Speech by Foreign Minister Baerbock at the conference “The National Security Strategy one year on”

01.07.2024 - Speech

Translation of the German speech

A hacker attack against the IT systems of 100 local authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia – municipal offices, welfare offices offline, even hospitals are affected. That was on 30 October 2023.

A drone hits the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, in Zaporizhzhia. Just a three-hour flight away from Berlin. That was on 7 April 2024.

Some 700,000 litres of water contaminated with heating oil pumped out of 140 cellars in the Augsburg area alone. Thousands of people evacuated simultaneously. That would once have been called a once-in-a -century flood. Today we face this threat every few years. We still have vivid images in our heads from June, just a few weeks ago.

These are not scenes from a disaster movie. These are three events that happened during the last few months. Examples that show us that our country is vulnerable. That our lives have become less secure.These examples that show that security is the task of our times.

When we began drafting the National Security Strategy two years ago, our work was shaped by our awareness of all this.

Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine had begun only a few weeks previously. It marked the start of a new era in Europe. It was a wake-up call, but by no means the only danger to our security.

Threats which initially appear less visible are also hitting us all the harder today. The consequences of the climate crisis, which has been highlighted again in such a devastating fashion by the floods, are one example. As is the disastrous impact of cyber attacks, which I feel are not receiving enough attention. They are directed against companies, as well as hospitals and political parties. Often they are dismissed as one-off incidents. However, they too lie at the heart of our National Security Strategy.

Being able to react in unison to these security challenges, to respond together in an overarching and integrated manner is the quintessence of the National Security Strategy, which we officially adopted one year ago and which we want to discuss today.

That’s why we’ve come together for a working conference – with various panels. Because our task today is not to reinvent strategies but to ask ourselves: how far have we come during the last year?

The Strategy – and this was something special for our country – is not only about our robustness, even though that’s an important aspect of our national security at present, but also about connecting our country’s robustness to the question as to how we can make our society more robust, that’s to say more resilient. At times when we also have to do everything to protect our livelihoods.

That’s the essence of integrated security. And, of course, we – including the many journalists here today, to whom I would like to extend a warm welcome – then have to ask ourselves the bold question: by what percentage has Germany become more secure during the last few years? Ten, twenty or thirty percent?

But it’s clear to us that this is not about bold headlines, but about structural resilience, which often cannot be measured in figures because we don’t know where the next cyber attack will take place.

To be blunt, a strategy is not a panacea which spells out the right solution to every situation. Rather, the object and purpose of strategies is to set priorities, to determine goals and principles. And not only to strengthen the cooperation among ministries but also between the German Government and the European level, NATO, with federal states, municipalities and society, in order to create security. That’s to say, in order to be able to act in an integrated manner when our security is challenged.

Or to put it a bit flippantly: a security strategy is like a GPS system, a navigation system, which tells us how we can move safely into the future, but cannot of course foresee every red light or the dog that suddenly runs across the street.

Rather, a system which tells us in situations which no one can foresee how the key stakeholders can work together securely.

In awareness that a strategy, a mere paper, cannot make our country more secure but that what is needed above all is a change in mindset. The confidence of realising that we have to take responsibility for our own security and that we’re up to this task.

The confidence that we are stronger together, especially in our federal system, which we sometimes find challenging. This solidarity is based on the responsibility of our society as a whole, of each and every one of us.

The task of politicians – and I’m therefore grateful that so many colleagues from Parliament are here today – is not only to ensure this solidarity but to invest in it.

For that reason, too, our Security Strategy not only contains questions concerning robust democracy but also about strengthening public institutions, courts or the police. However, our social welfare system also plays a role. After all, we know that social cohesion holds societies and democracies together.

That’s why we shaped this Security Strategy together with you – with the Bundestag, the federal states, the municipalities, all ministries as well as through many citizens’ forums.

Last year I was asked why we were travelling through the country to promote a National Security Strategy. I replied that it was because this National Security Strategy is for people, and people should know about it.

Not only people in your municipalities but companies and universities in particular. And I’m pleased that my Latvian colleague is here today, because this also affects our European partners.

