40 Years of the Brandt Commission: its legacy and our duty. Speech by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the conference #Brandt2030

31.08.2017 - Speech

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Ms Brundtland,
Ms Malcorra,
Mr Steiner,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, we want to step away from the often-hectic pace of the daily lives currently led by all of us who deal with international issues in politics or civil society. In view of the trajectory of international politics, I believe the Brandt Commission has a very special role to play. Reading the Commission’s reports makes one wonder what we’ve been doing for the past 40 years; for these reports deal with paths out of poverty, with halting arms races, with environmental degradation, population growth, fair global trade and steps away from development aid towards a true partnership between the countries of the North and those of the South.

Of course, we know that over the past 40 years, the lives of many hundreds of millions of people around the world have improved. The question, however, is whether this development is due to intelligent international policies, or whether in fact it stems from economic development in many of these countries ‑ development which at times took place not due to, but in spite of, prudent policies. In any case, the questions asked and recommendations made in the past sound equally relevant today. But don’t worry, I’m not here to lament missed opportunities. Rather, we are here to jointly uncover the treasure-trove of accurate analyses and visionary proposals that the women and men of the Brandt Commission jointly compiled and provided us with.

As it happens, Willy Brandt himself realised that the Commission’s work would have to be dusted off again in the future. To quote his prediction from 1980, “everything written in our report will one day be taken back out of the drawer that it is stored in”, clearly, he knew the international community well. I would thus like to invite you to join me in reopening the drawer, looking in and putting the ideas and proposals to use in addressing the challenges of our time.

That is in fact quite literally what we did at the Federal Foreign Office – we sought out an old copy of the concluding report. Doing so, we learnt that, in Germany at least, it is only possible to obtain second-hand copies of the report. One of the first commitments I am making here today is thus to ensure that a new edition will be printed following this conference, perhaps with additional comments. In an age of internet and email, intelligent content should not be confined to second-hand bookshops.

Ladies and gentlemen, even a glance at the title of the first 1971 concluding report – ensuring survival – the mutual interests of industry and developing countries ‑ is enough to make you prick up your ears. As is often the case, the crucial part is the sub-heading; the Brandt Commission called for no less than a paradigm shift towards mutual interests and a world order based on shared responsibility. That may seem somewhat strange today, yet we live at a time when it feels, at least, as if clashes of interest are on the rise once again.

Personally, I fear that at the moment a world view we thought we had overcome is once again taking hold. A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an article that came from Donald Trump’s security advisors. The article noted that it is always said that in the world, treaties and agreements had to be concluded in order for political cooperation to take place on a basis of secure treaties.

The authors considered this to be a false perception. According to them, the world is in fact an amphitheatre, an arena, in which everyone is fighting and seeking alliances – with different counterparts at different times. Behind this lies the view that the force of the law is outweighed by the law of force. There are some politicians, including here in Europe, who go even further and say that only he who shows himself to be stronger has the right to assert himself. In Europe, at the beginning of the last century we had the disastrous, social-Darwinist tradition of linking nations’ right to survival to their ability to assert themselves through war. We thought that we had overcome this terrible notion and yet it is emerging in international politics once again. It embodies the opposite of everything that the members of the Brandt Commission envisioned 40 years ago and, in fact, the opposite of everything the United Nations is working towards today. I believe that, all individual matters aside, it is important to stand in the way of this ideology of Social Darwinism that is taking hold in global politics and to say: this is not how we view things, we continue to believe that the force of the law outweighs the rule of force in international politics.

Naturally, the world looked different 40 years ago, however in the eyes of those who experienced that era, it looked no less troubled than the world of today. Nevertheless, the Brandt Commission had the courage to call for a truly global balance of interests in a world all-too divided between East and West, North and South. The Commission called for what we now call global governance, be it in the United Nations, G20, in climate negotiations or multinational disarmament regimes. The logic guiding the Commission at the time remains correct today, perhaps even more so. In the words of Willy Brandt “the globalisation of fears and demands, of war and chaos, of self-destruction, requires a form of international public policy which reaches beyond the horizon of church towers and national borders”. But let’s be honest: particularly we in the so-called North, have not taken the concept of shared responsibility for a global governance seriously enough, despite the fact that a form of turbo-charged globalisation has been taking place since the end of the Cold War.

