“Europe must take a closer look at what it can do for its own security in the future”

27.07.2020 - Interview

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas talks to the Rheinische Post newspaper

Mr Maas, there’s constant bickering between Russia and China, virtually no resolution to major crises and conflicts and a host of deadlocks. Germany is holding the Presidency of the Security Council for another four days. Is being a permanent member of the UN Security Council still something to aspire to at all?

Having your own permanent seat can help you influence the balance of power in the UN Security Council and thus in the world. Germany, Brazil, Japan and India have been trying for some time to reform the Security Council as the G4. The Security Council’s composition continues to reflect the realities of 1945, when the UN was founded. In any case, it would reflect the world order much better if more countries were to be permanently involved in this body than is currently the case. The Federal Government will therefore not abandon its objective of a permanent seat for Germany, which was also formulated in the coalition agreement, even though there has been little progress in the area of Security Council reform in recent years. The deadlock on many pressing issues and in major conflicts that we keep on witnessing is, to our mind, an indication that we cannot carry on with this composition.

Would Germany be prepared to let Africa take precedence in the race for a permanent seat on the Security Council?

The four countries, including Germany, which have joined together as the G4 and which, due to their global importance, are each seeking a permanent seat, will do so together with Africa. This isn’t a question of who gets a seat first, but must be a package deal – with everyone together.

Is the UN Security Council, which is intended to watch over the world order, a powerful or a powerless body?

Both assessments are true. It’s still the body in which we could end the great wars of our time. But it’s also the format in which this no longer works. There are constant deadlocks. It took us four months to pass a resolution in the Security Council on the COVID-19 pandemic, an issue that affects all the countries on this planet. I still believe in this body in spite of this. It’s the right place not only to end conflicts and crises, but also to prevent them. In the future, the Security Council must focus much more on prevention and not wait until the first people have been killed.

Why doesn’t the Security Council have the power to impose sanctions on countries and stakeholders that, for example, exacerbate the war in Libya with weapons and mercenaries?

Because states such as Russia and China have veto rights and avail themselves of those rights. There is an arms embargo, which is monitored at sea by the EU’s IRINI mission. And there’s a Sanctions Committee monitoring the embargo. Germany, France and Italy have agreed that we will no longer tolerate smuggling and that, as a first step, we will introduce EU sanctions against any companies exporting arms to Libya on behalf of third parties. If that isn’t enough, we must also be prepared to impose sanctions on countries that undermine the arms embargo.

Germany itself is the fourth-largest exporter of military equipment worldwide. Why doesn’t the Federal Government cease supplies to Turkey entirely, a country that is involved in the wars in Syria and Libya?

Turkey is no longer receiving weapons from Germany that it could use in the Syrian war. We’re only supplying maritime goods...


...Turkey is a NATO ally. The government in Ankara has assumed tasks in the Alliance that protect NATO as a whole. What Turkey is doing in the Syrian war is unacceptable to us. We have therefore no longer endorsed many of Turkey’s applications for exports of German military equipment, which is already a very far-reaching step to take vis-à-vis a NATO ally.  

Russia is supporting rebel General Khalifa Haftar in Libya and the dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria. It is grabbing land and waging a hybrid war in eastern Ukraine. Is Russia a partner, an opponent or a competitor?

It’s up to Russia to determine how it is perceived. Relations are difficult in many dossiers at the moment. But we also know that we need Russia in order to solve conflicts such as those in Syria, Libya and Ukraine. This won’t be achieved against Russia, but only with Russia. Germany has taken on a mediating role in Libya, and we’re also mediating in Ukraine together with France. But Russia must also do its part, which is happening very slowly in Ukraine. In the Security Council, Moscow has blocked humanitarian aid for 1.5 million people in Syria because it has only authorised one single point of access for reaching the people in need in the country.

As Germany’s Foreign Minister, do you still have an illusion of peace when negotiating with Sergey Lavrov?

Sergey Lavrov is a most experienced Foreign Minister. He stands up for the interests of the Russian Federation with great resolve in negotiations, but you can find solutions with him.

Would it be a good thing if Russia were to rejoin the G8?

The reason for Russia’s exclusion was the annexation of Crimea and its intervention in eastern Ukraine. As long as we don’t have a solution in this regard, I don’t see any chance of that happening.

And if US President Donald Trump wants to invite Russia and other countries to the G7 Summit?

Russia can play the biggest role in helping to reopen such doors. The G7 and the G20 are two sensibly coordinated formats; we don’t need a G11 or G12.

Have you already written off Crimea?

No. We’re working in the Normandy format on a solution for eastern Ukraine and on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. But we haven’t forgotten that Crimea, too, belongs to Ukraine. Nor can we shrug off the fact that borders are simply being shifted in Europe in the 21st century. There haven’t been any signals from us to Moscow along the lines of if eastern Ukraine is sorted out, then Crimea is sorted out.

US President Donald Trump is increasingly making Europeans, especially Germany, feel they’re no longer that important. Is it still possible to patch up relations?

The US remains our most important partner outside Europe and it is more than just the Oval Office in the White House. That’s why we’re endeavouring to make the transatlantic relationship fit for the future despite all our differences of opinion. We have found that communicating with each other has become more difficult and that the White House makes decisions without first talking to its partners in Europe. But we need the US in the future too – and, incidentally, also vice versa.

Do you believe that, after Trump, a US president can reconcile the Europeans and the Americans in NATO?

Anyone in Europe now betting everything on a change in the White House should be prepared for the fact that, even in this case, things won’t be as easy as they were before. US foreign and security policy has shifted, and not just since Trump became President. The role of global policeman, to which the US once aspired, is something it no longer wants to assume to the extent it has up to now. Europe must take a closer look at what it can do for its own security in the future.

Certain quarters of your party, the SPD, are sceptical about or even opposed to nuclear sharing in NATO. Will the SPD hold a debate about this in the coming election year?

The SPD is debating this issue right now. Nuclear sharing is an international commitment entered into by Germany. But it’s also a question of European security, especially for our neighbours in Eastern Europe, who feel threatened by Russia in a very different way than those in western or southern parts of the continent. That’s why I maintain that anyone who wants to be a reliable part of the European security architecture must also guarantee this in the area of nuclear sharing.

Interview conducted by Kristina Dunz and Holger Möhle



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