Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the founding of NATO

03.04.2019 - Speech

It’s a special moment for me to speak here today about the view from Berlin on NATO’s 70th anniversary. Because it reminds me of the people of Berlin – more specifically, those who lived there 30 years ago. And their views could hardly have been any more different.

There were those for whom NATO had already been a promise and, at the same time, a certainty. A guarantor of freedom for more than 30 years! Freedom in the midst of fences and checkpoints.

And there were those who took to the streets to demonstrate for that freedom – week after week, month after month.

Then, the Berlin Wall fell – and with it a failing system. The longing for freedom was too great to be contained by walls. After 28 years of division, all Germans – from both sides of the border – were finally able to fall into each other’s arms again.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Apart from all the emotional images everyone associates with this event, there was one thing above all else which the year 1989 made everyone realise: freedom, peace and security are inseperably linked. They belong together.

And I suspect that back then there was no place in the world where this was as evident as it was in Berlin, where the systems faced each other.

Even when the Cold War was at its hottest, the Federal Republic could always rely on its allies, especially in West Berlin.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the last 70 years have shown how valuable strong alliances are. That’s what NATO stands for. Never alone. The security of each individual member state is the security of all.

NATO remains the cornerstone of our security and a central pillar of transatlantic relations. In no other organisation do the countries of North America and Europe cooperate so closely.

I’m delighted that today Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg became the first representative of a multilateral organisation to address both houses of the US Congress. This sent an important signal. Especially at a time like this. Not only because it lends our joint alliance support. But also because it’s a clear commitment to multilateral cooperation.

By the way, the German Bundestag will honour the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty tomorrow, too, and send the clear message that Germany wholeheartedly supports the NATO alliance. We will stand by our commitments!

I know that our budgetary process is sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand – and believe me: not just for them!

However, we have made a firm commitment to invest more money in defence and we intend to keep our word. We in Europe know that we cannot take our security for granted. We have to shoulder responsibility in order to continue safeguarding it – in our own interest!

That’s why we’ve reversed the falling defence expenditure trend. Since 2014, we have significantly increased our defence expenditure by almost 40 percent. And our defence expenditure will continue to rise – by 2024 it will reach 1.5 percent of our GDP.

But Burden-sharing is more than defence expenditure. Anyone asking about burden-sharing must look at the entire spectrum of resources, capabilities, contributions to NATO operations and Alliance defence.

  • Following the attacks of 9/11, when NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty for the first and only time, we demonstrated our solidarity with our American friends. Now we’re the second largest troop contributor in Afghanistan. And we’re making substantial contributions to other NATO-led operations, too.
  • Alongside the United States, Canada and the UK, Germany is one of the four framework nations of the Enhanced Forward Presence. Our Eurofighters are helping to police the air space over Estonia.
  • We have demonstrated our readiness to shoulder responsibility by taking over the command of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force this year.
  • We’re building a new NATO command centre in Ulm. We’re the only country apart from the United States doing this as part of the NATO command structure reform.

These decisions have provoked heated discussions in our country. These debates are necessary in view of Germany’s history.

Instead of only talking about ability or willingness to honour commitments within the Alliance, we should also make one thing clear: NATO may be a security alliance. But, above all, it’s an alliance of values. It has a political function.

We therefore have to rise to the challenge of upholding NATO as an alliance which shares and defends common values – those values set out in the preamble of the Washington Treaty: peace, freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

Only those who are united internally can present a strong united front on the international stage.

And we urgently need this. One of the reasons why NATO is the most successful defence alliance in history is because it has always successfully adapted to changing conditions. The 360-degree view of possible threats has replaced the front between East and West.

Most of today’s challenges are global and don’t stop at national borders and new technologies are changing warfare. In the age of Big Data, the wars of the future will be partly won with megabytes rather than megabombs.

We face attacks in cyber space, weapons in space, terrorist threats from many different directions.

And the view from Europe’s backyard isn’t encouraging at the moment:

Especially when we see Russia

  • having new nuclear weapons in the direct neighbourhood of NATO's borders,
  • contravening the INF Treaty – which is of particular importance to us Europeans –,
  • carrying out the attacks in Salisbury and
  • bringing the question of war and peace back to the European continent with its military intervention in Ukraine five years ago.

We’re aware of the concerns of our Eastern and Central European partners in particular. And we take these concerns seriously.

That’s why NATO took action and we Germans have assumed responsibility. Especially at a time when Russia is repeatedly trying to test our unity, we must and will stand united.

But that doesn’t mean breaking off all channels of dialogue with Moscow. When the security environment is changing for the worse, governance systems break down and tensions increase, refusing to engage in dialogue is not an option.

I’m therefore working to ensure that the NATO-Russia Council convenes regularly and that the dialogue doesn’t break down at the military level.

This is the only way to maintain transparency and to minimise the risk of an unwanted military escalation with disastrous consequences.

We should also try to stand united when it comes to another major power. China is set to become the subject of the 21st century – on both sides of the Atlantic. There are security implications, but China is a challenge on almost every topic, and we must gain the better understanding what that implies for NATO.

Especially in the light of the possible termination of the INF Treaty, we have to understand that the world as we know it is coming unhinged.

So, we also have to keep China in mind when we talk about arms control and put disarmament back on the agenda in the first place.

And we’re doing that.

  • We took over the Presidency of the UN Security Council on Monday.
  • We’re shouldering responsibility.
  • We’re helping to strengthen the European Security and Defence Policy in close coordination with NATO – not in competition with the European pillar in NATO but in order to strengthen it.
  • And outside existing structures, we’re bringing like-minded partners together in an alliance of multilateralists to address various security-related issues such as climate change and arms control.

Lasting security is created when we dovetail civilian and military resources. When we strengthen conflict prevention and consolidate humanitarian assistance, stabilisation and development cooperation.

We believe that these are the main elements of a comprehensive concept of security.

And that’s both effective and efficient. That’s strategic.

Now it’s important to make NATO fit to tackle the challenges of our age.

  • First of all, NATO must perform its core task, namely to safeguard the security of our joint Euro-Atlantic area. Germany will continue to shoulder responsibility for this.
  • Secondly, NATO’s open-door policy remains valid. The recent accession of Montenegro and the forthcoming accession of the Republic of North Macedonia show how attractive NATO continues to be.
  • Thirdly, NATO must find answers to new challenges and threats to security such as climate change, the digital revolution, hybrid influence or disinformation campaigns.

The Alliance is an unparalleled success story. There’s no doubt about it. And that’s not just because it has brought Europe stability during the last 70 years.

Rather, it’s because it is transforming and tackling new challenges.

Ladies and gentlemen,

George H.W. Bush once said: “We know what works. Freedom works. We know what’s right. Freedom is right.”

In the light of domestic and external challenges, that’s certainly not a given. It’s hard work. But we’re glad to invest our efforts.

That brings me back to the people of Berlin. For the last 30 years, they have been unwavering in their endeavours to make their city an epicentre of freedom. That would have been nearly impossible without NATO, without the transatlantic alliance.

Without NATO, Germany wouldn’t have got what the historian Fritz Stern once called the “second chance” in the last century. We Germans won’t forget that.

Thank you very much!


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