So when we now look at how far we’ve come, the most visible and important thing is certainly our stronger international cooperation aimed at enhancing European robustness.

And I now want to kick off our discussion today by looking at individual areas before we then address them more intensively in the panels.

The strongest signal we’ve sent together regarding our security is Finland’s accession to NATO last year – as well as, thankfully and finally, Sweden’s accession this year.

As a result of Finland’s accession alone, NATO now has an additional 60 cutting-edge F35 fighter jets. Not to mention 19,000 soldiers and 238,000 reservists. All players who were already integrated into NATO systems through close cooperation. However, the most important thing is not only that Finland’s accession has strengthened our capabilities but that Putin’s plan to divide NATO and possibly destroy it, which is part of this war of aggression, hasn’t worked out. On the contrary.

Putin wanted to weaken NATO and instead he’s strengthened it. NATO is stronger than ever before – although it has to be said that it faces bigger challenges than ever before.

The second key point, which is also visible because it can be quantified in figures, is that not only has the European pillar of NATO been strengthened during the last two years, and especially during the last year – something we Europeans will highlight at the summit in Washington. For our responsibility as the strongest country within the European Union has also increased.

As you all know, Germany now invests more than two percent in its own robustness and defence. What’s more, we’ve launched the European Sky Shield initiative and we’re transferring a brigade to Lithuania.

I’m certain that we would have discussed these points very, very differently here three years ago. Or you would have said: “What’s this woman talking about?”

But it’s very clear that we certainly cannot sit back now in 2024.

That’s why this year is definitely about more than simply taking stock. It represents a small intermediate step and a mandate. I’m therefore grateful that we will hear how Latvia sees things in a moment. We were together just two weeks ago at the Council of the Baltic Sea States. We see that Putin’s aim is to challenge Europe’s security further.

Putin’s Russia will remain the biggest threat to our security in Europe for the foreseeable future. And that’s why our security measures can only be a first step.

In terms of ideology, Putin’s Russia is heading towards totalitarianism. Vladimir Putin’s imperialism will not stop at Ukraine. This has been apparent time and again in his speeches. Looking at the figures, we can see that Russia is preparing its armed forces for a major war, with plans for a war economy for many years to come.

For economic reasons alone, he can’t simply say that the war will end tomorrow. We have to keep reminding ourselves of that.

But, of course, our Eastern European neighbours in particular are frequently irritated by the debates in our country when we say: well, we don’t want to get drawn into this war. First of all, who wants that? No one. Everyone wants to live in peace.

And secondly, my Eastern European partners and friends often tell me: “The debate in your country is a bit of a luxury. In our countries, we don’t ask ourselves whether we want to be drawn into the conflict – because Putin is right on our doorstep.”

That’s the situation in countries which have a border either with Russia or with Belarus or Ukraine, where we have witnessed very targeted needling on the part of Russia on repeated occasions during the last weeks and even months. This needling has been directed against NATO, the EU’s external borders – whether it be buoys, or certain GPS systems, thus preventing Finnair, for example, from landing in the Baltic states.

That’s why the points we made plain in the National Security Strategy are so crucial and important to us: we are tailoring our own policies to this very reality, a reality which we wouldn’t wish for, which we did not choose but which is now the reality in our world. We will defend our Europe, every square centimetre of our Europe, as well as our freedom.

And we’re aiming to ensure that our deterrence is so clear and evident that this day will never come. And a stronger defence and deterrence through our NATO capabilities is not the only thing that’s crucial. For, of course, the standing of the Federal Republic itself as a very strong major player is also key: As you all know, we launched a special fund of 100 billion euro for the Bundeswehr to this end. The two percent which I’ve already mentioned, but also the structural issues which need to be addressed, such as the proposals recently put forward by Defence Minister Boris Pistorius on restructuring or reorganising military service, cannot be resolved by snapping our fingers.

Not because we want things to be that way but because it’s the task of our times if we take our responsibility seriously.

