Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Körber-Stiftung Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

26.11.2019 - Speech

Ine, I’m delighted to be able to open this conference with you this morning. Our joint presentation of your Government’s white paper on multilateralism in Oslo a few months ago stands out in my memory. Both strategically and operatively, Germany and Norway work hand in hand on important issues. Norwegian diplomacy is characterised by its focus on the long term and its great willingness to take on responsibility in an increasingly difficult environment. Norwegian diplomacy is sometimes quiet, but it is always successful. I would be happy to have more such partners on the international stage! It’s great to have you here with us today, Ine. Welcome to Berlin!

Mr Paulsen,

I believe that the Körber-Stiftung Berlin Foreign Policy Forum has achieved an outstanding reputation as a key venue for debating foreign and security policy. And I believe that we need such venues now in particular because there is much to discuss, especially when it comes to foreign policy. What we need most of all are places that know the difference between pseudo and genuine debate. And I think that is the case here.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are currently commemorating the historic events in Europe around the watershed year of 1989 – a year that made German unification possible and created a spirit of optimism all over the continent. Russia, an erstwhile opponent, became our partner thanks to the Charter of Paris for a New Europe and the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

Nevertheless, we now find ourselves in an era when the refrain of many discussions is that “everything is actually worse now” and “the world is becoming more and more difficult”. When I look back at the past 30 years, I’m not sure that everything is worse now. I am certain that everything was worse 30 years ago. Germany was divided. Sixteen million Germans did not live in freedom and Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. That is no longer the case. And I think this is also relevant to the current debate. I believe that we have achieved a lot in this time. And we have achieved very important and fundamental things – freedom for millions of people, not only in East Germany, but also in Eastern Europe, and the fact that Europe has become more integrated than ever before in these past 30 years. And so despite all the difficulties we face today, no, everything has not become worse and certainly not in the past 30 years.

However, we also know that the euphoria of the time was premature in many cases and that at least some of the expectations people had during this time of sweeping optimism have not been met. And unfortunately, lasting stability and comprehensive cooperation have not developed in our relations with Russia in particular.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing tensions in eastern Ukraine mean that European peace and security have been called into question once again, certainly since 2014. Ever since the start of this crisis, Germany has been doing its utmost to bring about a political solution to the conflict. And one reason I mention this is because these persistent endeavours receive far less public recognition than they actually deserve. In view of dramatic events, such as those in northeast Syria, Iraq, Iran and Chile, this perseverance is often overlooked. But we should not forget that the war in Ukraine – and it is a war – has already claimed the lives of 10,000 people and that people are still dying there. This is the actual war on our doorstep and people are dying there on our doorstep.

But for the first time in quite a while, recent developments give grounds for cautious optimism. Germany and France are currently working flat out to revive the Minsk process. And we are urging Russia to finally exert its influence on the separatists in eastern Ukraine. We also want to make use of the momentum that has been created by the new Ukrainian Government under President Zelensky – and to do so straight away. We are working on a Normandy format summit that will take place in Paris in a few days’ time. This would be an important step on what will certainly continue to be a long and arduous path to better understanding not only between Ukraine and Russia, but also between Europe and Russia.

However, I also want to say that Germany will not take any unilateral steps here. Our neighbours in Poland and the Baltic states can rest assured that we have always taken their security needs seriously and will continue to do so. Yes, we are willing to develop a long-term and sustainable joint European approach to Russia. But we will not go over our eastern neighbours’ heads, but rather take all of their specific experience and legitimate strategic interests into account.

Many of our eastern European neighbours see Germany as the bridge between East and West in Europe. And in this regard, people, especially our eastern European neighbours, expect a great deal of us. People in the region are concerned that a first and second-class Europe is developing – a core Europe and a periphery. They are worried that there will be no further discussion and that we will see a two-speed or three-speed Europe or something of that nature. I think this poses a great threat, namely that our eastern European neighbours’ concerns will come to pass at some point and that they will feel like second-class members, for example in the European Union. I very much doubt this will make it easier to exert influence on specific countries when it comes to issues like the rule of law. I believe that our influence is more likely to continue declining. And that is why a development of this kind cannot be in the interest of Europe as a whole.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The motto of this conference, “From Ambition to Action”, is a good one. Ambition is one thing, but what counts are the impact and success of our actions, especially when they involve international and multilateral cooperation.

