“Security for the freedom of our lives”

18.03.2022 - Speech

Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the event to launch the development of a National Security Strategy.

The distance from Berlin to Kyiv, or to beyond the Ukrainian border, is about the same as from Flensburg to Freiburg. A ten-hour drive.

A ten-hour drive that would normally be entirely ordinary. And now it is a ten-hour drive that separates us from peace and war. I doubt that any of us could ever have imagined this. We are witnessing a brutal war of aggression a ten-hour drive from here, in the heart of Europe. Real, close, terrible.

When we included the presentation of a national security strategy in our coalition agreement, I expect that barely any of us here in this room – and indeed anywhere in the world – could have imagined what is now happening: the Russian President is attacking his neighbour, he is breaking with our peaceful order in Europe, and he is breaking with the Charter of the United Nations.

Today, our children ask us over breakfast, over lunch, over dinner, whether the war will come to us here in Germany, what nuclear weapons are. All across the country, people are taking to the streets, protesting for peace and freedom and security.

And we are experiencing a longing that we have probably not felt for a long time, that my generation has perhaps never really felt: a longing for security. It is a deeply human longing – reflecting perhaps a need to secure, to affirm or assure, what we all jointly stand for: security for the freedom of our lives.

And that is what our National Security Strategy is about. Security for the freedom of our lives. This security is made up of three crucial elements that cannot be separated from one another.

Firstly, security means the invulnerability of our lives. Protection from war and violence, from acute, specific threats.

Secondly, security means protecting the freedom of our lives. Including things that we may never really have thought about before. The freedom of our lives – what does it actually mean, to live in freedom? We are seeing this again at the moment in Ukraine: in the courage of the men and women defending their country. In their resolve, we see what these people are defending, perhaps even with their lives: democracy and their right to decide their own path and to live in freedom.

The third element is security for the fundamental necessities of our lives. Security does not exist where war obliterates livelihoods – as we are seeing now in terrible scenes in the cities under siege. Nor does the basis for a secure life exist – and we know this, we can see it worldwide – where the effects of climate change, where hunger, poverty and a lack of prosperity force people into conflict and suffering.

Security for our lives. Our peace and our freedom in a democratic Europe. That is what our National Security Strategy is dedicated to.

And we must not think of security from the perspective of the past, but from the perspective of the future. In doing so, we want to be – despite all of the horrors that we are currently witnessing – self-assured, but also self-aware and, when necessary, self-critical.

We want to shape a broad and participative process together with the different Ministries that form the Federal Government, with you, dear colleagues from the German Bundestag, across all parliamentary groups, and with many national and international partners.

We are also doing this because security policy is more than military plus diplomacy. If investments in infrastructure, if trade policy form part of our security, then this means that decisions on security are taken not just in the Federal Foreign Office or the Defence Ministry, but also in businesses, in municipalities and in universities.

For me, this is a participative process for the development of our strategy, but also the essence of what foreign policy means for me and the Federal Foreign Office together. Not just that we have dialogue between capitals, between ministers, but also between people. Because it is a question of human security. It is a question of the freedom of every individual – here where we are and worldwide.

This also means not just bringing people together, building bridges, but also – because this is real life – thinking outside the box, being pragmatic and not simply slaving away over legal clauses. And for me, for us, it means a willingness to hear the concerns and difficulties of others, and to listen to the views of others, to clearly name dilemmas rather than passing over them, and a willingness to try and see things from the other’s point of view, even when we do not share their position in the slightest.

For our security strategy, in light of Russia’s colossal break with our peaceful order, this means we must ensure that the principles that guide us are translated even more clearly into practical policy.

The crucial considerations, in my view, are:

• a clear stance

• a strengthened capability to act

• and enhanced foreign and security policy instruments

Regarding our stance – Russia’s aggressive course of action makes it clear to us that, in matters of war and peace, in matters of justice and injustice, no country, including Germany, can be neutral. Much has been written in recent weeks about our country’s history and our German responsibility. I want to say very clearly that, yes, for us, for me, our history, Germany’s culpability for war and genocide, do indeed give rise to a special responsibility: the obligation to stand by those whose life, whose freedom and whose rights are threatened.

I would therefore like to cite Desmond Tutu once again: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

This is true of our approach to Russia. But it is also true of our approach to other autocratic, dictatorial regimes that call freedom and democracy and security into question, that break our international rules.