I would like to make one thing clear: we have benefitted from this globalisation, we in the North, and others in the South, too, although in truth not all. And we in the North have set nearly all the rules. That is exactly what we are paying the price for today, for the perception of globalisation changed some time ago; here in Europe and in the United States at least. But we only really realised that when the Brexit referendum in Europe and the election of Donald Trump gave a voice to those who said: “things are not going to continue as they have so far”.

In other parts of the world, globalisation is still associated with promise. But sadly, the reality is often different, because for many, the dream of prosperity and mobility remains just that, a dream. And more often, it becomes a nightmare. The hope of participation in the global economy cannot be allowed to end – a thousand times over – in a refugee camp somewhere such as on the Libyan coast. If you go to such a refugee camp, then you will literally witness how hope of participation turns into frustration and resignation, and indeed you will see a breeding-ground for violence and the willingness to at least seek happiness in the Beyond, given the impossibility of achieving it in this world.

That makes it clear that the manner in which participation is currently organised will not work in the long run. To use the words of the Brandt Commission: this model is not fit for the future, neither for the North, nor for the South. So, if we take a critical look in the mirror, the question that arises is: given all of this, where are we at in terms of our commitment to common interest, to our shared responsibility? Of course, the international community has made significant progress over the past 40 years, just think of the United Nations 2030 Agenda or the Paris climate accord, which for a long time we thought would be impossible to achieve. This progress must be consolidated, brought to life and, unfortunately, defended against those who challenge it due to short-sighted national interests.

But although the recommendations of the Brandt Commission were ahead of its time in light of the ongoing East-West confrontation and neoliberal shifts of its era, we still face the huge challenge of making the world a truly fairer place. For only if we manage to do this will we make it a safer and better place for the generations of our children and grandchildren to live in in the long run. A commitment to global justice is thus the key to peaceful coexistence in the 21st century. I believe that this must become an African century, in which we no longer view our African neighbours as remote participants in globalisation but rather see them as what they are, namely our direct neighbours, with whom we need to co-operate on an equal footing, rather than looking down on the continent as a hub of crises and provider of oil and gas.

We thus need the political courage to act in a manner that corresponds to our long-term interests; even when such policies may only be seen to bear fruit later on. A commitment to global justice naturally also entails a moral responsibility, for instance in taking the Charter of the United Nations or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights seriously. However, this is not only about morals; it is about our own interests. That is something the Brandt Commission recognised, hence the sub-heading speaks of the “mutual interests” and not “mutual morals”, that we find around the world.

Allow me to demonstrate why the fight for global justice must be a priority for us all, in service of our own best interests, through three examples.

Firstly, if we don’t manage to ensure sufficient justice and participation in prosperity and security for our societies, then we risk losing our citizens’ trust in our democratic system and values. That would give the populists who have long offered their apparently simple solutions an easy ride.

The second example relates to Africa: we are feeling the injustice of the utterly hopeless situation of many people, above all young people, directly, in the form of flight and migration. And this lays the foundations for instability, insecurity and violence. The best migration policy is thus one focused on justice rather than constructing detention centres. The Brandt Commission already had this in mind, and since then we have certainly made progress, for the map of poverty in the world has changed for the better – just think of the rapid rise of Asia in recent years. However, we are still far from global justice. Rather, poverty is not a temporary situation of need but a bitter and permanent state for too many of the world’s people, including, but not only, in Africa.

Thirdly, if rising powers such as India and China are calling, on good grounds, for more participation in the institutions of international organisations, then these states are seeking fair and just involvement in making decisions that will shape our future. I can fully understand that for as it currently stands the world order, including in the United Nations, reflects the second half of the past century rather than the present or future of the 21st century. Yet anyone who calls for participation must be aware of the responsibility that it entails, and must actively assume it, for example through financial support for the United Nations. It’s a disgrace that the United Nations only has an unbelievably low percentage of basic funding, and that the Secretary General and his team must travel the world with a collections box to raise the absolute minimum needed to combat hunger, thirst and numerous other natural disasters. In the next few years we must at least manage to introduce a better and institutionalised funding system for the United Nations.

