Security through upgrading

Dear Professor Dr. Beckmann, dear members of the university management, dear generals, ladies and gentlemen, but above all you, dear students,

once again we have to bow to the virus and also move this meeting into the virtual.

I am pleased to be able to speak to you and discuss with you for the first time today.

I would like to thank all those who have made this possible.

Ladies and gentlemen

We are currently experiencing a moment of great significance. Before our eyes, the overall strategic situation is changing, condensing and becoming clearly recognizable.

In the United States of America, we have seen a presidential election, the outcome of which presents us with old challenges and opens up new options in international politics, including security and defence policy.

Now we Europeans can show that we and how we want to seize this opportunity.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia have just fought the first real drone war in history, with serious consequences for the losing side.

China has just signed the world’s largest free trade agreement with fourteen other Indo-Pacific countries. This treaty in the world’s most dynamic economic region illustrates the global shift in power to the Pacific.


This seriously disturbs the strategic balance and potentially also the nuclear balance in Europe.

All of this is happening while the Covid-19 pandemic is still spreading globally. We cannot yet fully foresee the economic, political, social and strategic consequences of the tiny virus.

My Australian counterpart Linda Reynolds said very aptly at a joint webinar two weeks ago: “It is the job of defence ministers to look at the world soberly as it is, not as we would like it to be.” This is not always easy for us in Germany.

If we do our job well, however, we can help Germany and Europe to move in the direction we want in terms of foreign and security policy.

It is therefore good that there is now a consensus across the political camps for ‘more responsibility’ between Germany and Europe.

But does this consensus also mean that the people of the country can and must be expected to accept the truths that come with the higher responsibility, sometimes also inconvenient?

Anyone who thinks they cannot or cannot do so is arrogant. He doesn’t respect people. He treats them like minors.

The citizens of a democracy have a right to inconvenient truths.

For if we in Germany want to move from a consensus on greater responsibility to a consensus of concrete action, if we no longer want to talk about the recognition that Germany must do more in the abstract, but to implement it in concrete terms, then this can only be done with the democratic legitimacy of the citizens.

The challenges are clear, as is international system competition.

Some states oppose the Western model of open society, democracy and the rule of law with a different model that is in no way compatible with our values.

Some are aggressively expanding their influence in Europe using different methods in order to co-govern in our countries and our institutions.

Authoritarian systems are on an economic, social and military course of expansion and are working hard to rewrite and disenfranchise international law.

Trade routes and supply chains are coming under pressure.

In the cyber world, we are dealing with a variety of state or state-related attacks on a daily basis, many of them on the institutions of our democracy or on critical infrastructures.

State-of-the-art weapon systems, from AI-controlled drone swarms to previously barely repellable hypersonic missiles, are already in use or will soon be.

Unfortunately, crises and wars also determine everyday life in our European neighbourhood.

At the same time, terrorism, especially the Islamist one, remains a scourge for all people all over the world.

Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, we must admit that the end of the Cold War was not the end of history. Peace has not broken out everywhere. Our security, our prosperity and our peaceful coexistence are under real threat.

In addition, we are also currently feeling fundamental uncertainties in NATO and the EU:

Finally, Covid-19 will also hit defence policy. However, the coming defence budgets need a healthy growth course. The threats and challenges described remain so during the pandemic.

Ladies and gentlemen,

in order to respond to these developments, we need openness and seriousness in the debate.

As the minister responsible, I would like to make my contribution to this.

In a connected world, we need a networked understanding of politics. We need a well-coordinated foreign, security, defence, trade and development policy if we, as Germany and Europe, want to become more capable of world politics in the future and if our capabilities are to be turned into effective defence diplomacy.

Last year, therefore, I proposed at the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich that a National Security Council be set up in Germany.

In the meantime, in this special year 2020, a whole series of events have shown how helpful such an instrument would be for coordination and strategy development. The corona crisis is also one of them.

I am sure that this will be discussed in future coalition negotiations.