However, we also know that we can only answer the major issues of our age if we define our defence capabilities and our deterrence with our strong partners in the Alliance – within NATO, and especially within the EU.

These, too, are key elements which we’ll debate further. And we’ll do this within the framework of an integrated security approach.

I want to say to the many men and women we see in uniform at this venue that I believe you are more aware of this than anyone else because you experience every day that this investment was actually long overdue if we are to shape our robustness in the necessary manner.

However, we all know that security is about more than the military, more than the absence of war.

Security is also about stable supply chains for our companies. It’s also about safe drinking water for our citizens and a reliable electricity supply for our hospitals. And it’s also about being able to vote without disinformation in the preceding days distorting any debates and consequently the election results.

We as a society are vulnerable in all of these areas. Among other things, therefore, integrated security is about taking the problem of disinformation seriously.

At the end of last year, an analysis unit at the Federal Foreign Office uncovered a campaign by the Doppelgänger network in the social media. It involved 50,000 fake accounts, which cannot always be identified as fake straightaway. A total of 50,000 fake accounts which published more than a million items containing lies and pro-Russian messages against the German Government within a four-week period. Artificial intelligence was used and the messages were made to always look slightly different. But the essence, the core lie of the messages was always the same.

Today the target is the German Government, tomorrow it’s NATO and the day after tomorrow civil society stakeholders. The aim of such campaigns is always the same: to attack the fundamental pillars of our democracy deploying disinformation. By spreading uncertainty, by trying to exert influence. To identify and address this at an earlier stage, the German Government established a unit to identify foreign disinformation. It’s attached to the Federal Interior Ministry and consists of experts from different ministries. This has been done in close coordination with European partners, some of whom have already set up bodies of this kind. We’ve taken this step because it’s not enough to look at such attacks in isolation. Rather we have to be able to spot when they happen simultaneously in different federal states or even simultaneously in different EU countries. It’s no coincidence that France and also Germany were targeted to a greater extent just before the European elections. Rather, there are strategies and networks behind this, some of which have been working on this for years.

We now know that autocrats in the wider world and extremists at home are working hand in hand – and we have to protect our democracy from this very threat.

That we have to strengthen our resilience also applies to our economy. That, too, is addressed in the National Security Strategy. For too long in the case of Russia, we were confident that economic relations will ultimately make both sides more cooperative and that these relations would be used on a cooperative basis.

We know today that trade doesn’t automatically bring change and that blind hope is not a security strategy, indeed it’s sometimes a security risk.

Making the same mistake twice is irresponsible. Instead, we need a policy which doesn’t ignore risks, creates the right conditions and makes us more independent. The keyword is diversification, which is also anchored in our China Strategy.

We need trade agreements, raw materials partnerships and if necessary – in the case of market distortions – economic measures in line with WTO rules, tariffs, for example.

But we also need companies which make responsible decisions and minimise the risks instead of outsourcing the cost to policy-makers when the going gets tough.

That, too, is part of our Security Strategy: we need greater cooperation between policy-makers and business in order to ensure economic security. For the more diverse our supply chains are, the more secure our country is.

In this sphere, too, there’s no magic solution, no automatic processes. Instead, we have to look time and again at individual sectors and branches to identify the right balance in the interaction between business and the state.

We see that now, for example, with regard to the screening process for Chinese components in the 5G network. These are not easy discussions because, on the one hand, we naturally have an interest in ensuring that our mobile networks are expanded quickly, cheaply and across the nation.

And if we act now, we also have to answer the question: how can we ensure that the expansion is not slowed down in this situation?

On the other hand, it’s clear that we cannot afford to allow infrastructure in key areas to be exploited by states that we cannot completely trust.

In a fully digitalised world, no car, no lorry and no job will function without a mobile network in future.

That’s why we have to protect the digital space as our society’s central nervous system. We agreed on this goal in the National Security Strategy.

