Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the 56th Munich Security Conference

14.02.2020 - Speech
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Munich Security Conference
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Munich Security Conference© Xander Heinl/photothek.net

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The “world in disorder” was one of the key phrases that the then Federal President Joachim Gauck used when calling for Germany to assume greater responsibility here in Munich six years ago. Those who listened to his successor this afternoon must admit that the world in disorder was yesterday.

Not because the rules-based world order has continued the triumphant march that it began 75 years ago, but rather because international cooperation has been in an unprecedented recession for years. Moreover, a new order is emerging, but this is one that doesn’t really have much to do with principles such as “liberal” or “rules-based”.

A new aspect of this is the rise of China, for example, which we have been observing for decades.

The dwindling strategic importance of Europe following the Cold War is not a new development.

The real game changer is rather the fact that it is palpable to everyone that the era of the omnipresent American world policeman is drawing to a close – take Syria, Afghanistan or Africa, for example. This is not because the US has lacked military or economic clout, but rather because the commitment of those responsible in the White House to the world order created by the US has changed.

Others are pushing their way into this geopolitical gap that is becoming visible particularly in the Middle East at the moment – countries such as Russia, Turkey and Iran, which often pursue very different values, interests and ideas of order than we do. And so the future of the Middle East is also being decided in Astana and Sochi, instead of in Geneva or New York. The fact that such arrangements are often built on quicksand is something that we’re witnessing right now in view of the escalation in Idlib.

We, ladies and gentlemen, Americans and Europeans, must ask ourselves how things were allowed to come to this. And, above all, what we must do to change this situation.

Part of our self-critical approach must be to acknowledge that we Europeans have, for too long, closed our eyes to the uncomfortable reality that a US withdrawal from military commitment and international treaties means for us in particular. But, even with our eyes wide open, we would scarcely have been able to predict how quickly the pendulum of US diplomacy and policy was to change direction.

This vehemence perhaps also has its good side nevertheless. Since then – this seems to be emerging also from the discussions and speeches here – even the last people in Europe have understood that we must do more to promote our security and the stability of our neighbourhood. And yes, Europe is doing more – from Ukraine to the Middle East to Libya and the Sahel: militarily and in the civilian and diplomatic realm. Yes, but not yet enough either.

All of these crises will keep us busy here in Munich on this stage and in the many talks that are taking place here. I therefore want to focus on three observations.

Firstly, Europe will have to play to its strengths in the future.

I’m thinking in this context, of course, about building a European Security and Defence Union – as a strong, European pillar of NATO. Herein lies the major European policy task of the 2020s. And this has long since ceased being a question of “whether”, but is only about “how”. Together with France, we are working on this intensively and we will also take up President Macron’s offer of a strategic dialogue on this issue.

To put it quite clearly, Germany is prepared to become more involved, also militarily. However, this military commitment must be embedded in a political rationale, just as Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier explained here this afternoon. The former Minister of Defence Peter Struck was right. He once said that Germany’s security was also being defended on the Hindu Kush. And, we must add today, also in Iraq, Libya and in the Sahel – and also at the negotiating table in New York, Geneva and Brussels.

Without diplomacy, without a clear political strategy, without building up capacities in the region, military missions risk, at best, fizzling out. Or, in the worst case, they can exacerbate crises. We witnessed this after 2003 in Iraq, and we’re witnessing this right now in Syria and Libya. Those who equate “greater responsibility” and “greater involvement” exclusively with “more military” will never do justice to the complexity of these conflicts.

I’m thinking here therefore of Europe’s economic strength, without which, for example, viable reconstruction in Syria will not be possible. And we are very much in agreement in Europe and the Western world that reconstruction in Syria must be linked to a political solution. We will have no part in reconstruction efforts that seek to consolidate Assad’s power.

It appears to me to be just as important that we Europeans have models of order to offer that are viable in the long term – and we have proved this in many different ways, also historically. After the wars of the past, we tested such models on ourselves – from the Peace of Westphalia to the order of Vienna to the Treaties of Rome and the Helsinki Final Act. Russia, Turkey and others may take control of the situation in Syria, Ukraine or in Libya in the short term with supplies of weapons, soldiers and mercenaries. But where are the approaches that promise stability and peace in the long term because a wide range of actors are able to find their place within them?

