Speech by Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel on 16 February 2019 at the 55th Munich Security Conference

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Esteemed colleagues,

Esteemed colleagues from the parliaments,

Mr Ischinger,

Ladies and gentlemen,

And, of course, allow me also to welcome the Minister-President of the Free State of Bavaria. I believe that Munich is an excellent city to host this conference. Bavaria’s strength is on display in a very special way here. We have other beautiful cities in Germany, but Munich is taking centre-stage today.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are marking the 250th anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt’s birth in 2019. Alexander von Humboldt lived on the threshold of industrialisation. He was a scholar and traveller who was driven by the urge to understand and see the world as a whole, a passion that yielded a great deal of success. His motto, as his Mexican travel diary from the year 1803 reveals, was “everything is interaction”.

About 200 years later, in 2000, after researching the hole in the ozone layer and its chemical interactions, Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen concluded that we were embarking upon a new geochronological age. The Ice Age and the interglacial period are over, and we have now entered the Anthropocene. In 2016, this definition was subsequently adopted by the International Geological Congress. This means that we are living in an age in which humankind’s traces penetrate so deeply into the Earth that future generations will regard it as an entire age created by humans. These are traces of nuclear tests, population growth, climate change, exploitation of raw materials, and of microplastics in the oceans. And these are but a few examples of the things that we are doing today.

All of this has implications for global security and for the issues that are being discussed right here, right now. It therefore makes sense to take a look at how this conference started life in 1963 – as a conference on military science, or “Wehrkunde” in German, still dominated by the aftermath of the Second World War and National Socialism in Germany; an event with a particularly pronounced transatlantic focus. This is why I’m also delighted that so many representatives from the US are with us here today. We are meeting today at a comprehensive security conference, where we are discussing the energy supply, development cooperation and, of course, defence issues and a comprehensive approach to security. This is precisely the right response.

We must think in terms of interlinked structures, of which the military component is only one. But what we sense at the beginning of the 21st century – we are now in the second decade of the 21st century – is that the structures in which we operate are essentially those that emerged from the horrors of the Second World War and National Socialism, but that these structures are coming under incredible pressure because developments require them to undergo reform. However, I don’t think that we can simply take an axe to these structures. This is why the heading of this security conference is “The Great Puzzle”. Allow me to start with the first part of this topic. Rivalry between great powers – this alone offers us an insight into the fact that something that we regarded as a whole, as an architecture of the world, is under pressure, and is even likened to a puzzle, i.e. something that breaks up into pieces.

Thirty years ago – an anniversary that we are set to mark this year – the Berlin Wall fell, and with it the Iron Curtain disappeared. The Cold War came to an end. Back then, people asked themselves whether we still need an organisation like NATO. Today, we know that, yes, we need NATO as an anchor of stability in turbulent times. We need it as a community of shared values, because we should never forget that we established NATO not only as a military alliance, but also as a community of shared values in which human rights, democracy and the rule of law are the guiding principles of joint action.

The fact that NATO continues to be immensely attractive to this day became apparent to us in recent months during the wrangling over whether North Macedonia, as we can fortunately now all call this country, can also become a NATO member. I would simply like to thank the two principal players, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev from North Macedonia and Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, most sincerely for their courage. They will be presented with the Ewald von Kleist Award this evening for their efforts. In view of the many conflicts that we face today and for which we have yet to find a solution, this is a good example of how solutions can be found if we take a courageous approach. I had already given up thinking about further combinations of names in the meantime, because I thought it was a lost cause anyway. Now you have met with success. Permit me to offer you my most sincere congratulations on this achievement!