I am pleased that the Federal Government has adopted comprehensive guidelines on the Indo-Pacific, including security and defence policy. The strategic importance of the region is thus fully recognised.

Stronger defence and security cooperation fills the multilateralism that is so important to us and strengthens the partnership with friends in Australia, Japan, South Korea or Singapore.

Germany will become more present, for example through more liaison officers and in the coming year, corona admits, by a ship of the German Navy.

We will show flag for our values, interests and partners.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since the end of World War II, Germany has lived on a stability that it has created together with its European neighbors and the United States.

We have always depended on allies for the freedom, peace and good lives of the people of our country.

The united states of America have been and remain the most important ally in security and defence policy. And they will remain so for the foreseeable future. Without America’s nuclear and conventional capabilities, Germany and Europe cannot protect themselves. These are the sober facts.

The renowned London-based RUSI Institute estimates that the US currently makes up 75 percent of all NATO capabilities.

The US makes up 70 percent of the so-called “strategic enablers,” such as reconnaissance, helicopters, air refueling, and satellite communications.

Nearly 100 percent of the defense capabilities against ballistic missiles are brought to NATO by the United States. And, of course, the US provides the vast majority of nuclear deterrent capabilities.

About 76,000 U.S. soldiers serve in Europe. That does not include the troops that the US would send for reinforcements in an emergency.

Compensating for all of this, according to serious estimates, would take decades and make our current defense budgets more than modest.

So we have a particular interest in America continuing to be interested in defending Europe, while at the same time shifting its strategic focus to Asia.

The best way to achieve this is to do more for our own safety. Only if we take our own security seriously will America do so.

The French President has just said that – and I agree with him.

At the same time, I can only underline what President Steinmeier said a few days ago, on the occasion of the 65th birthday of the Bundeswehr:

“To rely alone and only on the EU would be to drive Europe into division. We will continue to urgently need the strongest and largest partner in the alliance. But only a Europe that wants and can credibly protect itself has the best chance of keeping the United States in the alliance.”

That is what we are talking about now. We must endure this paradox: we remain dependent on the United States in terms of security policy and, at the same time, as Europeans, we must do more of what the Americans have taken away from us so far.

The idea of Europe’s strategic autonomy goes too far if it feeds the illusion that we can guarantee security, stability and prosperity in Europe without NATO and without the United States.

However, if it is a question of being able to act independently as Europeans, where it is in our common interest, then that is our common objective and is in line with our common understanding of sovereignty and the ability to act.

Germany and France want Europeans to be able to act in a self-determined and effective way in the future when it matters.

We want Europe to be a strong partner for the United States, not a vulnerable protégé.

The new American President, Joe Biden, must see and feel that this is what we are aiming for.

I think it is important that we Europeans therefore present a joint offer, a New Deal, to the incoming Biden administration.

From the point of view of German defence policy, three key points are particularly important to me:

All this fits seamlessly and without a break with our ambitions in Europe: we want Europe to be able to do more, in NATO and as the EU.

This is precisely why Germany pushed ahead with important EU projects during its Presidency:

A separate European force, as some are now proposing, is a vision among many. No matter how you feel about it, who wants to take this big step in the end, you have to take all the small steps consistently beforehand. This starts with fulfilling the existing commitments in NATO and the EU.

This can only mean not only summoning Europe’s ability to act in the abstract, but also investing in it in a very concrete way, voting for it in a very concrete way, showing it with very concrete action.

Moreover, the cost of strategic autonomy in the sense of a complete separation from the United States would be much higher than the two percent of gross domestic product to which we ourselves committed ourselves in the Atlantic Alliance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

we must become more European in order to remain transatlantic. Germany has to start with itself for this. We cannot delegate this somewhere.

Our efforts in this direction can already be seen, in the readiness, the national and alliance defense, in foreign deployment, in personnel growth, in the procurement of equipment.

Also, by the way, as an actor in international defense diplomacy, which enables us to act for freedom, peace and conflict resolution from a position of strength – whether through NATO presence, through training or military observers.

The Bundeswehr is already doing all this.

