Precisely 18 years ago today, the September 11 terrorist attacks were carried out in the United States, in New York and in Washington. These attacks were a watershed for both global politics and foreign and security policy. Many of the geostrategic changes that are the focus of discussions today – a turbulent world, a world that’s out of joint – are more related to what happened after the attacks than, for example, they are to the election of Donald Trump as US President. Since then, international terrorism has contributed to more and more violence by non-state actors in wars and conflicts. That alone makes resolving conflicts all the more difficult.
What has become an additional burden in recent years – and although not entirely new, it has become more pronounced – is the rivalry between the great-power the United States, Russia and China. The US is an economic and military superpower. Russia is, if at all, only a military superpower, and China is well on its way to becoming the next superpower in both economic and military terms. In view of this great-power rivalry, we can observe that almost all of today’s conflicts – whether they be in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen or Iran and Ukraine in our immediate neighbourhood – are proxy conflicts, and the new great-power rivalry makes resolving them ever more difficult.
That is not all. In addition, we currently face four great global challenges: economic globalisation, climate change, digital transformation and migration. All four of these issues are very different and highly complex. Yet they have one thing in common. They spill over borders – and these challenges are not in any way restrained by them. This means, ladies and gentlemen, that whether one espouses right or left political views is beside the point. It is, in fact, merely logical and good common sense that, if all the great challenges are no longer restrained by borders, they can only be tackled with cross-border solutions. The inability of the international community to act that we are witnessing now in some cases can quickly lead to a loss of control at national level. Failure to understand this means risking less freedom, democracy, peace and prosperity, both at home and abroad. We must use Germany’s foreign and security policy to do something about that, ladies and gentlemen.
Facing up to these challenges means maintaining control in a world in which we risk losing control. We must not, and we will not, take the easy way out. In all of these discussions, many claim that it is better to keep to yourself. That way, they say, you have fewer troubles. But anyone who in this global, interconnected world of ours today has not yet understood that, often, to solve national problems, solutions must first be found for international problems – he or she has indeed not understood what is at stake in the coming years. The point I want to make is that doing nothing is not an option, ladies and gentlemen.
That is why we must also bear significant international responsibility. We are trying to make structural changes, as well. Since the beginning of the year, Germany has been a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Over the past months, we have learned that most members of the Security Council – in particular those with permanent seats – don’t want issues to be placed on that body’s agenda until shots are being fired, bombs are thrown and individuals have died. I believe this is absolutely the wrong approach. If the UN Security Council is to retain its importance, then we must rather make it a preventive Security Council. That is why, already in January – as our first order of business – we placed the item “climate and security” on the agenda. We all know that there is a nexus between climate and security. If you want to address the reasons why people flee, you must fight climate change. And if you want to prevent future wars over issues linked to climate change, then you must act today and fight climate change. Therefore, we are also using our Security Council membership to make a case for more preventive action, as opposed to waiting until it is too late.
We are doing the same in Europe. This budget contains funding for the creation of a crisis prevention centre in Berlin. On behalf of the European Union and our partners, we want to ensure that Germany will become a hub for efforts to improve crisis prevention, or establish the necessary mechanisms. One of the great advantages of the European Union is that, wherever it has a mandate to maintain an in-country security and military presence, it also provides civilian assistance. We combine the two and call this a networked approach. With funding earmarked for that centre in this budget, we are at the forefront of these efforts. I think that’s right where we should be.
Ladies and gentlemen, we also work towards conflict resolution, although this is a very difficult task. I will name only three examples:
The first is Iran. Much has been written about disagreement within the European Union. Yet it’s a great success of the European Union that, to this day, we have always spoken as one while campaigning for maintaining the nuclear agreement with Iran. We believe it is better to have an agreement that can be improved here or there than to have no agreement at all. For we want to keep Iran bound by the terms of the agreement. We do not want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. This agreement is designed to prevent that from happening. That is why we want to preserve it.
We want to use the new impetus that was given at the G7 summit in Biarritz. We know that there is an initiative that would enable Iran to sell oil if Iran, for its part, makes a contribution, and if everyone involved agrees to embark on new talks regarding extension of the nuclear agreement, Iran’s role in the region – for example, in Syria or Yemen – and Iran’s ballistic missile programme. If this effort succeeds, we will have taken a step towards resolving this conflict. Maybe the current personnel decisions that are being taken in Washington point towards possible progress in this regard – that is, more progress than there has been in the past.
My second example is Ukraine. Recently, and especially over the past two years, the Minsk Process has – and I will be be frank – been completely deadlocked. Neither side, whether Ukraine or Russia, has been willing to take even a single step toward reconciliation. That has changed with the election of President Zelensky, the convocation of the Rada and the formation of clear majorities – and with what has been agreed in recent weeks: disengagement of troops, a ceasefire that has certainly held better so far than any other, and the exchange of prisoners that occurred last weekend and that had been talked about for a long time. We want to use this momentum. In the coming weeks, we want to join with our French partners and use our role in the so-called Normandy format to bring about a meeting between the two sides. We are holding talks to this end with the Russian side and with the Ukrainian side. I am confident that, in view of current developments, there is a possibility of reviving the Minsk Process. Germany and France will take the lead and campaign for this. This, too, is a role to which we are well suited.
My third example is Afghanistan, because recent news out of that country has been anything but good. The fact that talks with the Taliban have been called off – and we hope this will only be temporary – is certainly a setback for efforts that have been made there. We believe that everything achieved so far has not been completely lost.
Here, too, I would like to repeat that if an agreement is reached with the Taliban, then the plan is to initiate peace talks. We have been asked to organise, in cooperation with our Norwegian colleagues, these peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Government of Afghanistan. And that is what we will do. We therefore hope that the final word has not been spoken regarding talks with the Taliban. If an agreement is ultimately reached – as we hope will happen – then Germany and Norway stand ready to organise a peace conference, as we did in Bonn many years ago.
Ladies and gentlemen, our great challenge here in Europe has something to do with the fact that we need to adopt a European stance on the current great-power rivalry. For this, we must have more common ground and greater cohesion. We need procedures to change, we need more majority decision-making in EU bodies, we need stronger crisis management mechanisms, and we must become more resilient to outside influence. I am highly confident that we can proceed down this path with many colleagues in the new Commission.
We must also do this to be prepared for Brexit. We remain convinced that there is still the possibility of preventing a no-deal Brexit – but Brexit is coming. We don’t like it, but we are also not afraid of it, because we have been preparing for it for some time – including for a no-deal Brexit – with a number of legislative proposals that we have introduced.
Ladies and gentlemen, our Presidency of the European Council that is coming up next year will therefore keep us very busy. I believe it is a good opportunity for us to not only showcase our agenda, but also to make progress on where Europe stands when it comes to the new great-power rivalry. One thing should be clear: our response to the global challenges, to great-power rivalry and to shifts in the domain of international security policy must be a cohesive, European response. Even Germany is too small to provide answers to these challenges.
We live in an age where we need both more international cooperation and more Europe – also so that we in Germany have a chance of finding reasonable approaches and solutions to current problems and challenges.
Thank you very much indeed.