There are, however, a great number conflicts that challenge us, and this is the subject of the discussions that we are holding here. I would like to start with one issue that is a particular focus of my work, and also for many others among us, namely our relationship with Russia. Russia, in the form of the Soviet Union, was, in a manner of speaking, the antagonist during the Cold War. After the Berlin Wall fell, we certainly hoped – the NATO-Russia Founding Act came into being at that time – that we could make improvements to our coexistence. When I recall now how in 2011, on the fringes of this security conference, the instruments of ratification for the New START disarmament treaty were exchanged between Hillary Clinton and Sergey Lavrov, then today, in 2019, this feels like quite a long time ago. But back then, both Clinton and Lavrov hailed this as a milestone of the strategic partnership. I say this to illustrate what has happened in recent years and to point out that, on the other hand, things may look completely different again in a few years from now if the different sides work with each other. I would therefore like to thank Jens Stoltenberg most sincerely for not only invoking the NATO-Russia Founding Act time and again during the most difficult times we have had in recent years, but also for seeking dialogue. Thank you very much indeed for this!

Crimea was annexed in March 2014 – in what was a clear violation of international law – and then – Petro Poroshenko is here today – came the attack on eastern Ukraine, which was followed by a painstakingly negotiated ceasefire that was fragile but kept stable by the Minsk Agreement, with which Germany and France together with Russia and Ukraine are endeavouring to resolve the conflict. However, we must admit that we are far from achieving a solution; we must continue to work on this at all costs.

For us Europeans, if I may say so, the really bad news this year was the termination of the INF Treaty. After not decades, but years of violations of the terms of the treaty by Russia, this termination was inevitable. We all supported this as Europeans. Nevertheless, this is – and I say this to our American colleagues – a most interesting constellation. The US and Russia, as the legal successor to the Soviet Union, are terminating a treaty that was essentially agreed for Europe’s sake, a disarmament treaty that affects our security, and we, of course, with our elementary interests, will do everything in our power to facilitate further steps towards disarmament. Blind rearmament cannot be our response to this.

However, since a representative from China is here today, I would say that disarmament is something that concerns us all, and we would, of course, be pleased in this regard if such negotiations were held not only between the US, Europe and Russia, but also with China. I know that there are many reservations about this, and I don’t want to go into details about this right now. But we would welcome this.

In response to the events in Ukraine, we said in Wales in 2014 that not only the fight against terrorism, such as in Afghanistan, but also Alliance defence were once again at the forefront of our efforts. Back then, the objective of developing the military expenditure of each country towards two percent of its respective GDP was updated once again. I never tire of pointing out that this was already a goal at the beginning of the 2000s. All those who wanted to become new members of NATO were told at the outset that if they did not take steps in the direction of two percent, then they would not be admitted to NATO in the first place. – That was before my time as Federal Chancellor.

Germany is now facing criticism in this regard. I will address this matter later on. We have, however, increased our defence expenditure from 1.18 percent in 2014 to 1.35 percent. We aim to reach 1.5 percent by 2024. For many this is not enough, but for us it is an essential leap.

Of course, we must also ask ourselves what we’re doing with this money. Let me put it this way: if we all fall into recession and have no economic growth, then defence spending will be easier. But I’m not so sure that this will stand to benefit the Alliance. This is why it is important that we have such benchmarks. However, we must also consider what tangible contribution we are making.

Germany is doing its part. We have now been in Afghanistan for 18 years and have around 1300 German servicewomen and -men stationed there. We are working with 20 partner countries in northern Afghanistan. My most sincere request is that we – this is the first and only deployment under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which we have been engaged in together for a very long time – also discuss the issues of further development together. We have had to work hard to convince our people that our security is indeed being defended on the Hindu Kush. I really do not want to see us one day having to turn our backs on this and walk away as we have extremely interconnected capacities in the region.

We are a framework nation in Lithuania and have for the second time assumed the leadership of NATO’s spearhead force. I don’t want to list everything here. However, all of these are things that are very useful, especially as far as Alliance defence is concerned. We are therefore also prepared to do our part.

We are now playing an active role also outside NATO, for instance in Mali. For Germany, this is a giant step and one to which we are, culturally speaking, not as accustomed as our French friends. It was no coincidence that a discussion took place this morning between the President of the European Union during the rotating Presidency of the Council and the new President of the African Union, the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi – congratulations on your election, which was just a few days ago.

