Speech on 51st Munich Security Conference


Mr Ischinger,
Heads of State and Government,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The Ukraine crisis, the terrorism of IS in Iraq and Syria, the Ebola epidemic – these three topics alone go to show that the past year brought with it a great deal of suffering and destruction for people at different ends of the earth. And it also brought troubling challenges for international security policy. That’s why it was right of you, Mr Ischinger, to place the question of the state of the international order at the heart of today, tomorrow and yesterday’s discussions.

In 2015 we’re commemorating some historical turning points.

Firstly, the Second World War and the Shoah, that utter betrayal of all civilised values, unleashed by Germany, came to an end exactly 70 years ago. After this horror, after decades and centuries of bloodshed, it became possible to create a new order for international relations, one which aimed to permanently secure the peaceful coexistence of peoples. The United Nations, the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union are all key elements of this order.

Secondly, 40 years ago the CSCE Final Act was signed in Helsinki, with which the inviolability of frontiers, peaceful settlement of disputes and non-intervention in internal affairs of other states were recognised. That was an important milestone in the long journey of overcoming the Cold War.

Thirdly, exactly 25 years ago the Two plus Four Treaty was signed, completing the process of German reunification. These two events marked not only a turning point for German history but also a fresh start for relations between East and West. At this juncture I’d like to clearly reiterate that Germany remains forever grateful to the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe for courageously and honourably standing up for their freedom and independence, for this also paved the way for Germany to reunify in peace and freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen, for over a year now, the crisis in Ukraine has demonstrated that respect for the principles of Europe’s peaceful order can by no means be taken for granted. For Russia’s actions – first in Crimea and then in eastern Ukraine – have gone against these principles of our coexistence. Ukraine is seeing both its territorial integrity and sovereignty disregarded. International law is being violated.

After the terrible war in the Balkans in the 1990s, we are once again being forced to experience what it’s like when peace and stability in Europe are called into question and the use of force becomes a bitter reality.

Russia’s actions conflict with the commitments it has made, for instance in the CSCE Final Act or – above all – in the Budapest Memorandum, in which the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Russia had pledged to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, in return for which the country would renounce its nuclear armament.

Especially when thinking of certain discussions on the margins of this Security Conference, the question begs: what country would give up its nuclear capacity when we cannot ensure that territorial integrity is accepted? That is why, together with its transatlantic partners, the European Union is making it clear that a policy which aims to forcefully alter borders in Europe can have no place in the 21st century. We’re making it clear that international law must be respected. A new division in Europe is in none of our interests, and a confrontation which risks spiralling out of control certainly isn’t either.

We want to work with, not against Russia, in shaping security in Europe. That applies to the European as well as the transatlantic security architecture. And it also applies to our efforts to overcome common international challenges, from the spread of weapons of mass destruction to combating international terrorism. The E3+3 negotiations on reaching a solution to the nuclear conflict with Iran and the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons prove that, despite all crises, we can successfully cooperate with Russia on important topics.

As it happens, these examples also go to show that the international order can have a positive effect. However this does require that all participants are always willing to be clear as regards the fundamental principles of this, that they adhere to them and that they allow themselves to be assessed on how well they implement them. Indeed, Russia must contribute to this in the context of the Ukraine crisis. The crisis cannot be resolved by military means.

That’s why, now, it’s more important than ever to lay out concrete steps which translate the Minsk agreements into reality. Our discussions, including our current talks in Kyiv and Moscow, serve this goal, and I’m pleased that President Poroshenko is taking part in this conference. I have to say though that even after the talks held by the French President and myself in Moscow yesterday, it’s unclear whether they’ll succeed. Nevertheless, the French President and I agree that it’s worth giving it a try. I think that if nothing else we owe it to the people in Ukraine affected by the crisis.

Anyone who wants to ensure the long-term security, stability and well-being of their people must act as part of the international community and accept its rules. Together with our partners, we in Europe will always stand up for our values and our peaceful order.

This context must also serve as the backdrop of the decisions taken at the NATO Summit in Wales last year, with which NATO laid the foundations for better operational readiness of the Alliance’s response forces. We are thus refocusing the Alliance on collective defence, including with the potential threats of hybrid warfare in mind.