At the same time, I say emphatically that the Ministry of Defence alone cannot ensure that our security and defence reliability as an ally is strengthened.

This is a task of general policy. Thus, the long-term financial line of the defence budget must also be a common concern of a government.

I can therefore well imagine following the example of other European countries in the coming legislative periods and adopting a defence planning law that will fix the financing of our security over the years and in the long term.

So that security is less of a plaything of the economy and short-term moods, but remains constantly underfed as the absolute core task of the state.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we talk about money for our security, a realistic and critical look at the world as it is is good here too.

Let me therefore tell an unpleasant truth: the demands on Germany are increasing. They change qualitatively.

One consequence of this is that we have to measure our plans again and again.

In the past, we prioritised mainly out of the need for tight coffers. Today we have to do this because a rapidly changing world situation makes it necessary. What is more important than other? What is more urgent now? We will name that very well. Not everyone will get what they dreamed of.

It is also important to me that we coordinate well in the alliance. We remain a reference partner. And we must not spare our ability to work together.

And, of course, we must not, of course, save on the safety of our soldiers!

This brings me to a central point: I will not agree to the financing of large-scale projects at the expense of basic equipment and the resources of day-to-day operations.

The Bundeswehr has made this mistake in recent decades and it has hit the armed forces to the core. This must not be repeated.

New large-scale projects, as attractive as they seem and as nice as it would be to have the skills promised with them, can only be realized if additional money is made available for them in financial planning – or if other major projects are not realized for it.

That is why I am pleased that, in the current budget negotiations, we have been able to agree to give some of these projects a medium-term financial perspective:

This is good for the force, reliable towards our allies, promotes European autonomy, industrial capabilities and technology, and it is a living overall responsibility in the Federal Government and in Parliament.

Dear students,

some of you are already an officer, some of you are still an officer candidate. They will all soon have a say in the fortunes of our Bundeswehr.

You have consciously chosen a challenging path in a serving function. Quite a few of you will be partly responsible for the strategic skills of this country.

You have certainly already noticed that large, complex organisations such as the Bundeswehr are quite inclined to deal with themselves.

There is also a tendency in Germany and Europe, while the world is changing rapidly at the same time and others are shaping it according to their ideas – and also creating facts in our direct post-barbarism.

Ladies and gentlemen

We must look out into the world together, rather than just ourselves. My aim is – it must be our ambition – that Germany and Europe actively shape their own neighbourhood and the global order.

That we have a consistent view of our interests, how we serve them, what goals we pursue in the world and how we get there in cooperation with others.

I hope that you will practice this view early, constantly widen it, and never lose it again, no matter what level you are deployed, from the young troop leader to the military level.

This requires your curiosity and openness and our geopolitical and geostrategic training services.

This is precisely where I would like to start with an initiative aimed at strengthening this view, i.e. the geopolitical and geostrategic training of soldiers and employees in the Bundeswehr.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Soldiers belong to Germany not only as members of an institution or a constitutional body.

Men and women in uniform are, of course, everywhere in society. Nowhere is this more visible at the moment than in the help provided by soldiers in the Corona Pandemic.

More than 7,700 members of the Bundeswehr are currently helping in around 280 health offices, in many hospitals, nursing homes throughout Germany. There will be more.

The soldiers are there for our country, and the citizens perceive that.

The men and women in uniform also belong to this society as citizens, as neighbours and as fellow human beings. They have committed themselves to giving more to this community in the event of a case.

Those who promise to defend our country and our democracy valiantly, even with the use of their health or even their lives, deserve special respect.

Ladies and gentlemen

The namesake of your university, Helmut Schmidt, once wrote:

“I believe that the problems of the world and of humanity cannot be solved without idealism. However, I believe that one should be both realistic and pragmatic at the same time.”

On your way through the Bundeswehr, I hope that this healthy mixture of idealism and realism will become the benchmark for you, and that you will always be able to strike a good balance between the two.

Now I look forward to your questions and our discussion.

Warrior @akk, 17.11.2020, Hamburg