The questions surrounding development in Africa and relations with Africa will challenge us as Europeans in a different way than, for example, the US. There will not always be NATO missions here. I would therefore ask you not to think of our efforts to achieve a coherent European defence policy as something that is directed against NATO, but as something that makes cooperation within NATO more efficient and feasible, because we can overcome many of the inefficiencies that exist among the many member states that are in the European Union and in NATO if we also develop a common military culture and if we improve the way in which our weapons systems are organised.

Germany is set to face a mammoth task in this regard, I can tell you. We now want to develop joint weapons systems. The issue of arms exports naturally also played a role in connection with the Treaty of Aachen, which we signed with France. If we in Europe do not have a common culture of arms exports, then the development of common weapons systems is, of course, at risk. In other words, we cannot talk about a European army and a common arms policy or arms development if we are not prepared at the same time to pursue a common arms export policy. We still have many complicated discussions on this subject ahead of us in Germany. I don’t think I’m telling you anything that you don’t already know here.

Ladies and gentlemen, alongside relations with Russia, the fight against terrorism is a major challenge for us, also in addition to the euro crisis, of course. In 2014/2015, we conducted very intensive negotiations with Greece about remaining in the eurozone. We then had to grapple with the refugee issue on a massive scale. The refugee issue has been fuelled by the situation in Syria, a civil war that has also been beset with terrorist challenges. The security issues that we faced were therefore of a very different nature compared with the ones that we face, for example, in the context of Alliance defence. Europe was forced to ask itself whether or not we are prepared to assume responsibility in an all-consuming humanitarian drama. That so many refugees came to Europe had to do with the fact that we had not previously addressed the situation of the refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where three million or more had already arrived. The stability of these countries was genuinely at risk. The upshot was refugees placing their trust in smugglers and traffickers and deciding to take their fate into their own hands.

Against this backdrop, Europe then embraced on a task – not just Germany, incidentally, but also Sweden, Austria and other countries: we provided assistance in a humanitarian emergency. But I think we all agree that states’ response to humanitarian emergencies cannot be for human traffickers and people smugglers to take control and for the refugees to be exposed to countless dangers, but that the right response was to create the EU-Turkey agreement.

For Germany, it was the right response to then also increase its expenditure on development assistance. During the same period – during the time when the Wales decisions to move towards two percent within NATO were adopted – we increased our development assistance expenditure to the same degree, because we are convinced that this, too, is a security issue. If we do not finally undertake sufficient payments for humanitarian assistance, for the Welthungerhilfe and for the UNHCR – and we are already one of the largest international donors – so that people’s livelihoods can be improved with their help, the refugee crisis will continue. The willingness of the German people, for example, to help, was outstanding, but we nonetheless need to solve the problems on the ground. That is what we are in the process of learning. So that was a parallel challenge that I consider as important from a security policy perspective as boosting our ability to honour our commitments within the Alliance.

Developments in Libya – also with regard to Europe or in this case Italy – have given us a foretaste of an issue that is becoming increasingly relevant: What direction will developments on the African continent take? In Libya, the instability of the state has resulted in this Libya becoming the starting point as it were for many African refugee flows, although our Spanish friends faced these challenges in connection with Morocco much earlier, ten or 15 years previously. That prompted the European Union to be much more consistent and resolute in developing the Partnership for Africa.

But let’s be honest: we are still in the early stages of this partnership. For if development in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in Egypt, in Morocco, in Tunisia and in Algeria does not progress in a way that gives young people opportunities and hope, that gives them prospects for a life in these countries, we will not be able to tackle the prosperity gap between Europe and Africa.

