“The Marshall Plan at 70: What We Must Remember and What We Must Do for the Future”. Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC

18.05.2017 - Speech

Heather Conley,
Karen Donfried,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting me.

I am very glad that we have the opportunity to talk about the importance of George Marshall for the transatlantic partnership today. I think this is important because some people here in the US discussed about Europe as a conspiracy by Germany against the United States! So we thought it would be a good idea to show that the success of Europa was in the American interest. It is also good to remember what is possible when the US and Europe work together.

Thank you very much to the hosts, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the German Marshall Fund, for making this possible.

And thank you also that you gave me such a generous amount of time for my introductory remarks. Seriously, I am not joking! I am saying this because George Marshall was only given elven minutes when he held his famous speech in Harvard almost 70 years ago.

Actually, when I met Rex Tillerson yesterday, he showed me the original text of Marshall’s speech. Fascinating! A document of only four pages, but full of thinking that has so greatly influenced our world. Sometimes we have documents with a lot of pages, but in the end it’s the opposite of good ideas. So Marshall shows us that it is really the quality that matters.

I think it is also very interesting that this important speech occupies a prominent spot in the State Department.

With this short speech, George Marshall launched a policy that re-shaped our relations with the United States. The Marshall Plan is firmly rooted in the collective memory in Germany. It stands for the helping hand given by the U.S. to Germany, despite Germany having been responsible for so much violence and destruction.

Instead of demanding reparations, the U.S. helped us to rebuild our economy. We are still immensely grateful for this.

But the Plan’s importance goes way beyond the reconstruction of Germany. As Henry Kissinger put it: The speech marked a historic departure in American foreign policy.

The Marshall Plan set the course. My colleague Rex Tillerson told me yesterday: The US could have gone home after the World War II. But they decided to stay. And got invested in Europe – because it was in the interest of the United States to do so. This was an important and a good decision, I believe.

We are also living in a decisive period today – no, dear fans of the Washington Wizards, I am not referring to the NBA playoffs! I am referring to our transatlantic partnership!

I am convinced: We urgently need to renew this crucial transatlantic bond. Therefore, I think it would be smart to remember how Marshall helped to shape the world order that was so beneficial to the US and Europe over the last seven decades.

First, George Marshall’s policy primarily had nothing to do with altruism. It was a forward-looking policy. And a policy the U.S. adopted in pursuit of its own interests. As George Marshall put it: “It is only logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world.” And, as he then went on to say that without this economic health “there can be no political stability and no assured peace.” Today, we are in a situation where we are discussing in the US, in Europe and elsewhere in the world our defence spending. Of course, it is necessary. But if you go to the crisis hot spots of today, you will hear that sometimes military action is necessary, for example in the fight against ISIL. But once you come to a stable situation, it is necessary to build hope, especially for the younger generation. Because without economic development, you will not achieve peace and stability.

So, although the Marshall Plan focused mainly on economic issues, its political intention was also very clear: not only should the U.S. market be closely linked to European markets. In addition, the Plan was meant to promote political ties between European countries and with the U.S.

So, this is my second observation: Marshall knew that a strong and united Europe was in the interests of the United States. And it was in the interests of the U.S. to become involved in the world, not just through military alliances, but also by creating a close transatlantic community based on common interests and common values.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are of course facing different challenges today than the world was facing during the times of George Marshall. But we are perhaps in a similarly critical phase. The liberal world order that Marshall contributed so much to is increasingly being called into question.

Some colleagues who just came back from the “One Belt, One Road” conference in China told me: There was a big map on the wall showing where the “One Belt, One Road” initiative should be implemented. Asia, Russia, Africa, Europe – all where shown on the map. But not the US! Maybe the Chinese know that the rules here in the US are different from the rules in China. But I would say that the rules in Europe are also different. So when Europe and the US, two leading economies in the world, will join our hands, we can set the standards for international cooperation, not only economically. But if we fail, others will fill this vacuum. So it is absolutely necessary for us to come back on a common track. We should be ambitious enough to set the standards for the 21st century!

