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Keynote-speech by State Secretary Michaelis on the occasion of the annual assembly of the “World Affairs Council of America (WACA) in Washington D.C.

08.11.2018 - Speech
State Secretary Andreas Michaelis, Evelyn Farkas/Atlantic Council, Bob Kagan/Brookings, Steve Sokol/American Council on Germany (v.l.n.r.)
State Secretary Andreas Michaelis, Evelyn Farkas/Atlantic Council, Bob Kagan/Brookings, Steve Sokol/American Council on Germany (v.l.n.r.)© AA

Thank you for offering me the chance to discuss foreign policy with you today – at a time when all eyes are on the Midterms and how to read them.

If you hoped for yet another cunning analysis of the elections, I am afraid you have come to the wrong place – I am totally unqualified to address these issues.  Instead, transatlantic, even global issues are on the menu and I am glad to see that we have attracted such a distinguished audience to discuss them.

This discussion could not come at a better time. Because in this changing world, a stronger, ever closer transatlantic relationship is not a law of nature anymore, as it had been since the end of World War II.

In today’s multipolar world, it is rather a choice we deliberately need to make and embrace. This requires decision makers on both sides of the Atlantic willing to make this choice, and I am glad that there are so many left who do just that – this includes you.

Because of you and many others, the transatlantic relationship is still stronger and closer than most other international relationships we have. This is something to always keep in mind.

Today’s title – “Will we succeed in shaping a stronger Transatlantic Relationship?” – is already positively biased – it suggests rightly that we want a stronger relationship. But will we get there? Will we succeed in building one?

As long as we are not able to spell out how we can create a stronger relationship this will remain an open question. To be honest: the “how to get there?” is the much trickier question. Once we have answered it, I am sure, it will be smooth sailing and our joint efforts will get us there. So: how do we get it done?

Let the laws of nature be our starting point.

In physics, the most stable connection between two solid bodies in a multidimensional space is called “balance”. This rule is even more true in a multipolar world order, where balance creates interdependency, prosperity, reliability, peace.

This is why a balanced partnership with the US is our aim. Foreign Minister Maas has recently outlined how we can get there: a) by sharing responsibility, b) by boosting the multilateral order,

c) by staying committed to our own political objectives even where we diverge, and d) by keeping all channels open. Allow me to go into detail.

a) Sharing responsibility

A balanced relationship does not work, when one side of the scale punches below its weight and lets the other side do all the work. This is most obviously the case in the field of security, which was once the nucleus from which German-US relations developed from the ruins of World War II. It is a realm where former foes turned into friends, and where former occupant forces became the guarantors of collective defense.

Today, the US contribution to European security is still immense. Just one figure to highlight this: Next year the US will raise the budget for the European Deterrence Initiative to 6.5 Billion USD. This is more than the entire defense budget of some of our smaller neighbors – just to get the relations right.

And Germany is trying ever harder to contribute its share and regain its role as a partner in leadership, with quite some success already. This month, the German armed forces are participating with 10.000 soldiers in Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 in Norway. Largest exercise since the end of the Cold War, comprising 50.000 soldiers. Next year Germany will provide the VJTF [very high readiness joint task force der NATO]. In 2023, we will have a fully equipped enforced brigade ready for the same purpose.

Just recently Germany volunteered to strengthen the NATO Command Structure with a Joint Support and Enabling Command in Ulm.

For years now we are the major European ally in NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and we have been the main contributor to KFOR. The successes we have gained in the Western Balkans over the last twenty years are joint achievements.

Just an example: The former German military base in Prizren will now be transformed into an innovation park for entrepreneurs! We achieved this, because the positions between Washington and Berlin have often been closer than that between Berlin and a couple of European partners.

This, I believe, is the most important avenue to follow towards a balanced relationship:

we must invest in our strength and fulfil our commitments.

If Germany improves its capabilites, we will quite naturally become the privileged partner of the US in Europe. At the same time, we will also boost the EU’s capability to act.

This is why it is so important that our defense budget will continue to rise significantly and has already gained a 30 percent increase since 2010 – partly in an uphill battle against public opinion.

b) Boosting Multilateralism

“No man is an island, entire of itself.” The famous proverb by John Donne today is a strong reminder that we can only thrive if nations work together and jointly assume responsibility for their security and well-being.

That is why we are so concerned about the current changes of the world order and the erosion of international regimes and institutions which for many decades formed the cornerstone of our security and welfare.

The most recent example for this trend is the announcement of President Trump to withdraw from the  INF treaty, as a response to the firm US assessment that Russia is violating the INF.

We risk unraveling a major nuclear disarmament agreement and a central pillar of European Security. We fully understand that America does not want to be bound by a treaty that the other side does not seem to respect.

But we have to make sure that European concerns and interests are taken into account, because the INF primarily affects European security.

Arms Control has served us well in Europe, contributing to stability and predictability.

Importantly, if there is a chance to save the INF, we should use all diplomatic means to do so.