I attended the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Japan at the end of last week. We discussed multilateralism and the rule of law. And everyone who spoke in the plenary discussion sang the praises of multilateralism, the rule of law and many other things that are important to us in international cooperation. At some point, that prompted me to ask why, if we are all in such agreement on this matter, the world is in its current state and multilateralism and international organisations are facing ever-greater internal and external pressure. I think one reason for this is that there are big differences between ambition and action. And I believe this issue should be on the agenda.

NATO is one example. A strong and effective NATO is important to us because it is a cornerstone of our multilateral security engagement. And I want to point out that German foreign policy is not disruptive. In fact, it is the opposite of disruptive. Its goal is to offer an alternative to the disruptive reality, and this has also been our stance in the current discussion on NATO. NATO’s strength lies in its cohesion. This cohesion has guaranteed Europe’s security for 70 years and will continue to be essential for our security in the future.

We have significantly strengthened NATO since the summit in Wales in 2014. Germany has played a major role in this, both financially and militarily. One can quite rightly assert that NATO is alive and kicking, despite other diagnoses. And to be honest, anyone who was at the last Meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers was able to see that for themselves.

It is also true, and no one denies it, that we need to develop NATO’s concept and policies further. At last week’s Meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers, Germany thus suggested setting up an expert group chaired by the Secretary General in order to take a strategic inventory of the Alliance, as it is obvious that there are shortcomings and differences of opinion. I think that is why this proposal was so well received and why it was so instrumental in getting what was almost a toxic debate back on an orderly and productive track. Given the security dimension involved here, this is certainly a case of taking on foreign-policy responsibility. After all, there is consensus that NATO must be strengthened in its role as the central forum for Euro-Atlantic cooperation and decision-making. Only in this way will we safeguard NATO’s coherence and political unity in the coming years and maintain its political primacy. We can have no interest in separating European from US security. On the contrary, this would be extremely dangerous. Without the United States, we are currently not in a position to protect ourselves effectively in either Germany or Europe. NATO stands for joint security and defence, joint operations, and international cooperation with partners, including non-NATO countries and organisations. It also stands for multilateralism in action.

However, one thing about multilateralism, as the figures presented here have just shown us, is that many people, many members of the public, don’t really understand what is meant by it. But I sometimes have the impression that it isn’t properly understood in political discussions either, as multilateralism is not only necessary when it is useful to you – and by “useful” I mean that you hope others will have to accept what you yourself think is right. Multilateralism does not only mean others coming round to your way of thinking. It also means you have to try to see things their way, examine your own positions, and possibly make decisions and compromises in order to find common ground. There will be no progress without compromises.

That is why it is important – and there is consensus on this from Lisbon to Tallinn – that we Europeans will need to take on greater responsibility for our own security in the future. And that is also why we are working with France on a Europe that works far more closely together on security policy, decides faster and is able to take operational action thanks to ever-closer cooperation on developing capabilities, on the Intervention Initiative and on enhanced civil crisis-management. We aim to make significant headway on this issue in particular during our EU Presidency in the second half of 2020 by setting up a European Centre of Excellence.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We want this policy to be an inclusive European project in which Norway and the UK – the UK because of Brexit – are of course also involved. And we want this project to strengthen NATO and Europe in equal measure. The ever-closer cooperation between the EU and NATO shows that there are no hermetically sealed off clubs when it comes to matters of joint security and that such clubs should not exist in the future either.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Like NATO, the European Union is also faced with great challenges, both internally and externally. The new European Commission will finally start its work in Brussels in a few days’ time. And with Ursula von der Leyen, a German will head the Commission for the first time in over 50 years. The priorities have already been clearly explained. The main goal is to enhance European sovereignty and the European Union’s ability to act as a political and economic stakeholder in a global environment that will not become any easier in the coming years either.

We want to make use of our EU Presidency in the second half of 2020 to make the EU more united on foreign policy – that will be a challenge – and above all to make ourselves more effective. To this end, we have mooted the idea of creating a European Security Council, and we are currently exploring this concept in depth with our partners, in particular with France.