We can achieve this with the right screening procedures for 5G, but above all with much better exchanges and better cooperation on cyber attacks. That’s why we’re transforming the Federal Office for Information Security into a central office for the Federal Government and the federal states. We’re also taking this step because we know that humans and human error are still among the biggest weak spots. And we know that for that very reason we have to work together, also with universities, on research projects. The question has to be asked: what does this have to do with security? And in the case of municipalities taking local investment decisions, an awareness has to be developed that ultimately such decisions can also have an impact on our country’s security.

The National Security Strategy is intended to help us look at priorities which go beyond the narrow focus of day-to-day crisis management. However, it is also intended to help ensure that we have mechanisms that work should a crisis occur.

For we’ve also learned during the last few years that it’s crucial to realise that in major crises – but not only in major crises that affect hard security in the form of war and peace but also natural disasters – lives can be lost when things are not rehearsed in advance, systems are completely outdated or early-warning systems have been switched off.

Natural disasters have already driven millions of people around the world from their homes. Across the globe, we see that the climate crisis has aggravated conflicts and famines.

We can no longer afford to say that we didn’t know all of this. And, unfortunately, many people in our own country have also experienced this themselves during the last few years. That’s why the Federal Government Strategy on Climate Foreign Policy is part of the National Security Strategy. This is an area where we have to work together more closely. In the climate negotiations, for example, within the context of which we decided in Dubai last year to transition away from fossil fuels and to focus on clean energy.

But we also made it clear during the negotiations that we have to cooperate much more closely when it comes to the effects of climate crisis, adjustment, loss and damage and disaster risk reduction.

We know that we’re already experiencing the 1.1 or 1.2 degree world. Every additional tenth of a degree in terms of global warming will make us less secure or, if we prevent it from happening, more secure.

None of these issues are easy. Especially when it comes to implementation. What does this actually mean when it comes to heating our homes or expanding networks?

It means that society in its entirety joins in the discussion. That’s why it’s so important to the Federal Foreign Office and all ministries that we see this as a debate and strategy for society as a whole for the next few years. Our aim is to stop us from reverting to old patterns of behaviour.

And I want to be very clear here. For whenever things get difficult, we tend as humans to fall back on old reflexes. I get a bit irritated when people now start saying again: “Well, we weren’t actually that dependent on Russian gas. It wasn’t that bad.”

As if the winter we all wondered whether we would get through was 20 years ago and not just over a year.

Or when we see discussions in which support for Ukraine is treated as if it was a matter of charity and not like the important issue it actually is: an investment in our own national security. An investment in the defence of our peace and our freedom. There couldn’t be a more important national interest.

And when the undertone of many comments is: “Security’s all well and good but it shouldn’t cost anything.”

That, too, sounds like a debate from another planet. For it would be fatal if we were forced to say in a few years’ time: “We’ve protected the check on public borrowing but we’ve lost our European peace order.”

That will be the question that our children ask us in a few years’ time. I travel around the country a lot and I completely understand that many people long to return to the past, that they say: “Everything was easier back then.”

If you take a closer look, I doubt that was always true. But feelings always weigh more heavily.

The task of decision-makers, particularly in politics and business, is not to shy away at such moments. Rather, they have to make it clear that security cannot be taken for granted and that we have to invest in our security.

That the crises are not far away, they are on our doorstep.

In that sense, it will be crucial during the next few weeks – and, as we see, during the next few years in the case of Europe – that we look beyond the present and don’t think merely in terms in quarterly figures or legislative terms.

That the Strategy highlights the necessity that our free Europe, in which we have lived all these years, remains a given for our children. And the good thing is that during the last two and a half years since the start of the brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, we Europeans have made it clear that we shouldn’t be underestimated.

In times when European societies, European democracy is needed, we were there and were able to overcome supposed differences or even marked differences.

For when everyone asked themselves what kind of Europe they wanted their children to live in, the answer was, of course, always the same: in a free Europe, in a Europe which not only upholds but continues to live its own democracy.

The Federal Republic of Germany is a strong country at the heart of Europe.

With the EU, we have one of the world’s biggest internal markets.

We have an incredible number of friends around the world and we have 83 million citizens who know that if we stick together, if we remain a strong democracy, then we’ll continue to live in peace and freedom.


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