And I believe that – even at this so terribly difficult time, when we are taking decisions within just a few short hours – we must continually reflect and stay alert to ensure that we are not repeating the old mistakes of the past: believing that there are good and bad dictators. No, we must stand up for our values and our position worldwide. That is, we must of course also talk to authoritarian regimes – and there are many people in this room who have been doing just that for years and decades. We must talk to those who do not share our position in the slightest. Talking is the essence of diplomacy. What is crucial is that nobody is able to condemn us to silence, that we do not swallow things because we are dependent in terms of our economy or our energy supply, for example. That we take a stance, even when it is challenging, even, as now, on issues such as oil and other embargoes. That we take a stance for security for the freedom of our lives.

In order to do this, we must be capable of action – and that is my second point. Our strength lies in our international unity. It is with this unity that we are countering Putin’s aggression together. The EU acted resolutely – despite the fact that we fight like cats and dogs on many other issues – and jointly imposed the most severe sanctions. The same has happened within the G7, within NATO and together with many, many other countries worldwide.

Because Russia’s attack on Ukraine marks a geopolitical watershed with far-reaching effects on European security. The European Union is currently drawing up its most detailed security policy strategy to date. It was our country, Germany, that initiated this process some time ago. And this Strategic Compass that is now on the table, and will of course be further amended, must and will take account of the new realities on our continent.

At the same time – and this too will be firmly embedded in the Strategic Compass – this war shows once again that Europe’s security depends on NATO’s collective defence. The Strategic Compass will therefore serve to align the EU’s security and defence policy so as to complement NATO policy, thus strengthening and enhancing the European pillar of the transatlantic alliance. In this connection, we must also work to strengthen the European defence industry. Not simply in order to do “more”, to spend more money, but to be more effective. The EU alone has six times more arms systems in use than the US. We must move away from this fragmentation.

In terms of security policy, “more EU” does not mean “less in the transatlantic alliance”. Putin’s war of aggression makes it clear to us that we must expand our conception of collective defence. And our allies – this has been very evident – expect us, as the largest European economy, to show leadership in this process.

NATO will draw up a new Strategic Concept by this summer. It will be approved by the Heads of State and Government in Madrid at the end of June. And we know today, and we are discussing this right now, that the “tripwire” logic applied to date, with minimal presences in the Baltic states and Poland to signal that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all, will no longer suffice in its current form.

We must therefore turn the reinforcements that we have put in place in recent weeks into part of our long-term approach. Our military exercises must reflect the new realities. And we must take account of the fact that the whole eastern area of NATO faces a new threat, that we must therefore establish new NATO presences in the countries of south-eastern Europe. Germany will make a substantial contribution to this in Slovakia.

And something else the war has shown us is that NATO’s nuclear deterrence must remain credible. This is why the Federal Government has now decided to procure F-35s. Nevertheless, our goal remains a world free of nuclear weapons. We want to discuss this goal with our partners – within the scope of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And also as an observer with the parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

I would like us to hold an honest debate on how we can create the conditions necessary for steps towards disarmament. This cannot be done by making unilateral demands of our western partners within the Alliance. Genuine progress towards disarmament can only be achieved when all nuclear weapon states take credible steps. And we also know – this is what makes the current situation so terrible – that Putin is now doing precisely the opposite, is threatening to use nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, we stand on the side of international law. That is a position of strength. And so it is clear to us, and this will be embedded in our National Security Strategy, that disarmament and arms control remain an essential component of our security. We must understand disarmament and arms control as being complementary to deterrence and defence.

That means robustness within the Alliance. Something that is crucial for our ability to act. In my view, robustness includes both the necessary means and the willingness to defend oneself. And I am aware that, for many people in Germany – for many people here in this room, and I would certainly not exclude myself from that – this concept has historically been approached with reticence. But I firmly believe that our robustness is crucial for our security. Our security for a life in freedom.

With the special fund for our defensive capabilities, we have therefore taken an important step towards modernising and fully equipping our armed forces more rapidly, as well as – and this is important – strengthening our joint ability to uphold the Alliance. Because it is important for us to define robustness in keeping with the times. And not with the previous century. This means that issues such as cyber technology as well as stabilisation assistance have a crucial role to play.

We must develop a concept of security for the future. Otherwise we would have no need to draw up a new security strategy. And so our National Security Strategy will tackle key strategic areas for improvement that we have not yet discussed in sufficient depth in the political sphere or perhaps within Europe.

We can see now – the strategic questions of the past were always: Do we defend our security far away in the Hindu Kush or other places? Or do we defend our security right here on our doorstep? We are living in an interconnected world. It is not a question of either/or. Far away or right here. Instead, we defend our security both here on our doorstep, ten hours’ drive from here, and in the interconnected world.

