attacks if we create the conditions under which different communities and religious groups can live together in peace – here and in the conflict areas in the Middle East. We have to tackle the root causes of terrorism with cool heads. To do this, we need the cooperation of Muslim communities which – as I know from many conversations – have a vested interest in preventing young people from turning their backs on society to join terrorist groups. It’s important that we don’t allow terrorists to drive us into a corner and contaminate our hearts with their violence.

Should Germany play a bigger or stronger role in the EU’s foreign and security policy and is the country equipped to do that? Is it possible despite the opposition to an arms build-up and the target of a balanced budget? Or does the budget have to be increased massively given the new circumstances?

Yes, expectations of Germany have grown. And we’ve shown that we won’t shy away from responsibility. Our mediation efforts in the Ukraine conflict demonstrated our readiness to assume responsibility, as does our willingness within NATO to help provide increased protection for our Eastern European neighbours in the light of the changed security situation following the annexation of Crimea. We’re contributing to the fight against IS by supporting the Kurdish Peshmerga and by participating in the aerial reconnaissance over Syria. We’re involved in the training of security forces and in the reconstruction of both Afghanistan and Mali. All of this has earned us the respect and appreciation of our partners. And they want us to be involved in the quest for political solutions in Syria and Libya. At a time of crises and conflicts, we have to redouble our efforts. However, we also have to work out where we’re overextending ourselves, where we can no longer live up to the expectations placed in us and where our involvement would have no added value. I think we have a sensible balance at the moment.

Our American colleagues are expecting more than $2 billion for Iraq? Will this amount be enough or will an even larger sum be necessary to banish the threat posed by IS? How can the anti-IS coalition help to combat terrorism?

In Iraq, it’s been possible with the help of international support to drive IS out of a large part of the territory it controlled. From week to week, areas are being liberated from its tyranny, most recently the city of Fallujah. This was very much thanks to the anti-IS coalition. However, it’s also clear that these successes will only be of lasting duration if people are able to return to their towns and villages as quickly as possible. Germany is already doing more than any other country in terms of humanitarian relief and stabilisation but it’s not enough: when the city of Mosul is liberated from IS, we’ll be faced with huge humanitarian, social and political challenges – as we saw when Fallujah was freed. The momentum of our efforts to stabilise Iraq must be maintained now. That’s why I decided that Germany will provide another 10 million euros in humanitarian assistance so that we’re better prepared for the humanitarian consequences of the liberation of Mosul. At the pledging conference in Washington, which we’re co-hosting, we’ll call for the funding needed to successfully carry out this major task.

How do you see the situation in Britain now that Theresa May has taken up office? Has that calmed the markets and do you expect Article 50 to be invoked quickly now?

Britain has a new government which has signalled quite clearly that it accepts the outcome of the British referendum and will implement it. Those politicians who campaigned for Brexit now have a duty and responsibility to carry it out. I think we can now expect the British to act as quickly as possible in order to end the period of uncertainty – especially in Britain, but also in Europe. Apart from the Brexit discussion, we’ll need all our partners in the face of the conflicts all around the European Union, which we’re trying to solve or at least mitigate. Despite Brexit, we’ll need to work with Britain in the sphere of international relations – especially in these times of crisis.

What’s your view of the current situation in the US? Do you see parallels between the rise of Trump and the nationalist movements in Europe?

A global situation full of crises may tempt some people to look for quick fixes – that’s a development I see on both sides of the Atlantic. The challenge here is to look for solutions in this complicated plethora of crises which are effective and which are not confined to simple slogans or building walls. In this respect, I’ve heard rather ambiguous statements from Donald Trump – on the one hand he wants to make America strong again, but on the other he wants to reduce US engagement abroad. These two goals are irreconcilable and that concerns me: a policy of fear and isolation would lead to less rather than more security and would therefore pose a threat not only to the US but also to Europe and the rest of the world.

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