Speech by Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel during the Munich Security Conference Special Edition on 19 February 2021 (video conference)

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Mr Ischinger,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m delighted to be participating in this forum today, which is quite extraordinary in many ways – first and foremost because we are experiencing a pandemic and it has never been necessary before to have a virtual forum of this nature rather than a physical conference.

Let me start by going back to my speech two years ago when I referred to Alexander von Humboldt, who was convinced that “everything is interaction”. Essentially, therefore, he pointed out centuries ago that what we call multilateralism today, namely cooperation, should form the basis for our political actions. I believe that the last two years have brought home to us once more that a commitment to multilateralism is both right and important.

The fight against the pandemic has highlighted this in an unprecedented fashion. Mr Tedros from the World Health Organization reminded us today that if not everyone is vaccinated, if the virus is not defeated all over the world, then none of us will be safe, no one can truly be kept safe from the virus. We will be confronted with mutations time and again. The equitable and swift distribution of vaccines to everyone in the world is therefore one of our main tasks. During the recent G7 meeting, Germany pledged an additional 1.5 billion euro for the ACT-Accelerator and, in particular, for the COVAX vaccine facility. We’ve therefore now made pledges to the tune of 2.5 billion dollars for this programme; and we’ve done so out of conviction.

Alongside the fight against the pandemic, we of course also face major challenges regarding the climate and biodiversity, the fight against terrorism and – with even greater urgency than before – the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. We will only master and achieve all of this if we join forces in all spheres and regard security – and this was made ever clearer many years ago at the Munich Security Conference thanks to you, Mr Ischinger – as a concept of networked security, of multidimensional security.

The prospects for multilateralism are much better now than they were two years ago. This has very much to do with the fact that Joe Biden is now the President of the United States of America. His speech a few minutes ago, as well as his Administration’s first announcements, have convinced us that these are not just mere words and that action has been taken. The return to the Paris Agreement, the return to the World Health Organization, the cooperation in the UN Human Rights Council, the extension of the New START Treaty, as well as the readiness to revive the nuclear agreement with Iran – all of these are important steps towards greater multilateral cooperation.

I can only support what he said – democracies should not only talk about freedom and values but also deliver results and help others to succeed around the world. In Germany we have a saying: “There’s no good unless one does it.” That’s the agenda before us now. Of course, transatlantic cooperation plays a key role in this. What does that mean for Germany as a country which has always supported the transatlantic partnership, and as a European Union member state? It means that we have to continue our commitment in all spheres. We also have to take action where a special effort is required. Making a special effort sometimes also means going the extra mile. I believe we’ve made good progress in this respect during the last few years.

In Wales back in 2014, when we spoke about the two percent target for defence expenditure, we pledged to work towards this goal. I can say that this year our spending has risen to 1.5 percent, compared to 1.1 percent in 2014. Naturally, we are still committed to reaching the two percent target and continue to work towards it.

However, what we contribute to the transatlantic partnership is of course also important. I’d like to point out that Germany has been in Afghanistan for the last 18 years in a crucial area, in the north of the country, helping to safeguard or create stability. I’m very grateful that the US Administration is now reassessing the peace process in Afghanistan. Germany is willing to remain longer in Afghanistan if this helps ensure the success of the mission and if it enables us to help the democratic, the peace-loving forces in Afghanistan, ensuring that they have a real chance of prevailing. The withdrawal of troops must not result in the wrong forces gaining the upper hand in the country.

We’re a framework nation in Lithuania. We’re taking part in the fight against Islamist terrorism. We’re engaged in Iraq.

Germany is committed on the one hand to NATO as the central transatlantic pillar, and to European defence policy on the other. In our view, these two elements complement each other. They’re not mutually exclusive. Rather they supplement each other and belong together.

Of course, there are matters of very special importance to us in the European Union, matters which affect our interests. These include our commitment in Africa or Syria’s future. We have to realise that this is all about countries on the European Union’s doorstep and that we’re therefore especially affected by what happens there. In the last few years, Germany has increased its commitment in Africa, although we have to admit that France bears the lion’s share of the burden here. Nevertheless, we are involved in the UN MINUSMA mission as well as the European mission to train the armed forces in Mali and now also in the Niger. We’re also supporting the G5 Sahel initiative. And I would like to discuss with the United States of America once more whether we should support these countries in the fight against terrorism by jointly adopting a United Nations Chapter VII mandate. For that would provide these countries with greater support and assistance in their very difficult fight against Islamist terrorism. I believe that the relationship with Africa is of such strategic importance that it should be a key issue in the transatlantic discussion. 

One of the central points when it comes to defeating Islamist terrorism is also the question of how things will develop in Libya. Germany has assumed greater diplomatic responsibility here. I’m glad to say that the UN process has resulted in some successes. However, we shouldn’t be naive. For there is still a quite considerable danger that Libya will, as it were, become a pawn of major proxy powers and that the country won’t belong to its people or have a political future. The European Union is providing assistance but I believe that the transatlantic partnership should also seek to ensure that Libya and its people have a future.

We also have to advance the constitutional process in Syria – likewise under the auspices of the United Nations. For in Syria, too, there can only be a peaceful solution if the many people who had to leave the country have a political future there. 

Naturally, we will also work together very closely on the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement with Iran. I hope that we can ensure that this agreement has a chance of succeeding.

Beyond that, the transatlantic partnership has two major tasks for which we have to devise joint strategies.

Firstly, I’m referring to relations with Russia. We haven’t made any headway in the last few years on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Although the Minsk process is a diplomatic instrument, the progress made has been less than satisfactory. Russia has repeatedly embroiled European Union member states in hybrid conflicts. It’s therefore crucial that we draw up a joint transatlantic agenda on Russia which, on the one hand, contains offers of cooperation and, on the other, clearly spells out the differences. I fully agree with the American President about the need for a strong European Union: unfortunately, Russia is doing nothing to foster that at the present time.

The second and perhaps more complex matter is that we need to devise a joint agenda on China. On the one hand, China is a systemic competitor. On the other, we need China to help resolve global problems, for instance those relating to biodiversity or climate change mitigation. During the last few years, China has gained more clout on the international stage. We as a transatlantic alliance and as the world’s democracies need to take action to bring our own weight to bear. That’s why, for example, the question of supplying vaccines to developing countries is important. It’s vital that vaccines are not only supplied by China and Russia and that we ask ourselves what we can do via COVAX and also what can the G7 do as a multilateral community to foster the vaccination rollout in developing countries, especially in Africa. 

What’s more, we have to make multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization or the International Monetary Fund strong again. Wherever we’ve been weak and where we were unable to decide quickly enough to make changes or increase capital, subsidiary or other structures have emerged in the Asian region, often led by China. We have to devise appropriate responses and to convince others with our actions.

We have to work together to define the strategic challenges. I believe the agenda is clear; and it’s also clear that we have to develop joint approaches. That doesn’t mean that our interests will always converge – I have no illusions about that; we also have to speak frankly about our differences. However, our basic approach, our shared values, our convictions, our democracy and its capability to act have provided us with a good, common foundation. We have to show that our intention is not to make countries dependent on us. Rather, we want to convince countries of the advantages of our way of living and of our way of conducting politics. 

For me, the transatlantic perspective lies at the heart of these efforts. I can only say: much remains to be done. Germany is ready for a new chapter in the transatlantic partnership. And I’m delighted to have this opportunity to say that today at this Munich Security Conference forum.

Thank you very much.

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