And we can see here, in our countries, and have seen in recent years, that in a digitalised world the line between internal and external threats is utterly blurred. We have dividing lines here, too, in our constitution. We must quite candidly ask ourselves, and I believe that nobody here already has the sole answer: How do we deal with these old dividing lines in the future?

We can see with Belt and Road, too, that investments in infrastructure in particular are a security issue. We have defined a European sovereignty where we make it very clear: cooperation wherever possible and independence wherever necessary. But it is only possible to act independently when one is not completely dependent on others. And we are seeing this not just here in Europe. We are seeing it worldwide. In Africa and not least in the Indo-Pacific – when we look at the countries where China has invested heavily in the energy supply. We can also see that this raises clear questions of sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law. And so in the coming months we will draw up not only a new security strategy, but also a new China strategy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our capability to act rests on the strength of our alliances, on our robustness. But the capability to act also comes from being neither dependent nor susceptible to blackmail in one’s economic and energy relations. The war has thrown this, too, into sharp relief.

Plenty of us here in this room have emphasised time and again in recent years that energy supply is a security issue, too. Exactly eight years ago, Russia annexed Crimea in a breach of international law. And in fact we already knew then, eight years ago, plenty of what we are discussing again now. After all, it was not for no reason – and there are Members of the European Parliament with us here today – that Europe discussed back then: How does that work, exactly, with the Gas Directive? What does unbundling mean? What does energy efficiency mean, and the interplay of energy, climate and economic issues? This debate took place in a whole range of think tanks – some of whose members are with us today, too.

And the tragedy of the matter is that, really, we knew, but then it sort of faded away. It serves no purpose now to go over who knew and said what in the past. That ship has sailed. What matters now is to finally do things right. And that is why it is so important that the Federal Economics Ministry and Energy Ministry are doing everything possible, working flat out, to eliminate our dependence on fossil energy imports. From Russia in particular – but without slipping into a new dependence on other countries, ensuring instead that we have a sovereignty of our own when it comes to energy. Knowing that we must always import green energy, too.

It is clear that we must move away from fossil fuels and more swiftly towards renewable and efficient energies. This represents not just an investment in clean energy, but an investment in our security and thus in our freedom.

And that brings us to the security issue of our time: the climate crisis. It is not a competition between this crisis and the challenge of war and peace. But rather, there is an interplay. That is, of course, the utterly colossal challenge. We will only have the necessary basis for security for our lives when we bring the climate crisis under control. And I am very deliberately saying “bring under control” and not “stop”. We can no longer stop global warming. The planet has already heated up by over one degree. And so it is not merely a question of “mitigation”. Instead, the demands of security policy mean that – and this is what Jennifer Morgan and many others here in the Federal Foreign Office will be initiating, together with other ministries – we must also focus on adaptation and “Loss and Damage”, so that we can guide the most vulnerable states securely into the future, in light of this global warming.

Because we can see that the climate crisis is further undermining security especially in vulnerable states. We can see that around the world. We can see it in particular in the Sahel, where extreme weather events, food insecurity and migration are exacerbating crises between states. And it is no coincidence that jihadists and organised crime are exploiting this fragility as a way to gain the power that they seek, to give free rein to their hatred of their fellow humans, thus jeopardising not just local security but also our security here in Europe. This is why climate diplomacy forms an integral part of our security strategy. Every tonne less of carbon dioxide, every tenth of a degree less in terms of global warming, will contribute to human security.

This means that we must rigorously address our economic dependencies. For a long time, we held to the principle of the more economic ties, the better. We are now seeing that one-sided economic alignments in fact make us vulnerable. Not just with regard to Russia. Therefore, when we talk about connectivity, when we talk about dependence, we must above all take account of the fact that things are linked together. It is not the case that we have trade policy over here and infrastructure policy over there. And then foreign and security policy behind them. No, it is all connected.

Because vulnerability in the twenty-first century can also consist in authoritarian states investing billions of euro in European motorways, roads, power grids and ports. We are therefore working together to strengthen our foreign trade and investment instruments, in the security strategy and within this Federal Government. And that is the essence of values-led foreign policy. Values-led foreign policy means simultaneously defending both values and interests – including economic interests. Because the two are so closely linked.

And that brings me to my third point: our foreign and security policy instruments. Because security is not just a question of defence. There are other points aside from the military. If we want to assert ourselves globally in the power struggle of the twenty-first century, then we must update all of our instruments in keeping with the times – in military, political, analogue, digital, technological terms. We must have a comprehensive understanding of security, without becoming utterly unfocused.