It is not for nothing that Germany and France have been working for years to achieve a peaceful solution for Ukraine. In recent months, we have revived the Minsk process, also with the support of the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The things that have been done with respect to the disengagement of troops and the exchange of prisoners can only be a first step. The crucial question in this and many other conflicts remains this: are all parties genuinely prepared to leave the logic of geopolitical spheres of influence behind them and instead to work together with us on a European security architecture based on international law? We will discuss this also here in Munich with our counterparts from Paris, Moscow and Kyiv in order to lay the groundwork for a further summit of the Normandy format in Berlin.

And, ladies and gentlemen, it is no coincidence that the efforts to achieve peace in Libya also had their origins in Rome, Paris and, most recently, Berlin. Two days ago, the Security Council reaffirmed the outcome achieved in Berlin after long, difficult negotiations. For the very first time, the militaries of the parties to the conflict held direct negotiations on a ceasefire last week. And on Sunday, the Foreign Ministers of the Berlin Process will meet for the first time here in Munich in order to jointly launch the mechanism for monitoring and enforcing our decisions, especially, of course, the arms embargo. On Monday, we will hold discussions among the EU Foreign Ministers on the contribution that the EU can make to ensure that arms embargo is actually enforced. And for the EU there can only be one response, and I’m looking to Josep Borrell here. We are prepared if the UN and the parties to the conflict need our support and call on us to help.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The second conclusion is that we must adapt our multilateral alliances to the new geopolitical reality.

This applies first and foremost to the EU. Its geopolitical ambition can not content itself with a new China strategy or a more realistic view of new technologies. This is about concrete policies for greater European sovereignty – politically, economically and technologically, and also with respect to values. We will work together with the new Commission to achieve this – and we have a major opportunity to this end with the EU Presidency in the second half of this year.

We must also rethink the role of NATO.

Let’s take Iraq as an example. While it was right that NATO did not become involved in the war there in 2003, the situation is fundamentally different 17 years down the line. Today, the focus is on training Iraqi security forces in the fight against IS terrorists. And the Iraqi Government is deliberately seeking support also from NATO in this endeavour because NATO respects Iraq’s sovereignty as it stands for a multilateral approach. We all share an interest in preserving what we have worked so very hard to achieve in recent years. And this is why we want to continue our efforts in Iraq with the consent of the Iraqi Government – whether within the framework of the Global Coalition against Daesh or in NATO.

We are thus fulfilling two strategic interests at once at the end of the day. Firstly, we are sticking to our approach in the Middle East, which is about de-escalation as opposed to “maximum pressure”. And, secondly, we are keeping the US on board as a committed partner.

The fact that a new transatlantic dynamic can emerge from this isn’t a coincidental side effect, but our declared Goal.

My third observation is therefore this: greater European contributions keep the US on board.

I’m thinking of Afghanistan here, for example. In recent months, we have offered the US intensive support in mediating a stable peace settlement between the Afghan parties to the conflict – for example, through an intra-Afghan dialogue, which has already commenced in an informal capacity. And that is why we see the reports on an understanding between the US and the Taliban as an opportunity. If this is to lead to lasting peace, genuine intra-Afghan negotiations are now needed in which the achievements of the past few years are not reversed. Such a fragile political process can only work in a secure environment. “In together, out together” – that should therefore remain the guiding principle from the perspective of Germany, which is the second-largest provider of troops in Afghanistan.

And I’m thinking of the Sahel zone, which has long since become a new haven for international terrorism. Nowhere else are Germany and Europe more committed – both in military and civilian terms. Germany alone has invested almost three billion euros in the stability of the region. And we’re prepared to do even more – in terms of security policy and in building state structures.

We will continue to need the US for this in the future. After all, at the end of the day, Islamist terror threatens people in Bamako just as much as in Paris, Berlin or Boston.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we must also talk about transatlantic burden-sharing – here in Munich, in Brussels, in Washington, DC and in Berlin. And I’m well aware that we have to do more – the Federal President has also made this clear today. And we have already started to do this. But let’s not boil the discussion down to just one question. The strength of our alliance is not measured in euros or dollars alone.

What we need is a genuine political debate on the transatlantic partnership in the 21st century, in the light of the realities we face today. We launched this process of reflection in NATO in December and are convinced that the only reasonable way forward is not maximum disruption, but a frank discussion leading to clear results. After all, we know that only together do we have the economic strength, military potential and the ideas of political order needed to defend the rules-based world order.

The best place to start is where the “westlessness” referred to in the Munich Security Report is most keenly felt: in the crises on our doorstep. And on this European doorstep are Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine and the Sahel zone.

Let’s not make the same mistake twice! Let’s not leave these and other crises to those who export arms and mercenaries, but certainly not one thing – namely a lasting peace.

Thank you very much.


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