Of course, economic balances are shifting. Asia, for example has become a leading economic player. But we also have to realize that this world order itself is no longer accepted by all countries. More countries than before are now demanding a greater voice. They are setting up international institutions that they think serve them better than those set up in New York and here in Washington 70 years ago. And we have to realize as well that illiberal countries and systems are on the rise.

So the question is: should we just stand by and watch this happening? Or should we do everything to make this world order fit for the 21st century?

I assume that George Marshall would have taken on this task – with a lot of optimism. And he even suggests a starting point for us today. He said in his speech that “the initiative [...] must come from Europe.” I believe he was right. We as Europeans should not wait for the US government to take the lead.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

for us as Europeans to take the initiative again in our transatlantic relations, we should tackle a few things at home in Europe.

First of all, we should not lean back now that Emmanuel Macron has won the elections in France; a victory I am delighted about. This victory represents a huge opportunity for Europe but it also means a great deal of responsibility for us. We should remember that eleven million French citizens voted for an extreme-right and anti-European party. And this is a problem not only in France but also elsewhere in Europe. So we have to do a lot of things to support Emmanuel Macron, because his success is the success of Europe. If he fails, Marine Le Pen will really be the next President of France – and we would have profound problems in Europe.

We must now ensure that we strengthen Europe - and I mean all countries in the European Union - politically and economically. Germany, as a nation at the heart of Europe, will be expected to take on even more responsibility and we as Germans should be more willing to compromise.

I am also convinced that we Europeans should not waste too much energy on internal wrangling. We must instead strengthen Europe so that we are able to assume greater international responsibility for peace and security. And Washington, but also Beijing and Moscow, will have to recognize that if you want to talk to Europe, it is not sufficient to talk to Germany or France. Many want to talk to Germany, my country, because of its economic success. But Europe is much more than Germany. Europe is a very special integrated community where you have more small countries than big countries. But we In Europe have to deal with each other as being on an equal footing. We really have to speak with one voice. Because even the voice of a strong Germany will not be heard in the future, if it is a lone voice. So we have to be integrated as Europeans and we ask our partners to look at the whole range of Europe and not only individual states.

We are doing quite a lot already. For example, the European Union is working hard in Mali to help strengthen the country’s government and fight terrorism there.

Germany, too, has stepped up its international engagement. In recent weeks, I visited both Iraq and Somalia. In these countries, for example, we are helping to stabilize regions that have been devastated by ISIL and Al Shabab. Through means of stabilization and development aid, we are giving the local population better prospects for the future, and we are denying the terrorists their breeding grounds.

Our broad engagement is in part military, but it is just as much a civilian effort. Because the success of the Marshall Plan has taught us that promoting policy aims through civilian means, “soft power”, is at least as important as “hard power”.

That said, I also very much understand that the United States is asking Europe to invest more in its “hard power”, also by increasing its contributions to NATO military capabilities. This effort is already under way: Germany is spending more on defense and has increased its 2017 military budget by nearly 10%.

But we must not pretend that more military spending will automatically bring about more security and more peace.

I firmly believe that greater investment in defense must not occur at the expense of diplomacy, humanitarian aid and development aid. We need both.

And to be very honest: Spending more does not mean following utopian agendas. Spending 2% of the GDP each year would mean to double our investment in our army. That means to spend over 70 billion a year for our military. France, as a nuclear power, is spending 40 billion only. I asked Chancellor Merkel where we should put all the new aircraft carriers we would have to buy…To invest more is necessary but we should not overestimate what is necessary. Europe spends 50% of the American defence budget but we reach only 15% of the efficiency. So it is much more interesting to look at issues such as military integration and “smart spending”. That’s what we should do.