I am deeply convinced that Germany’s wide-ranging commitment in the world in recent years and decades – in diplomacy, crisis prevention, cultural relations policy, sport, educational work, cooperation on development assistance – makes a crucial contribution to our security. Because we are seen, Germany is seen. Seen precisely in all of this diversity.

That has been clear in recent days. That we were able to persuade other countries who were not quite sure how to position themselves to take a clear stance, not just by saying that our peaceful European order is at stake, international law is at stake. But also because we enjoy a certain trust rooted in years of diplomacy, good relations, and in listening, and in our capacity for self-criticism. Not everywhere, but in many places around the world. That is one result of Germany’s comprehensive, multilateral foreign policy.

I believe that we are all grateful for this, as am I personally as the new Federal Foreign Minister. But we also have a duty not to forget this now, but to continue enhancing and expanding our efforts in the future. Diplomacy, cultural work, education, sport, crisis mediation – a long-term, wide-ranging commitment, where success is not visible overnight – this, too, is an investment in all of our security.

Because our responses to crises must be just as complex as the crises themselves. When there are large-scale gaps in supply, as now, for example, and this will be serious, because Ukraine can no longer deliver grain and many other things to countries in Africa as well as elsewhere, and when people are at even greater risk of starvation as a result, this increases the danger of new conflicts, and also of false narratives.

We must therefore bring to bear a wide-ranging set of instruments in this acute situation and in our National Security Strategy. That includes diplomacy, peace-building, stabilisation, economic cooperation and financial and material support for countries and international organisations.

But here, too, “more and more” does not automatically mean “better and better”. Here, too, we must candidly ask ourselves how effective our tools are and what they contribute to stabilising the regions in question and to our own security. And I believe we can all say that a scattergun approach is certainly not the most efficient method. When a new Minister does not yet know what exactly other ministries are supporting in a given country, then that is unfortunately, it seems, no coincidence, but shows how much more closely we must coordinate our cooperation in the spheres of foreign, economic, energy and development policy with one another.

This is the approach that we set out in our coalition agreement as a coherent approach to foreign policy. And this, too, will be at the heart of our security strategy: coordinating our financing with one another and not launching it in opposition to one another.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Complex issues require complex responses. And I indicated earlier that the greatest challenge will no doubt be in cyberspace. Because we can see that cyber technology is a key part of modern warfare. We are also seeing that conventional warfare is being used when we had to some extent considered it obsolete. But the major challenge is that cyber warfare is joined by hybrid warfare.

And we are only beginning to gain an idea of the spillover effects that this can have. This includes hacktivists, who, as we are currently seeing, have the potential to add fuel to the fire. And in these cases it’s impossible to say who the real perpetrator is. What might previously have been an attack on a gas pipeline with a bomb or rocket is now a cyber-attack on hospitals. And, if it is particularly complex, in six different places across our sixteen Länder. Who does it fall to, in that case, to respond? The Bundeswehr, the Federal Criminal Police Office or the six different Länder – because we have no idea whether we are dealing with a coincidence or an attack?

These threats show that not only do we need strong cyber defence capabilities, but part of our work on the National Security Strategy will have to address the distribution of responsibilities between the Bundeswehr and national security authorities, between the Federal Government and the Länder.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Putin’s illegal war confronts us with a new reality in terms of security policy. But I believe it is also important to recognise that not everything is suddenly new and different. Instead, we must focus our attention on what is genuinely new. And also on what we have done well and what we must continue. It is clear that our soldiers will no longer automatically be deployed thousands of kilometres away from Flensburg or Freiburg. But those deployments, too, remain important. And it is in this spirit that we will now redefine our security policy.

I believe – particularly, as I said in the beginning, because it is such a major challenge – that we can tackle this process confidently together. Because we have given a resolute response to Putin’s war together with our partners and fellow liberal democracies. With partners who share our values and stand by them as we do. Not merely the West, but an alliance of liberal democracies worldwide. Who stand by international law, by democracy and by a rules-based international order.

And if we want to prove that the liberal idea is stronger than any authoritarian regime, then we must translate our principles even more effectively into practical policy. With a clear stance, with resolute action and with instruments that are agile, effective and in keeping with the times.

We will take a level-headed and pragmatic approach. Not with black-and-white categories, but with the courage to weigh competing factors and engage in debate. And with a clear moral compass in our hand. For security for the freedom of our lives. For our peace and the future of our children in a shared, democratic Europe.

Thank you very much.


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