Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the 55th Munich Security Conference on 15 February 2019

15.02.2019 - Speech

This year’s report for the Security Conference describes a world that is breaking up into pieces. Let’s be honest, simply picking up these pieces definitely won’t be enough here. We need to look at the big picture in a new way in order to put the pieces back together again and to see how things can be rearranged or shifted, given everything that is changing around us. Above all, we need patience and perseverance – and we need them to a far greater extent than before. There’s probably no better time than now and no better place than the Munich Security Conference to get a handle on this big picture.

To my mind, three points are of particularly great importance here.
Firstly, we Germans – and I say this specifically to our many guests and friends from the US – know how important a strong transatlantic partnership is for security, stability and the continued existence of the international order. We will continue to do our part to ensure that this partnership is a success. We can have no interest in a transatlantic rift or a division of the West – no one can. On the contrary, we are working intensively to promote much closer cooperation in all policy fields – from security, trade and digital affairs to climate protection and the environment.

Secondly, especially in a more uncertain world, one that is susceptible to nationalism and populism, we are committed to international cooperation and multilateral understanding – not, however, for the sake of any postnational fantasies, but because this is in line with clear foreign-policy, strategic and economic interests and necessities.

Thirdly, we want to be able to hold our own in the world of tomorrow – in a world in which geopolitical conditions are likely to become more uncomfortable, in a world dominated by new rivalries between established and emerging powers. To this end, we are focusing on one thing in particular – a strong Europe that is able to act. Germany and its European partners – and I expressly wish to include the UK in this –need Europe as a strong actor, and not as an object of global politics. The success and continued development of the European project is and remains our core national interest. This is and remains part of our national ethos.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The past 70 years have shown on both sides of the Atlantic how important strong alliances are. This is what the transatlantic alliance stands for. It derives its strength from this fundamental belief: “Never alone. Partners can be relied upon.”

The Federal Republic of Germany was always able to rely on its partners, and first and foremost on the US, even when the Cold War was at its hottest. And Germany was always, and continues to be, a partner to be relied upon.

We are doing our part, for instance in the Baltic region, and we are now leading the NATO High Readiness Force.
We are also contributing German forces to international missions in the Balkans, Iraq, Lebanon and Mali.
We are in the process – following years of consolidation – of bringing the Bundeswehr back up to speed again.

But allow me to say quite candidly that we do not believe that security can be measured by a growing defence budget alone. There may well be different views on that.

Lasting security can only be created if we dovetail civilian and military resources, strengthen conflict prevention, consolidate humanitarian assistance, stabilisation and development cooperation instead of calling them into question, strengthen cooperative approaches to arms control and put disarmament back on the agenda in the first place. We must create trust and overcome fears in order to achieve this. The 1990s showed that such developments are possible.

However, things are currently heading in a different direction. Violations of treaties fuel mistrust. Russia’s current behaviour with respect to the INF Treaty shows the negative impacts this can have for the security of everyone involved – but especially for us in Europe.

We need greater dialogue between Americans, Europeans and Russians, particularly in view of the crisis surrounding the preservation of the INF Treaty.

However, we must also involve other actors – first and foremost China – to a greater extent in the discussion pertaining to arms control. Indeed, the INF crisis shows that we must take a more global approach than ever before to nuclear disarmament and arms control. Germany will inject impetus into this in April when it chairs the United Nations Security Council.

And we must work together to ensure that the technological development of new types of weapons does not undermine the entire security architecture as we know it. That is why an international conference will take place in Berlin very soon, on 15 March, with the aim of launching a dialogue on how arms control can safeguard stability in the 21st century too.

The Federal Government and I are aware of the fact that this commitment to cooperative security, disarmament and arms control is unlikely to yield any quick wins.
However, given the current state of the world, one cannot allow oneself to be discouraged by this. The international arms-control architecture is far too important here. We cannot afford to squander in the space of just a few years what took many decades to achieve. This is also a key task facing the transatlantic partnership.

Ladies and gentlemen,
When we Germans advocate multilateral cooperation, then we are fully aware of geostrategic realities. Reliability in international policy and multilateralism are not ends in themselves for us. On the contrary, they are the very bedrock of our security, prosperity and the future viability of Germany and Europe.
The label of “multilateralist” falls short of the mark as a rallying cry. We should not allow ourselves to be split into multilateralists on one side and nationalists on the other. It goes without saying that the military and economic strength of nation states will remain crucial for their relations. However, globalisation, digital transformation, migration, climate change and shifts in the balance of power around the world are actually reinforcing mutual dependencies. National projections of power reach their limits when our companies and financial flows, as well as our societies and environmental destiny, are ever more closely interconnected.

Those who cry “take back control” so fervently often quickly find themselves alone. And not only that, they don’t solve a single problem.

But we also have to admit that not all regions have benefited from this economic interconnectedness in recent years – and that includes Western countries in particular. People here are also concerned about falling behind in a global competition whose rules they have long since been unable to follow. We must take these concerns seriously, especially as those with responsibility for foreign and security policy, as such fears of social decline are at the root of the crisis facing multilateralism. When populism and nationalism eat away at our societies like rust, this puts our democracies, but also the trust on which international cooperation is based, at risk. The public simply needs to feel that international cooperation is worthwhile, including for them personally. International cooperation certainly does not entail a loss of sovereignty and control, but instead makes clawing back control and influence possible in the first place.