And finally, to respond to protectionism and scepticism towards globalisation, we must act to promote fairer global trade and a better regulatory framework for globalisation. My first priority – for as long as we are incapable of reaching fully global consensus within the WTO – is to conclude fairer trade agreements that acknowledge and tackle the dark side of globalisation that US Nobel laureate, the economist Joseph Stiglitz, warned us of 15 years ago. And by the way, when everyone is constantly calculating the economic progress to be achieved through free trade agreements – and this is a popular endeavour in Germany; entire universities are busy calculating national economic values to the last decimal point – then why do we find it so hard to develop an instrument to pass on part of the profits of this free trade to those who live in poverty that prevents them from participating in it? We should first and foremost put them in a position to take part in the progress achieved through international trade; I at any rate think that belongs on the agenda for international trade policy.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t want to pre-empt the talks of this conference. But allow me, if you will, to conclude with a few thoughts that build on the recommendations of the Brandt Commission and that I think we should adopt as a matter of urgency if we really are serious about making the world a fairer place.

The report issued by Willy Brandt’s commission contains a remarkable calculation: the military spending of only half a day would have been enough to fund the World Health Organization’s entire malaria campaign at the time. That really makes you think. I suspect that nowadays one wouldn’t even need half a day’s expenditure. I didn’t check the figures for current defence spending but I’m sure that it would be possible to fund much more than health programmes with the money we currently spend on the military and weapons.

Our country is currently in the midst of a debate in which simple figures for the defence budget are being tossed around with no connection made with the aims of defence policy. Donald Trump and many others in this country want us to spend 70 billion euros on defence, something which would lead to a doubling of the defence budget in Germany. Our entire budget only totals 300 billion and even France – a nuclear power at that – spends “only” 40 billion on arms.

Every German soldier we meet who has returned from a military posting abroad tells us: “Yes, sometimes we do need soldiers to fight terror and conflicts. But,” ‑ this is what soldiers tell us – “don’t you believe for a second that peace and stability can be secured through military means”. What we need far more is more money to combat hunger, poverty and underdevelopment, as well as to advance education and research.

My proposal is thus that for every euro that Germany spends on arms, at least 1.5 euros must be invested in crisis prevention, stabilisation and economic cooperation. But at the moment the plans are moving in the opposite direction, even though we have long known that stability and development can offer people far more prospects than military expenditure.

Ladies and gentlemen, there’s another reason why we urgently need to recast international debate about global governance in the fields of defence spending and policy. What we are currently seeing in North Korea shows us what a dangerous world we could find ourselves living in in a few years if individual states start to equip themselves with nuclear capabilities. If North Korea manages to do this, it will have consequences on South Korea, Japan, and all of Southeast Asia. And once that occurs, other parts of the world will start to wonder whether procuring nuclear weapons wouldn’t be a good means of safeguarding and defending their own governments. Then we would certainly live in a more dangerous world than that of the time when East and West stood as two blocks.

And I believe that the idea anchored in the strategies of international politics to date, that we need a balance of terror, only really reflects the situation of the latter half of the 20th century and not that of the threats we face in the first half of the 21st century. And if the two sides, Russia and NATO, set a good example and put arms control and nuclear disarmament back on the agenda, rather than the opposite, then we would perhaps have set stronger forces in motion to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in many countries of the world, which could lead us into a very insecure world and as it happens far greater spending, meaning we could invest that money in the areas where it would be of better use.

That is why, ladies and gentlemen, we can but call on those in positions of responsibility in NATO, Moscow, Washington and on ourselves, to refrain from simply giving up on existing arms control treaties, but to return to the idea of arms control, of disarmament and to contribute to efforts to prevent agreements that we have concluded, such as with Iran, from coming under renewed threat. We must help revert the trend and move back to global disarmament.

Ladies and gentlemen, the words of Willy Brandt offer an excellent conclusion to a speech about the Commission’s report. He writes, and I quote: “Shaping our shared future is too great a task to be left to governments and experts alone”. When he wrote this, he directed his call above all to young people, to get involved and to speak up. That is his call to the next generation; and it is a call that still applies today.

I am thus particularly pleased that at this conference we are welcoming a host of young people from all over the world. I look forward to talking to you and above all to the proposals that we shall formulate today. There are good reasons not to leave the reports of the Brandt Commission or the Brundtland Commission to antique book stores, but to see them as a mission to once again dedicate all our efforts to the topics they address.

Thank you very much for listening.

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