“We have to make sure North Korea’s tactics don’t inspire copycats”

13.09.2017 - Interview

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel talks to the Nordwest-Zeitung newspaper about Bundeswehr deployments abroad, the situation facing the displaced in Libya, nuclear conflict with North Korea and the Germans being detained in Turkey (interview published on 13 September 2017).


Mr Gabriel, is the Bundeswehr able to fulfil its duties on deployments abroad?

The Bundeswehr is having some issues with equipment and supplies. We should therefore get the Bundeswehr better equipped quickly so that it can live up to its responsibilities on its deployments abroad. But that’s only part of the story. We Europeans, not just us Germans, also need to do more on the civilian side in crisis-hit countries. That’s where we in the Social Democratic Party disagree with the CDU: they, unlike us, want to double the armaments budget. We think that’s the wrong thing to do, since we are not going to solve these crises by military means alone. In Europe, we spend half as much on defence as the United States. But the trouble is that our spending is considerably less effective because we still collaborate too little with one another on military matters. It is wrong to think that ever more defence expenditure will mean ever greater security. So we do need a better-equipped Bundeswehr, which means we need to spend more – but equipment provision is not the same as rearmament.

What can be done to improve the situation facing displaced persons in Libya?

The first question that needs answering is, “Who will provide security?” Libya is a country where state structures are insufficient. The displaced-persons camps are controlled in part by criminal gangs. We Europeans therefore have to act together and do what we can so that the legitimate government is strengthened and lasting peace is established in Libya. This is a prerequisite for greater security, which will in turn better enable us and the United Nations to do more for these people on the ground. But we mustn’t give in to the illusion that the military alone could pacify the situation.

What danger does North Korea represent?

We have to make sure North Korea’s tactics don’t inspire copycats. If what North Korea is doing brings it success, the danger is that others may follow and neighbouring countries will acquire nuclear weapons. Then, as I see it, there will a major risk of yet more countries wanting to acquire nuclear weapons, including African states. That would lead us straight into an arms race and make the world an even more dangerous place.

What can be done, in your opinion, to calm the conflict with North Korea?

We can look for new ways to work together with Russia and China. There are only three countries that can effectively prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and they are Russia, China and the United States. I therefore advocate breathing new life into détente efforts. We are approaching a new window of opportunity just now, and we should use it. At the moment, the lack of trust between East and West is causing us to lay waste to the arms-control bodies that cost so much laborious but successful effort to develop during the 1980s. Germany has to be an advocate for peace in that debate, not double our defence spending. That is Germany’s role. I don’t even know where that money would be supposed to come from. Surely it would be a better thing to double education spending.

What can you do for the Germans being held in Turkey?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using Germany as an external enemy, to obscure his internal contradictions. That’s a game you can’t play along with. For a long time, the German Government responded in a level-headed and very restrained manner to his provocations. But with Germans being unjustly detained in Turkey and with the Turkish Government putting 680 German companies on a terrorism black list, we had to do something. We have cut our economic assistance and issued clear advice about the risks involved in investing in Turkey. Ankara reacted to that pretty quickly. Germany’s private sector also objected to Turkey’s actions. That economic pressure has had an effect.

Interview conducted by Hans Begerow

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