However, this also involves shaping our relations strategically with important global players. That goes for transatlantic relations, our relationship with the United States, not only as regards NATO and security policy, but it also goes for our relations with China. That, too, will be an important project during our Presidency. And, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to say one thing in view of the current reports on Uighurs in China. China must uphold its human rights obligations under international law. We and 23 other countries recently affirmed this in a statement at the UN General Assembly on the treatment of the Uighurs. If hundreds of thousands of Uighurs are in fact being held in camps, the international community cannot close its eyes to this. Transparency is needed now. Most importantly, there must be independent access to the region, including for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the foreseeable future, more will be expected of us in Germany and in the EU as a whole. That will also be the case for the military sector, where our engagement is significant, particularly in the Sahel region, the Balkans and Afghanistan. This involves more than military crisis management. It also concerns political answers to profound changes to the international system.

New powers are demanding a greater say. They want to change the rules or overturn existing ones. Established powers are withdrawing from the order that they were so instrumental in helping to create and from which we have all benefited. And that is why we believe “from ambition to action” also means Germany playing its part through persistent crisis diplomacy in multilateral, UN-led formats.

For example, we have been working flat out for several months to achieve political progress in the Libya conflict. Following four rounds of high-level negotiations that we held here in Berlin with UN Special Representative Salamé, we believe things are now moving in the right direction. There are no guarantees of success for what has become known as the Berlin Process, but we have already delved deeper into many contentious issues than we did at previous conferences.

Our current membership of the UN Security Council does not only give us particular influence in the Libya conflict. We are also working actively as a UN Security Council member on other crises, such as those in Yemen or the Sudan. We are working in public by providing guidance and financial support to the Sudan Group of Friends, as well as behind the scenes via discreet talks. However, the latter are crucial as regards creating the willingness to engage in serious negotiations on the ground in the first place.

And along with Norway, Ine, we are also active in Afghanistan as regards getting talks between different groups off the ground, keeping talks going or reviving talks. We need lines of communication between representatives of the Government, the opposition, civil society and the Taliban in order to create new trust. Only in this way will it be possible to finally put a stop to the frequently fatal violence against civilian targets. Furthermore, we need to continue working on prisoner exchanges.

However, we are also using our time as a member of the Security Council to make progress on new topics. Our priority is to make the Security Council stronger in the field of prevention. Our work needs to anticipate and offset major crises and conflicts. We also need to finally put structural issues in New York at the heart of the Security Council’s work.

One of our priorities in this regard is to strengthen the role of women in preserving peace and security and in resolving conflicts. UN Security Council Resolution 2476 of April 2019, which did not pass without resistance, was an important contribution to this.

And along with France, Canada, Ghana, Chile, Singapore, Mexico and many other countries – and I am also grateful to you, Ine, that Norway is so active on this matter – we launched the Alliance for Multilateralism in New York. In the meantime, over 60 countries are involved in it. The goal is to express our shared commitment to a rules-based international order. But even more importantly, the Alliance for Multilateralism is a group of countries that are united in their will to achieve concrete results together through multilateral cooperation.

For example, the Alliance achieved a real breakthrough a few days ago in the debate on lethal autonomous weapons systems, so-called “killer robots”. For the first time, the States Parties to the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons agreed on eleven principles on regulating these weapons. This was not possible in the past. That is why the Alliance for Multilateralism will work further in Geneva and New York on this issue and other topics. This is an absolutely crucial matter for our future security.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We decided in New York that this alliance should address many other important topics concerning the future. We will work on climate and security, international humanitarian law, human rights and cyber issues. We will try to achieve the progress in both multilateral forums and international organisations for which we have been waiting far too long in some cases. And, Ine, Germany and Norway share a goal here, namely that of working with other like-minded countries to preserve the international order and multilateral cooperation. That is what is at stake.

One might say that we are showing ambition, but most importantly taking concrete action. Ladies and gentlemen, what we need is input, and not only from the state authorities. We also need to conduct this discussion in public and with members of civil society because ultimately it is vital to create awareness in the political debate of what international cooperation means – that returning to purely national decision-making mechanisms will not solve a single challenge we face, as all of these challenges – globalisation, climate change, the spread of digital technology, and migration – are global. And we need global answers to them. That means we are living in an era in which we need more, rather than less, international cooperation.

Thank you very much.


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