Our Eastern partners particularly count on this. Their security concerns are all of our concerns. Thus, in the coming twelve months, together with the Netherlands and Norway, Germany will serve as framework nation for NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, which is still in the formation stage, and will make a significant contribution to its test exercises. In alliance with Denmark and Poland we’ll develop the multinational headquarters in Szczecin into a hub for future regional cooperation and defence of the Alliance. By doing so we are assuming direct responsibility for the security of our Alliance partners as well as that of our neighbours in Central and Eastern Europe.

It is precisely because NATO is a community of shared values that Article 5 implies more than statements of intent. Solidarity amongst Alliance partners is not just a utilitarian idea, it’s based on shared values and common convictions. That’s why we consider it to be so crucial for there to be a credible framework for it.

At the same time we must work on restoring and strengthening the instruments of cooperative security in Europe. The OSCE has a crucial role to play in this. Over the past year it has actively proven its value as a forum for dialogue and confidence-building in Europe. In order to get back to the path of confidence-building and cooperation, it is crucial that all participating States show their commitment to the principles of the OSCE – with both words and action.

We want to renew our shared understanding of the principles which state that security and cooperation can ultimately only be achieved in Europe by means of dialogue, cooperation and confidence-building. The pre-requisite for this, which I’d like to reiterate in no uncertain terms here, is that we uphold or reinstate, without reservation, the principles of our European post-war and peaceful order. They are as follows; firstly: Europe’s borders are and will remain unalterable. Secondly: the peoples of Europe are and will remain free to determine their own future. It took very long negotiations in the CSCE process to formulate these principles.

These convictions guide us when we work to ensure that in the states of the Balkans, too, democracy, freedom and self-determination can lead to stability, security and prosperity. Protectionism and isolation are failed recipes of the past. They don’t fit in in today’s era of free-trade agreements.

Thus on the German side we will work resolutely to secure the conclusion of a free-trade agreement with the United States of America. For we don’t want to sit back and watch whilst all of Asia concludes free-trade agreements one-by-one and Europe falls behind. Nevertheless, we have our work cut out.

The stance that protectionism and isolation belong in the past is expressed by the European Union and its transatlantic partners through the long-term cooperation projects which we launched at the conference on the Western Balkans, for example, or through our substantial support for the people of Ukraine.

We too are very interested in advancing towards our long-term goal of a common economic space from Vladivostok to Lisbon to Vancouver. I support the talks necessary for this, also between the EU Commission and the Eurasian Union. But let me add that a for such talks to even take place, and certainly for them to be successful, the Ukraine crisis must be resolved in accordance with international law.

Ladies and gentlemen, Europe’s southern neighbourhood is also causing us concern. It is characterised by turmoil, fragility and the collapse of states. Over the past four years, the civil war in Syria alone has claimed more than 220,000 victims. Countless civilians, women and children have fallen victim to the violence. Millions of people have fled their homes. The neighbouring countries, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan deserve a great deal of gratitude from the international community, for by taking in refugees they are stretching their capacities to the limits and indeed beyond. In light of the people’s suffering, all our help naturally offers but little solace, at best. It’s an enormous challenge.

The collapse of state authority in Syria has grave ramifications for the region. The terrorist group IS poses a threat to the stability of Syria, Iraq and the entire region. IS persecutes and murders all people who don’t bow to their control, acting across borders.

We’re currently being forced to witness a similar phenomenon in West Africa. The terrorist group Boko Haram is taking advantage of weak state structures, is benefiting from the real or alleged disadvantage of broad sections of the population and is using barbaric terrorism to tyrannise innocent people, including beyond the borders of Nigeria. The international community, including numerous Arab and Muslim countries – which is a good, positive message in favour of the international order – are putting up a resolute stand to the slaughter.

It’s a humanitarian imperative as well as in Germany’s own interests to make a substantial contribution to this. A week ago, the German Bundestag thus approved a Federal Armed Forces training mission for northern Iraq. Together with a series of international partners – the US, Italy, the Netherlands and many others, – we want to support the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces in their efforts to ward off the terrorism of IS.

We’ve also expressed our willingness to stand by African countries in their fight against Boko Haram. We’re doing this – as in Mali – in the belief that threats to our country’s security do not only stem from within our borders. Collapse of states, poverty, terrorism and epidemics may originate far from our front doors, but we’d be mistaken to think that Europe and our country will be spared their effects.