We can see that in recent years China has pursued development policy in Africa on a large scale in the form of investment. We can see that we in Europe have implemented traditional development policy to a considerable extent. I have often talked with President Xi Jinping about how we can learn from one another with regard to what each of us does well. But we have not yet drawn up a development policy agenda with which we could say that investment will ultimately create enough jobs to ensure security, peace and stability in these countries, too.

Again Germany has said the following, which in the early days of the Federal Republic of Germany was not an essential part of our historical understanding: Okay, we will support the G-5 Sahel troops, which are striving to fight terrorism. We are engaged in Mali and are working to tackle terrorism there in cooperation with the United Nations. We are on the ground in Mali working to train the armed forces. But all that will be in vain if these countries don’t have any economic prospects. And that is why we have increased our development assistance. But I want to reiterate that the methodology behind this development assistance has so far not been worked out in detail; that is something we can only do together with the African Union.

I am very pleased that the African Union now has clear strategic ideas – the Agenda 2063 and other plans – in which Africa is stating what it wants. For we need what these days is described as “ownership” in what has almost been adopted as a German word. People in Africa need to feel themselves: “These are our programmes.” If multilateral cooperation has improved in recent years, I have to say that in my view the African Union is certainly a good example of it.

So, ladies and gentlemen, those are the problems I wanted to outline for you and on which Germany is working. Now I want to turn to the question of the methodology of our cooperation. For the transatlantic alliance is, of course, in essence a defence alliance. The Foreign Ministers meet very frequently, but for many years we have discussed with France whether it is permissible also to discuss political issues. My theory is that NATO will only do justice to its responsibilities if it keeps its focus on the concept of networked security. I think that is happening to some extent. For none of these numerous conflicts can be resolved by military means alone.

Tensions, of course, run high in connection with what the answers should look like. What are the answers with regard to Ukraine? As far as the Minsk agreements are concerned, we are united. My heartfelt request is that implementation of sanctions against Russia be properly coordinated again if the situation escalates further – soldiers are now in the Kerch Strait. We won’t achieve anything if everyone implements their own sanctions. The third point is that we continue to support the NATO-Russia Founding Act. Communication channels need to remain open.

Then there is a fourth point: economic cooperation. There is already a wide range of discussions taking place on this issue – take the example of Nord Stream 2. I can understand Petro Poroshenko, who is sitting here and saying: Ukraine is a transit country for Russian natural gas, and wishes to remain so. I have assured him time and again that we will give him every possible support and conduct negotiations on this issue, and we will continue to do that, the election campaign notwithstanding. A Russian gas molecule is a Russian gas molecule, whether it comes via Ukraine or via the Baltic Sea. That means that the question of how dependent we are on Russian gas cannot be resolved by asking which pipeline it flows through. There, too, I say: I am ready. Nobody wants to become totally and unilaterally dependent on Russia. But if we even imported Russian gas during the Cold War – I was still in the GDR then and we consumed Russian gas there anyway, but the former Federal Republic then started importing large amounts of Russian gas – then I don’t know why the situation today should be so much worse that we can’t say that Russia remains a partner.

Let me ask you – again, it isn’t easy to say this in the presence of President Poroshenko on the left from where I’m standing and the Chinese representative on the right: Do we want to make Russia dependent on China or rely on China to import its natural gas? Is that in our European interests? No, I don’t think so, either. We also want to be involved in trade relations. That, too, is something we need to discuss frankly.

Although there is already very high LNG capacity in Europe – basically we have many more LNG terminals than we have LNG gas – we have made the strategic decision to continue to invest in LNG in Germany, too, in view of the predicted increase in gas consumption and LNG production particularly also in the United States of America. As we are phasing out nuclear energy as well as lignite and black coal, Germany will be a very safe market as far as natural gas is concerned, regardless of who is selling it.