The alternative is slipping into a new arms race and perhaps even into a situation without any nuclear arms control between the United States and Russia at all.

For this reason, from a European perspective, it is equally important to extend  the New START Treaty.

Overall, preserving NATO´s unity and cohesion is one of our key assets in dealing with these questions vis-à-vis Russia, China and others.

The Alliance has to find a common response to deal with this situation.

This is not just about the INF, though. The United States have withdrawn or are withdrawing from a number of multilateral agreements and organizations, thereby weakening an order it substantially helped to create according to its own values and principles. It withdrew from the JCPoA with Iran, from the Paris Climate Agreement and from UNRWA, the aid organization for Palestinian refugees within the UN framework.

Instead of forming majorities in international fora the current US government prefers pursuing a strategy of transactionalism and bilateralization, as we could recently observe in the process that transformed NAFTA into the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

How should Germany react to this? First of all, we need to invest in the multilateral order, even in issues and policies where the US will remain absent.

We will do so together with our European partners, but also within a wider multilateral network of middle-sized powers that are interested in supporting a global rules-based order: call it an “alliance of multilateralists”.

Individually, we cannot ensure the survival of the WTO, or sustain international human-rights law or global environmental standards.

Collectively we can, cooperating, case by case, where the need arises.

This alliance is not directed against the US. On the contrary: when the US wants to join us on any given multilateral project, we will gladly open the door. Because we want to use all frameworks of multilateral cooperation in which the US continues to be interested in. Arms control for dual-use drones that could be used by terrorist groups, as ISIS, could be a case in point. Our non-permanent membership on the UN Security Council starting in January will provide many possibilities to find out what we can do together.

c) Staying committed to our own political objectives

Balancing our relationship will require more than just increasing our share in joint endeavours. It is also about standing up where we see the US going down the wrong track – this requires counterbalancing US trends and making ourselves more resilient in cases where we do not agree with the US government. Because the picture is not all rosy. There are indeed issues that make our relations increasingly complicated.

They mainly affect one of the main pillars of our Foreign and Security Policy: the European Union.

While the US was always a sponsor of European integration there are nowadays tendencies to play European powers off against each other by enforcing existing differences, e.g. on Nordstream 2, instead of mediating between European allies and fostering the European project.

Before President Trump and Juncker agreed on a common plan, the EU was even called a “foe on trade” worse than China and Russia.

For Germany as for the European Union as a whole, open markets are a geo-economic necessity.

Therefore, we do not agree with the protectionist trade agenda that the current US government seems to embrace. Protectionism is not patriotism, it reduces prosperity.

Latest announcements by the IMF already underline that the worsening international environment for trade will reduce global growth significantly in the coming months.

To balance our relationship, the best counterweight we have is Europe. Therefore, we need to invest in a truly united Europe. We could take the US-President’s opinion, “that we are a foe” on trade as a compliment.

It means we are taken seriously in this field.

Our trade agreements with Canada, Japan and others will add to this strength. With the same determination we have to develop policies in other areas. For exactly three reasons:

1.) It makes Europe a more attractive partner, e.g. to form a Western policy vis-à-vis China or Russia. An ever stronger EU-ASEAN partnership for example could very well compliment the US policy in the region and provide leverage for the countries towards China.

2.) Unity and a growing set of instruments make us also more resilient against US-influence when opinions diverge, as they do right now on sanctioning Iran. Banks and financial instruments that cannot be targeted by US sanctions would be such tools.

3.) And most importantly, unity will give us better means to deal with the many challenges we are facing in and around Europe, such as terrorism, migration, regional conflicts like Syria, Libya and Yemen, stabilization and conflict prevention. If we can show that Europe – in her very own interest – will make a difference in managing any of these problems, the US will voluntarily seek closer cooperation.

d) Keeping all channels open

The list of foreign policy issues where our assessments align, is long – stretching from Ukraine via Turkey to China. Syria in particular is a field where we are looking for common solutions in the context of the UN framework.

It is obvious that Europe will have to play a bigger role in this region, once the violent conflict has ended.

Until now Germany is a member of the US led coalition in the fight against ISIS and we both contribute intensively to the stabilization of Iraq, with humanitarian assistance and capacity building, e.g. in Mossul or with the Kurdish and Iraqi Defence Forces.

Beyond foreign policy, I could also refer to the many bonds between our civil societies:

In October, we launched a campaign with over 1,000 events in all 50 States – to showcase all aspects of the transatlantic relationship, and even more importantly, to exchange ideas with Americans all over the country, as we are doing here today.

Because the societal links between Americans and Germans are as tight as ever – as evidenced by thriving student exchange, continuously high numbers of tourists, joint family heritage, and the list goes on and on.

To sum it up: If Germany, if Europe, will continue to do what needs to be done in our own interest we will end up in a more balanced Atlantic partnership that will only be strengthened. This is no guarantee that the Transatlantic Relations will completely stop being complicated – but in comparison with other complicated relationships there is a huge variety of policies we can continue working on to the benefit of all sides.

Thank you very much.

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