We must also refocus on diplomacy – we need a diplomatic surge. As the current U.S. Secretary of Defense said in 2013: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

Europe has to do its homework, that much is clear. Europe and the US also have to work together so that our societies can become closer again. We are facing a common problem: Our societies, whether in Europe or here in the United States, are becoming increasingly polarized internally. That is not good, for many reasons. It’s also dangerous for the transatlantic relationship.

Allow me to explain with an example. Many in Europe and in the United States are worried about their economic future. Economic nationalism is becoming more popular on both sides of the Atlantic.

I believe we must do a better job of communicating to our populations why the right answer still lies in the ideas of George Marshall – in his goal of a close economic transatlantic partnership.

When I hear that here in the U.S. there is discussion about Germany’s economic activities and the current account surplus, then I must say: We are prepared to have a dialogue on this. We will gladly explain how we see the connection of our economies. Many of the best and highest‑paid manufacturing jobs in the entire United States are created thanks to investments by German corporations. This is why a number of representatives of large German companies that invest in the U.S. are accompanying me on this trip. And we will travel on to Pittsburgh today, where we will look at how structural change can be shaped in a positive way – also with the help of German investment. By the way, George Marshall was born not far from Pittsburgh.

I am convinced that we need more and broader dialogue. This will require more than visits by ministers, or transatlantic experts convening in Washington, Berlin or Brussels.

That is why, in a joint effort with the business, academic, and cultural communities, we want to help raise Germany’s profile in the United States. I am therefore promoting, both here and in Germany, that we will have a “Year of Germany in the United States” in 2018 and 2019 – and vice versa.

It must become more normal again for younger generations to take a look at life on the other side of the Atlantic.

I want us to find new formats and ways to bring into contact the greatest possible range of people in our two societies. I want us to reach precisely those who would never think, or who could never afford, to take part in an exchange or travel program across the Atlantic.

Moreover, we have to continue to promote our established pillars of people‑to‑people dialogue. I am therefore strongly in favor of continuing our classic exchange format, the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange Program.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I think that both the German and U.S. governments should commit to a new common transatlantic agenda.

We should renew the partnership that seeks to defend a peaceful and rules‑based order. For it is rules‑based international cooperation that will yield the “best deals” in the long run. Of that, I am convinced.

A partnership that fights for the separation of powers, for inalienable human rights, for the rule of law, and for representative democracy. Those values are in need of defense, today!

If we see eye to eye on this between the US and Germany, I am not worried that we sometimes disagree on specific topics.

Topics like climate change. Let me be quite frank: It is in Germany’s interest, and I believe actually in the interest of all of humanity, that the U.S. does not withdraw from the Paris Agreement. But there are understandable concerns here about possible negative effects on the U.S. economy. As a partner, we are talking with the US government about how measures to protect the climate can actually help strengthen national economic output. In Germany, we've seen this happen: renewable energies have been a positive factor for economic development. In fact, we think that measures which help us to fight climate change would be a good industrial policy even if we had not the problem of climate change. Because dealing with issues such as energy efficiency, using our resources smartly, these are issues that make our economies much stronger in the long run.

I believe that on key foreign policy issues our positions are very similar on both sides of the Atlantic. This applies to the conflict in Syria, and it also applies to policy on North Korea and on Iran. The list could go on.

However, despite having fundamentally similar interests, our beliefs sometimes differ with regard to the right strategy.

In Europe, for example, we are convinced that the nuclear deal is the best option for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Some here in Washington are far more skeptical.

These are not trivial details. These are serious political questions. That is why these debates are so intense, and that is actually a good thing.

Yet, in the end, we should be clear about one thing: in a world that is becoming increasingly complex joint action by the United States and Europe can make a tremendous difference.

Therefore, we must renew our transatlantic partnership! Together, we must defend our liberal and rules‑based world order.

And to close with the words of George Marshall: “It is to be hoped that the democratic nations can provide the necessary leadership.” We should take his words seriously.

Thank you for your attention.

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