Then we have the issue of Iran, which is currently a source of contention. We need to be very careful with regard to this division, which concerns me greatly. In a speech to the Knesset, I expressed my assurance that Israel’s right to exist is a fundamental guiding principle of Germany. And I mean exactly what I said. I am observing the ballistic missile programme, I am observing Iran in Yemen and above all I am observing Iran in Syria. The only question that divides us, the United States and the Europeans, on this issue, is: Does it serve our common cause, our common goal of reducing the harmful and difficult influence of Iran by terminating the only agreement still in force, or would we help our cause more by keeping hold of the small anchor we have in order to perhaps be able to exert pressure in other areas? That is the tactical issue over which we do not see eye to eye. But our goals are, of course, the same.

But I’ll also ask, as I am on the receiving end of criticism every day myself: Is it good for the Americans to want to pull out of Syria immediately and quickly, or is that not also a way to strengthen the opportunities for Iran and Russia to gain influence there? We need to talk about that, too. Those are issues that are on the table and that we need to discuss.

There is, of course, also the question of how economic relations between China, the United States and Europe should develop. That is a huge problem. We are observing that China is an up and coming country. When I visit China, its representatives say: for 1700 of the two thousand years A.D., we were the leading economy. Don’t get upset, all that’s going to happen is that we will return to the place where we always were. It’s just that you haven’t experienced it in the past 300 years. And we say: in the past 300 years we were the leaders, first the Europeans, then the United States, and then all of us together. Now, however, we need to deal with the situation as it is and find sensible solutions so that it doesn’t descend into a struggle that weakens all sides.

In this context I want to say quite clearly that I support all efforts to promote fairness and trade. I am talking about reciprocity. We need to talk about that. We need to do so in a spirit of partnership and in view of the fact that we have so many other problems to resolve in the world that it would be helpful if we could reach an understanding. I place great hope in the negotiations that are now being conducted with the United States of America in the area of trade.

I will say quite frankly that if we are serious about the transatlantic partnership, for me as German Chancellor it is a little disturbing to say the least to read that apparently – I haven’t yet seen it in writing – the US Department of Commerce has said that European cars are a threat to the national security of the United States of America. You see, we are proud of our cars, and we are entitled to be so. These vehicles are also built in the United States. The largest BMW factory is in South Carolina, not in Bavaria, in South Carolina. South Carolina in turn exports to China. If these vehicles, which are no less of a threat by being built in South Carolina than they would be by being built in Bavaria, suddenly pose a threat to US national security, then this comes as a shock to us. In that case, I can only say that I think it would be good for us to engage in proper talks. Whenever anyone has a grievance, we need to talk about it – that is how things work in the world. And then we will be able to find solutions.

Ladies and gentlemen, all these issues that are coming at us like puzzle pieces and which are too many for me to refer to here, are ultimately the expression of a fundamental question. Because we are noticing how great the pressure is on our traditional and, to us, familiar order, this raises the question of whether we are going to break up into a lot of individual puzzle pieces and think that each of us can best solve the problem single-handedly. As German Chancellor, I can only respond: if so, our chances are poor. For the United States of America has so much more economic clout and the dollar as a currency is so much stronger, that I can only say: obviously it holds the better hand. China, with more than 1.3 billion people, is so much larger. We can be as hard-working, as impressive, as super as we like – but with a population of 80 million we won’t be able to keep up if China decides that it no longer wants to maintain good relations with Germany. That’s how it will be all over the world.

So the one big question is this: Are we going to stay with the principle of multilateralism, which was the lesson we learned from the Second World War and the National Socialism caused by Germany, even when multilateralism is not always fun, but often difficult, slow, complicated? I am firmly convinced that it is better to put ourselves in one another’s shoes, to look beyond our own interests and to see whether we can achieve win-win solutions together rather than to think we can solve everything ourselves.

That is why, ladies and gentlemen, I was so pleased yesterday evening when I was preparing my speech and read a quotation by Lindsey Graham, who declared yesterday evening: “Multilateralism may be complicated, but it’s better than staying at home alone.” I think that is the right response to the motto of this conference “The Great Puzzle: Who Will Pick Up the Pieces?”: Only all of us together.

Thank you very much.

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