Ladies and gentlemen,
When we talk about multilateralism in Germany, there is one crucial element – and that is the European Union. From experience we know that Europe can only act sovereignly when we pool our sovereignty at the European level. We can only preserve our influence at the national level when we act together.
If we do not achieve this, we risk our impact being eroded in a world of great power competition. We risk becoming fragmented, disoriented and at the mercy of outside influence. The crucial question facing Europe is whether we will be the subject or the object of global policy in the future.

I see only one path – we Europeans need to develop a common vision of Europe’s strength and role. We need to work much harder on building a strong and sovereign Europe that develops its own geopolitical identity.

Firstly, Europe must become more capable of taking action in security policy in the coming years – as a pillar in the transatlantic alliance, but also in order to develop its own strength. The progress made in the past years – I am thinking here of permanent structured cooperation, civilian CSDP and the European Defence Fund – is already helping us in this area. The next step must be to develop a joint strategic culture in the EU.

We have already agreed this between Germany and France, but our goal must be to achieve it for the whole EU, too. And as agreed in the Treaty of Aachen, we will liaise even more closely with France on defence and arms. After Brexit, Germany and France will account for around 50 percent of the defence expenditure of all EU Member States. This means that our responsibility for Europe’s ability to act will grow.

Secondly, we need to transform geo-economic capital into geopolitical capital. Europe is a global power in trade policy. The European Union is the second-largest economic area in the world. Europe has the largest share of world trade.

We Europeans offer our partners a positive trade agenda. We want to find joint solutions to excess capacity, state capitalism and protectionism. If we reach such solutions – also with a view to an increasingly dominant China – then a transatlantic trade partnership can become the nucleus of a broad transatlantic agenda for dealing with emerging powers.

We can only achieve this by working together, not by opposing one another. Customs barriers and isolation do not get us anywhere. I would like to mention just one example of this. According to initial estimates, US punitive tariffs on steel and aluminium created 8700 new jobs in the US steel industry. During the same period, steel prices in the US rose by nine percent. In other words, US steel consumers have subsidised every new job by approximately 650,000 dollars per year. At the same time, there is a risk of jobs being lost in Europe and elsewhere. If that’s not a classic case of a lose-lose scenario, then I don’t know what is!

We Europeans have just established the largest free trade zone in the world with Japan – by the way with high standards for protecting the environment, consumers and employees and clear rules even on data transfer. Similar negotiations are taking place with many other countries and regions.
All over the world, there is interest in working with the European Union to make globalisation just.

Thirdly, we need to do everything we can to ensure that we are not left behind as regards the cutting-edge technologies of the future. Those at risk of only being able to choose between two competing technological spheres – dominated by China or the US – certainly do not belong to the technological avant-garde. That is why it will be necessary to put the focus of the EU’s next multiannual financial framework firmly on this issue – on research and technology.

And fourthly, we must ensure that the European Union becomes a cornerstone of the international order – a partner and pillar of multilateralism. International understanding and the ability to compromise remain what defines Europe and what it aspires to achieve. We are striving to ensure that the EU makes decisions as early as in the coming months to convert its Global Strategy of 2016 into far more concrete action.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We proposed an alliance for multilateralism a few months ago – a flexible network of dedicated countries and institutions. The aim here is to bring together all partners who are committed to international rules and multilateral solutions and who also want to work together on achieving reforms. We do not need any new formats or forums for this, but rather resilient networks for concrete, diplomatic teamwork.
This involves important areas such as human rights protection, climate change and free world trade, as well as answers to disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks, which we now face all too often. Naturally, it also involves very concrete security and crisis-management issues, which we are discussing here in Munich.

As regards the Syria conflict, for example, we are working in the Small Group, but also with Russia and other countries, on implementing the crucial UN Resolution 2254 and finally launching the political process by getting the constitutional committee off the ground. Just this week, I spoke with Geir Pedersen, the new UN Special Envoy, about how we can bring the various strands – the Small Group and Astana – closer together.

Along with our partners – and under US leadership – we have managed to free the people in Iraq from IS’ reign of terror. Four million refugees have been able to return to their homes. The basis for this was a close, well-coordinated network of countries, international organisations and local stakeholders.
A joint approach has also brought about progress in Yemen in the past weeks, no matter how fragile these achievements might be.

We supported that development, including by hosting our own stabilisation conference in Berlin. The new momentum must now be used – by all parties to the conflict – in order to finally resolve the conflict. That is also important as regards preventing a humanitarian disaster.

Along with the UK, France and the entire EU, we have found ways to keep Iran in the nuclear agreement so far. Our aim is and will remain an Iran without nuclear weapons – especially because we see clearly how Iran is destabilising the region. That is why we want to, and will, preserve the nuclear agreement. Without the JCPOA – that much is clear – the region would not be any bit safer, but rather a step closer to an overt confrontation, with all the consequences this would have for the security situation in Europe.
And finally, in Venezuela, an alliance of Latin American countries, the US, Canada and European countries wants to pave the way to free presidential elections and a new democratic start.

This last example in particular shows that it is good when we stand together on defending democracy, fostering freedom and supporting human dignity. We have shaped the international order together. Multilateralism is primarily also a transatlantic achievement.

We Europeans are aware of that and we want to develop this achievement further. Together, we can also create the international order of the 21st century.
Multilateralism remains our path in Europe. We will continue to be team players – and that is what we bring to the table.
Thank you very much.


Top of page