We must shape the future - not endure it: von der Leyen at the Munich Security Conference
"We have accepted responsibility," declared Ursula von der Leyen with respect to security-policy developments over the last four years in Germany. On the second day of the conference, Sigmar Gabriel made an urgent appeal for a stronger Europe that is better able to take action.
The Munich Security Conference came to a close on Sunday, with lively discussions about the situation in Syria and in the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Munich, as were many Cabinet ministers from the region and representatives of international organisations.
Importance of the "liberal order"
Like Friday, Saturday, the second day of the conference, began with a security-policy round-up as seen from Germany. German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, made an urgent appeal for a stronger Europe that is better able to take action. "Reliability and predictability are currently the scarcest commodities in the world," declared the acting German Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The last few years have seen massive shifts in the global order – with unforeseeable consequences for the security situation, declared Sigmar Gabriel. Looking to countries like China, he warned that where the architecture of the liberal order that we have in the EU, for instance, begins to crumble, others will begin to build their own pillars inside the edifice. China, he said, is currently the only country in the world with a clear geostrategic vision.
To retain the "liberal world order" it is also in the interests of the USA to consolidate cooperation with Europe. The German Foreign Minister underscored the importance of cooperation within NATO, which, he declared, has unequivocally proven its value, and is another foundation of "our security and freedom".
The international nuclear deal with Iran is a good example of successful cooperation between the EU and the USA, with the involvement of China and Russia. Sigmar Gabriel declared that in his view this is a deal that must not be allowed to fail. The same applies to the common engagement to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In this context he called for progress on the option of deploying UN peacekeeping forces in Ukraine.
Germany is determined, he said, to invest massively in the future of the European Union. He called on Germany’s European partners to shape the future and not merely endure it. The EU member states must identify their common interests in foreign relations with other states. They must devise strategies and instruments that will allow them to realise these interests. "If we are the only vegetarian, we will find it tough in a world of carnivores," said Sigmar Gabriel. He warned that there must always be a balance between non-military and military means and capabilities.
Other international hotspots
In the course of the second day, the conference concentrated on nuclear security, the challenges in the Sahel Zone in North Africa, and international terrorism. Many high-ranking representatives spoke on these topics. British Prime Minister Theresa May, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US National Security Advisor Herbert McMaster answered the often critical questions put by the audience at Munich’s Bayerischer Hof Hotel following their statements.
Retaining the transatlantic and developing the European
In her opening speech on Friday, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen first looked back at the security-policy developments over the last four years in Germany. "In 2014, the eyes of the world were on Germany – and we accepted responsibility. With France, we hammered out the Minsk agreements that created the first political framework for resolving the conflict in Ukraine. We supported the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in eastern Ukraine. We strengthened NATO’s eastern flank with the new spearhead, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), and air policing over the Baltic states."
She also pointed to the alacrity with which the Bundeswehr acted. "From day one we were part of the Enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania. We have stepped up our engagement as part of the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. We are engaged in the fight against IS with reconnaissance flights, tanker aircraft and the delivery of equipment and training services to the Peshmerga. And we have steadily increased our commitment in Mali."
Cooperation at European and international levels
The minister made special mention of the increased cooperation within the European Union. "We want to retain the transatlantic – and develop the European parallel to this," said Ursula von der Leyen, pointing to the EU’s latest defence initiatives. "We have launched the European Defence Union. We have begun at political level to create an ‘army of Europeans’. The Franco-German action plan, the roadmap and the European Defence Fund have provided strong impetus."
At the close of her address, Ursula von der Leyen underscored the importance of the transatlantic alliance and cooperation within NATO. She called for decisive impetus. Germany, she declared, wants to strengthen the United Nations. It wants to help resolve the challenges facing the UN. "It is important to us to advance a comprehensive understanding of security," said the acting minister.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen: "If security and development are no longer seen as contradictory, but rather if soldiers and police officers, teachers, doctors and lawyers plan and work together – if it is not the egotism of nation states that triumphs but a cooperative global order – then our children will perhaps say to us: you have used your time well."
The Munich Security Conference will continue until Sunday, spotlighting many different aspects of security policy. Alongside German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, the acting government is represented in Munich by German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and German Development Minister Gerd Müller.
Internationally, the Munich Security Conference is held to be one of the most important foreign- and security-policy meetings. At the conference, heads of state and government, security policy experts and representatives of the military, industry and the science and research community meet to discuss the many aspects of security, without being bound by diplomatic niceties.