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“A world without rules is a bad world”

16.02.2019 - Interview

RND interview with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the Munich Security Conference, multilateralism and the importance of arms control.

What needs to happen so that you can say on Sunday evening: “That was a successful Munich Security Conference”?

I hope that Europeans and Americans will express their unambiguous commitment to the transatlantic relationship. And I hope it will become clear that a world without rules is a bad world. If all countries that benefit from multilateralism show their support for it, that would be a successful conference.
Does the US want to divide Europe?
The Americans want Europe to champion their interests. But the interests of the EU Member States are not always identical to those of the US. That is why Europe needs to assert its interests with the greatest possible unity.

Are Europeans able to do so?

Yes. Europeans reacted unanimously with countermeasures to the punitive tariffs imposed by the US on aluminium and steel. And they all support the preservation of the agreement with Iran. Naturally, it is often difficult to speak with one voice when 28 countries are involved. But these examples show that Europeans understand this is the only way we can make our voice heard. 

In going it alone on the construction of the German-Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, is Germany undermining efforts to achieve greater unity?

It cannot be said that we are “going it alone”. Companies from other EU countries are also involved in the project because they too are thinking about the future gas supply. The project is being overly politicised. There is certainly no evidence to prove the allegation of dependence on Russia.

Which country poses a greater threat to multilateralism – Russia or the US?

Russia is openly violating international law, for example in Crimea. The US is withdrawing from institutions that it founded itself and built up over the course of decades.
But China is also flaunting international rules. All of that threatens the foundations of our European model of peace and prosperity. For that reason alone, we need to do our utmost to reassemble what is being torn apart by others.

NATO is also an international institution, but you are sceptical about the US’ desire for a larger budget.

We are increasing our defence expenditure. The federal budget will include substantial increases on expenditure. We do not need to let it be said of us that we are shirking our responsibility. But security does not only have to do with defence expenditure. Our significant engagement in crisis prevention also plays a key role in fostering security.

But in this time of power politics, doesn’t military capability decide whether potential opponents will take you seriously?

I cannot complain about our not being taken seriously – on the contrary. We are the second-largest troop-contributing nation in Afghanistan after the US and we lead NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania. But we also receive a great deal of recognition – by the way, including from the US – for our huge civilian engagement in countries such as Iraq and our search for solutions for Yemen and Ukraine.

Should the INF Treaty collapse, as seems likely, you oppose the stationing of land-based nuclear weapons systems in Europe. What is your view on conventional intermediate-range weapons?

We want to resolve these questions in NATO over the course of this year. The termination of the Treaty will come into effect in six months’ time. Until then, there is time for talks. We want to finally make the topic of disarmament and arms control a major topic in international politics once again. There are more countries with nuclear weapons today than there were in the 1980s. And we are faced with new types of weapons on which there are no regulations.

US President Trump wants to withdraw from Afghanistan. What impact would a US withdrawal have on the Bundeswehr?

In Washington, I was promised that we will be informed in good time about the US’ plans. We will decide then what this means for our mission. And let’s not forget that this topic is still being discussed in the US. At any rate, we want to approve the extension of the mandate for a year in a vote in the German Bundestag in March. It would be wrong to withdraw now. 

Is the debate on withdrawal weakening our negotiating position with the Taliban?

The speculation on a US withdrawal is certainly not helping in Afghanistan or Syria. It reduces the pressure that the West can exert.

Just under a year ago, you took up office with the aim of a values-based foreign policy. Assad is now in a stronger position in Syria than he was during the previous years of the war and the Taliban, which had been driven out, is negotiating with the West on peace in Afghanistan. How do you see that?

Peace is the goal of foreign policy. In order to end wars, you need to be able to talk with people whose values you reject. But lasting peace ultimately needs a minimum of justice and legitimacy.

What needs to happen so that you can say on Sunday evening: “That was a successful Munich Security Conference”?

I hope that Europeans and Americans will express their unambiguous commitment to the transatlantic relationship. And I hope it will become clear that a world without rules is a bad world. If all countries that benefit from multilateralism show their support for it, that would be a successful conference.

Does the US want to divide Europe?

The Americans want Europe to champion their interests. But the interests of the EU Member States are not always identical to those of the US. That is why Europe needs to assert its interests with the greatest possible unity.

Are Europeans able to do so?

Yes. Europeans reacted unanimously with countermeasures to the punitive tariffs imposed by the US on aluminium and steel. And they all support the preservation of the agreement with Iran. Naturally, it is often difficult to speak with one voice when 28 countries are involved. But these examples show that Europeans understand this is the only way we can make our voice heard. 

In going it alone on the construction of the German-Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, is Germany undermining efforts to achieve greater unity?

It cannot be said that we are “going it alone”. Companies from other EU countries are also involved in the project because they too are thinking about the future gas supply. The project is being overly politicised. There is certainly no evidence to prove the allegation of dependence on Russia.

Which country poses a greater threat to multilateralism – Russia or the US?

Russia is openly violating international law, for example in Crimea. The US is withdrawing from institutions that it founded itself and built up over the course of decades.
But China is also flaunting international rules. All of that threatens the foundations of our European model of peace and prosperity. For that reason alone, we need to do our utmost to reassemble what is being torn apart by others.

NATO is also an international institution, but you are sceptical about the US’ desire for a larger budget.

We are increasing our defence expenditure. The federal budget will include substantial increases on expenditure. We do not need to let it be said of us that we are shirking our responsibility. But security does not only have to do with defence expenditure. Our significant engagement in crisis prevention also plays a key role in fostering security.

But in this time of power politics, doesn’t military capability decide whether potential opponents will take you seriously?

I cannot complain about our not being taken seriously – on the contrary. We are the second-largest troop-contributing nation in Afghanistan after the US and we lead NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania. But we also receive a great deal of recognition – by the way, including from the US – for our huge civilian engagement in countries such as Iraq and our search for solutions for Yemen and Ukraine.

Should the INF Treaty collapse, as seems likely, you oppose the stationing of land-based nuclear weapons systems in Europe. What is your view on conventional intermediate-range weapons?

We want to resolve these questions in NATO over the course of this year. The termination of the Treaty will come into effect in six months’ time. Until then, there is time for talks. We want to finally make the topic of disarmament and arms control a major topic in international politics once again. There are more countries with nuclear weapons today than there were in the 1980s. And we are faced with new types of weapons on which there are no regulations.

US President Trump wants to withdraw from Afghanistan. What impact would a US withdrawal have on the Bundeswehr?

In Washington, I was promised that we will be informed in good time about the US’ plans. We will decide then what this means for our mission. And let’s not forget that this topic is still being discussed in the US. At any rate, we want to approve the extension of the mandate for a year in a vote in the German Bundestag in March. It would be wrong to withdraw now. 

Is the debate on withdrawal weakening our negotiating position with the Taliban?

The speculation on a US withdrawal is certainly not helping in Afghanistan or Syria. It reduces the pressure that the West can exert.

Just under a year ago, you took up office with the aim of a values-based foreign policy. Assad is now in a stronger position in Syria than he was during the previous years of the war and the Taliban, which had been driven out, is negotiating with the West on peace in Afghanistan. How do you see that?

Peace is the goal of foreign policy. In order to end wars, you need to be able to talk with people whose values you reject. But lasting peace ultimately needs a minimum of justice and legitimacy.

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