The world is not paying heed to the drawn-out formation of a government in Germany. Many are rather happy to see us engrossed in domestic politics. However, open debate is actually a sign of our strength.
This Friday, experts from around the world are convening in Munich to talk about current and looming conflicts, trust and mistrust, prospective or existing new arms races, and the mostly small signs of hope in the domains of arms control and disarmament. What was formerly the Wehrkundetagung has long since evolved into a conference that examines all aspects of security. It is being held at the right time – because it will demonstrate to German politics that the world is not paying heed to the drawn-out formation of a government in Germany. On the contrary, our navel gazing is eliciting amazement from some and cynicism from others. Many are rather happy to see Germany engrossed in domestic politics. Some may even have hoped that the current attempt, too, to form a government will fail. Others may see such processes as new proof of the inferiority of the West – although open debate is actually a sign of our strength. Despite all the political turbulence of recent months, our country is staying amazingly calm, and simply carrying on down the road to success.
No matter how important domestic policy issues may be, and no matter how much we need to redouble our efforts to combat poverty in old age, improve education, strengthen families and create a much better nursing care system, we will certainly realise that it is not domestic challenges with which German politics will struggle most in coming years, but rather an increasingly uncomfortable world. Governing Germany and keeping Europe together will be more troublesome and uncomfortable tasks than in the past.
The Munich Security Conference is therefore being held at the right time to show German politics that it needs to pay as much attention to foreign, security and development policy as it does to domestic policy. This is already apparent when looking at the security conference itself, because it, too, is still more military than civilian in character. We Europeans know all too well from our own history that crises and wars are ultimately not brought to an end and overcome by military means, but rather through civilian and diplomatic action. However, the world around us often seems to take a different view.
That is precisely why we – and Germany – must speak up now and strengthen Europe’s civilian crisis management capabilities. Europe is the strongest power in the world when it comes to civilian intervention.
I know there is a danger, given the crises we are surrounded by, that some people may think these plans are ingenuous. After all, researchers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) have summed up 2017 as a year dominated by war. On a global scale, more was spent on defence, trade in arms was up, and there were more violent conflicts. SIPRI asks the anxious question of what the effects will be of the “return of strategic competition between the major powers”. Syria, Yemen and also North Korea are only the most recent examples of political leaders’ thinking becoming increasingly geared towards military conflict. The best way to ward off violence is with violence – this is apparently no longer the exclusive tenet of autocrats, warlords and militia leaders.
Of course, that cannot be ignored. In a world of carnivores, vegetarians have a tough time of it. At the latest since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the eruption of conflict in eastern Ukraine, Europe, too, has become a place where military might is shown. NATO and the European Union have reacted to this by building up a credible Allied forward presence in Central and Eastern European countries, by putting sanctions in place, and with the EU’s latest accomplishment: 25 member states have agreed to jointly take initial small steps down the long path to a European Defence Union.
Projecting military power is not an easy thing for us to do. It is true that the EU was not conceived as a global player. Instead, it always aimed to preserve peace on the content. Based on this tradition, however, the EU does have great strengths – and we should be aware of these, particularly now that war is experiencing a renaissance in some parts of the world. For instance, it was Europeans that were the driving force behind defusing the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme. The nuclear deal, which the Trump administration is calling into question, is an eminent example of the value of diplomacy and how it can help resolve conflict. In the same vein, Europe must become a “flexitarian” – or a “semi-vegetarian” – not against the consumption of meat per se, not afraid to use military force, but prioritising civilian action.
For Germany, this is enough reason to continue advocating the use of peaceful means to contain conflicts. As a civilian actor, the EU is already today a significant player. It is currently conducting eleven missions that are addressing very tangible security issues: European experts are advising Palestinian law enforcement authorities as they work to fight corruption, they are training the Somali coast guard for their anti-smuggling and anti-piracy activities, and they are aiding the tedious fight against organised crime through the Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo.
None of these missions are grabbing headlines. There are no tanks being deployed, and no shots being fired. And yet, to prevent the causes of conflict, these activities are often more effective than live-fire exercises. In the civilian domain, the EU has clout and can do things for which other actors lack expertise or cannot do. How convincing would a Russian-led mission to fight corruption be? Or a Chinese programme to train judges?
Compared to others, we are as strong in this sphere as we aim to be one day militarily. If we continue down this path, then the European Union, and we Germans, too, will have to spend more money. However, if this can prevent failing states and even military stabilisation missions, then it will have been money well invested.
That is why Germany has joined with several partner countries to launch a campaign in Brussels for what can be considered a civilian defence initiative. It needs to become an equally important counterpart to the European Defence Initiative. Now that PESCO, or Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence, has been launched, we also need a PESCO Plus for civilian crisis management. Activities of the planned EU military headquarters in Brussels must be fully interlinked with those of the existing EU Operations Centre. In addition to military assets, we need to invest in civilian instruments. Just like we do for the military, the civilian operations centre must be equipped in a way that it can effectively lead its missions and rapidly deploy its assets, as needed.
The EU must learn to better internally coordinate its activities. Member states must make available the resources and personnel that are required for EU-led efforts. That is why we need teams of experts that have been trained in accordance with European standards and that can be deployed on short notice. These teams should comprise legal, medical and law-enforcement personnel, among others, who can rapidly respond to crises as they arise. The Federal Government has for several years now been building such a pool of experts via the Center for International Peace Operations in Berlin. We would be prepared to act as a framework nation, taking experts from other EU member states into our team. We have a clear objective: to promote a civilian and diplomatic approach that can counterbalance military thinking. We must not allow the carnivorous world view to prevail.