Interview with Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in “Bild am Sonntag” (5 November 2017). Topics: the United States, Russia, North Korea, disarmament and arms control, as well as Europe
Mr Gabriel, how does it feel to be here in Goslar, and not in Washington?
It feels good. I’ve always enjoyed coming home. The Pope in Rome has a large world map on display, and at its centre is the most important city in the world – Jerusalem. Right to the left of that, the map features Goslar. Neither Washington nor Berlin are marked. I’ll admit, the map is 1000 years old. But, here in Goslar, we’re as proud of our Imperial City as if it were yesterday.
How would you describe the situation in the world today?
Our liberal, Western order is in grave danger. The United States, who in the past were the guarantor of this liberal order, is giving up this role. This means that freedom, democracy and human rights are even more threatened than they were before.
Next week marks one year since Donald Trump was elected United States President. Was the past year with Trump as president worse or better than expected?
The shocking thing about Trump is that he wants to replace the strength of the law with the law of the strong. In his mind, the world is not a place in which you try to coexist peacefully and safely. To him, the world is an arena where people fight things out, where only the strong will prevail. That is the opposite of the liberal world order, which the US and the West worked hard to uphold for the past 70 years.
Is world peace under threat?
Yes, of course. A new phase of global rearmament seems to be imminent. This is because, today, all sides distrust one another. In Europe, and also in Germany, we are on the verge of losing everything that was achieved through the successful arms control and disarmament efforts of the 1980s and 90s. It is unfortunately more than likely that new nuclear intermediate‑range ballistic missiles will be stationed in the heart Europe. It is up to us Germans to finally lead a new initiative on disarmament. Germany must be a force for peace, and not simply pursue the armament plans Trump has made – which unfortunately is what Angela Merkel intends to do. I’ll be interested to see what the Greens and the FDP have to say about these plans.
What worries you the most?
The completely ruined relationship between the United States and Russia is the greatest threat to world peace. If North Korea manages to acquire nuclear weapons, many others will follow suit. Only a concerted effort by the United States and Russia can prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. If the relationship between Washington and Moscow does not improve, our children will grow up in a dangerous, disorderly world replete with nuclear weapons. What is more, Trump is increasing military spending and cutting funding for development cooperation. He’s thereby producing millions of new refugees.
Do you think Trump is mentally fit?
That is an absurd question. The United States president is a focused and calculating politician. He sensed that most Americans felt they’d been left behind, and that they no longer believed what politicians told them. He then put himself at the forefront of the anti‑establishment movement. These people continue to staunchly support him. I wouldn’t bet that Trump will not remain president for eight years.
Why did so many Americans vote for him?
His Secretary of State once told me that last year’s election was a can-you-hear-me-now election. In Germany, we just had our own can-you-hear-me-now election.
There’s another similarity. With President Trump, America is governed by an unabashed sexist. In Germany, the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) believes that a debate on sexism is entirely unnecessary.
There’s clearly a need for a debate on sexism. For years now, this topic has been coming up again and again, for compelling reasons. Most of the time, small and large instances of harassment do not happen in public. What many women face at work or during their free time is the daily reality of sexism. When women resist, the mainly male response of those who’ve seen or heard such things happen is to say, “come on, get over it” or “don’t make such a fuss”. In addition to full investigation of the cases that are now in the public spotlight, what we need is to put an end to tolerance of everyday sexism.
Soon, your successor who assumes office as part of the three‑way “Jamaica” coalition will have to tackle the global issues. What advice do you have for him or her?
I am worried about a great lack of inspiration when it comes to Europe. Angela Merkel has no ideas for moving Europe forward. On the contrary, she’s failing to take up the proposals of French President Macron for closer cooperation. The FDP’s policies are fully focused on the national economy, similar to what the AfD called for in its early days. If the Federal Ministry of Finance portfolio were to go to the FDP, this would deepen the division of Europe. And the Greens are too weak to stop this from happening.
Interview conducted by Angelika Hellemann and Roman Eichinger