The terrorist attacks on the journalists of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, on police officers and customers in a Kosher supermarket in Paris a few weeks ago served as a poignant demonstration of what a direct threat international terrorism poses to us.

The international community is responding by continuing its determined fight against Islamist terrorism. Thus Germany is for example also using its current Presidency of the G7 to pursue its intensive efforts to put paid to the flow of funding and fighters which support international terrorism.

We’re also taking important measures at the domestic level, for instance by preventing people intending to fight from leaving Germany and by prosecuting terrorist groups. Thus, in future, anyone intending to leave Germany in order to take part in or receive training for serious acts of violent subversion will be liable to prosecution. In January the German Government approved a draft law on enabling, in future, Jihadis’ passports to be confiscated to prevent them from leaving the country. Moreover we plan on making funding terrorism in itself a criminal offence.

In this fight we stand side by side with the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Europe who have nothing to do with terrorism. Especially in Germany, Islamic communities and associations have clearly and unequivocally raised their voices against the abuse of their religion to justify hate and violence.

Ladies and gentlemen, the attacks in Paris, the international Ebola epidemic, the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean – all of this shows us the extent to which foreign and security policy impacts matters concerning the internal politics of our societies. The crises in West Africa, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa as well as Yemen and elsewhere show how much an entire region’s development depends on whether and how we can guarantee basic security. People need security to thrive. States need security to foster development and prosperity. Regions need security to develop structures together.

By the same token, many of these crises stem from the dysfunctional political systems of individual countries and regions. Regional conflicts, domestic conflicts over distribution of wealth, insufficient inclusiveness of political processes, inadequate education systems and healthcare provision – all of these aspects undermine long-term stability, the actual or perceived legitimacy of governments and thus ultimately also the enforcement of state authority.

The German Government is therefore convinced that it’s also in the interest of our own security for us to adopt a comprehensive approach to stabilising fragile states and regions. We must help to bolster functioning state structures. One aspect here is the ability of their respective security services to function. We must include them, too, in our efforts. Security and development must go hand-in-hand.

In this regard we consider training security forces to be very important. At the same time we must ensure that these forces have sufficient material equipment to be able to fully live up to their task – and I here I also mean ensuring the protection of human rights. I still think it’s important for us to consistently pursue our goal of equipping and bolstering security forces and providing them with the funding they need. The upcoming European Council on the Common Security and Defence Policy will offer us another opportunity to do this in June.

Over the past decade, the international community was also intensively and comprehensively engaged in achieving these goals in Afghanistan. Together with the Afghans we have certainly made progress there. We’ve created an education and healthcare system and we’ve built up the Afghan army and police. Compared to 2001, the Afghan people enjoy a better quality of life. The economy has also steadily developed over the years. A lively civil society and a broad media landscape have come into being. Above all we’ve achieved our most important goal: there’s no longer an international terrorist threat stemming from Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, we are not overlooking the fact that the everyday security situation for the people in Afghanistan is anything other than satisfactory. Corruption and the trade in illicit drugs have not been sufficiently curbed either, and a proper reconciliation process has yet to take place. That is why we must now do all we can to preserve the progress we’ve made and to build on it.

In order to do so we need a healthy dose of realism, ongoing commitment and strategic patience. This task is likely to span a generation rather than a few years. Afghanistan’s security sector will continue to need substantial international support beyond 2016, and not just in terms of funding. Together with our international partners and the Afghan Government, we will create the framework conditions for this over the upcoming months.

Ladies and gentlemen, today’s international order is based on the bitter experiences of two world wars. It draws its strength from the fundamental principles of law and freedom and our determination to stand up and defend these values. It’s the foundation which allows us to live almost entirely in peace and stability, at least here in Europe.

In other regions we face mammoth tasks. Given that in 1948 nearly all countries adopted the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and pledged to uphold it, we still have a long way to go before its principles are respected and implemented. That means we have much to do. Since then our international order has never been inflexible, and neither is it today. It has been and will continue to be further developed – not through its abuse but through intense engagement and joint dialogue. Germany stands ready to do this. Thank you.