NATO Engages 2019

“Statement and Conversation: Germany, NATO, and Transatlantic Security”



Heiko Maas,

Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs,

Federal Republic of Germany



Karen Donfried,


The German Marshall Fund of the United States


Location:  Washington, D.C.


Time:  4:25 p.m. EDT

Date:  Wednesday, April 3, 2019




ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the president of the German Marshall Fund, Dr. Karen Donfried.  (Applause.)

KAREN DONFRIED:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I am so delighted to have the opportunity to welcome all of you to NATO Engages on behalf of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.  We could not be happier than to be doing this second edition of NATO Engages again with our wonderful partners, the Munich Security Conference and the Atlantic Council.

It has been an amazing day so far.  We’re glad you are still all here because there’s lots more intellectual food to come.  And I have the great privilege of welcoming to the NATO Engages stage the foreign minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, Heiko Maas.  Minister Mass, please come to the podium.  We are so delighted to have you here at NATO Engages.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MINISTER HEIKO MAAS:  Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s a special moment for me to speak here today about the view from Berlin on NATO’s 70th anniversary, because it reminds of the people of Berlin, most specifically those who lived there 30 years ago.  And their views could hardly have been any more different. 

There were those for whom NATO has already been a promise and, at the same time, a certainty.  Guarantor of freedom for more than 30 years – freedom in the midst of fences and checkpoints.  And there were those who took the streets to demonstrate for their freedom, week after week and month after month.  Then, the Berlin Wall fell, and with it, a failing system.  The longing for freedom was too great to be contained by walls.  And after 28 years of division, all Germans, from both sides of the border, were finally able to fall into each other arms again.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, apart from all the emotion, images everyone associates with this event, there was one thing above all else which the year 1989 made everyone realize:  Freedom, peace and security are linked.  They belong together.  And I suspect that back then, there was no place in the world where this was as evident as it was in Berlin, where the system faced each other.  Even when the Cold War was at its hottest, the federal Republic could always rely on its allies, especially in West Berlin.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the last 70 years have shown how valuable strong alliance are.  That’s what NATO stands for – never alone.  The security of each individual member state is the security of all.  NATO remains the cornerstone of our security, and the central pillar of transatlantic relations.  In no other organization do the countries of North America and Europe cooperate so closely.  And I’m delighted that today Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg became the first representative of a multilateral organization to address both houses of the U.S. Congress.

This sent an important signal, especially at a time like this.  Not only because it lends our joint alliance support, but also because it’s a clear commitment to multilateral cooperation.  And by the way, the German Bundestag will honor the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty tomorrow and send a clear message that Germany wholeheartedly supports the NATO alliance.  We will stand by our commitments.  And I know that our budgetary process is sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand.  And believe me, not just for them.

However, we made a firm commitment to invest more money in defense.  And we intend to keep our word.  We, in Europe, know that we cannot take our security for granted.  We have to shoulder responsibility in order to continue safeguarding it in our own interest.  That’s why we’ve reversed the failing – the falling defense expenditure trend.  Since 2014, we have increased our defense expenditure by almost 40 percent.  And our defense expenditure will continue to rise.  By 2024, it will reach 1.5 percent of our GDP.

But burden sharing is more than defense expenditure.  Anyone asking about burden-sharing must look at the entire spectrum of resources, capabilities, contributions to NATO operations and alliance defense.

Following the attacks of 9-11, when NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty for the first and only time, we demonstrated our solidarity with our American friends.  Now we are the second-largest troop contributor in Afghanistan, and we are making substantial contribution to other NATO-led operations too.

Alongside the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, Germany is one of the four framework nations of the enhanced forward presence.  And our Eurofighters are helping to police the airspace over Estonia.  We have demonstrated our readiness to shoulder responsibility by taking over the command of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force this year.  And we are building a new NATO command center in Ulm.  We’re the only country apart from the United States doing this as part of the NATO command structure reform.

These decisions have provoked heated discussions in our country.  And these debates are necessary in the view of Germans’ history.  Instead of only talking about ability or willingness to honor commitments with the alliance, we should also make one thing clear.  NATO may be security alliance, but above all it’s an alliance of values and it has a political function.

We therefore have to rise to the challenge of upholding NATO as an alliance which shares defense common values, those values set out in the preamble of the Washington Treaty – peace, freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.

Only those who are united internally can present a strong united front on the international stage.  And we urgently need this.  One of the reasons why NATO is the most successful defense alliance in history is because it has always successfully adapted to changing conditions.  The 360-degree view of possible threats has replaced the front between East and West.  And most of today’s challenges are global and don’t stop at national borders.

New technologies are changing warfare.  In the age of big data, the wars of the future will be part – will be partly won by megabytes rather than megabombs.  And we face attacks in cyberspace, weapons in space, terrorist threats, from many different directions.  And the view from Europe’s backyard isn’t encouraging at this moment, especially when we see Russia – when we see Russia having new nuclear weapons in the direct neighborhood of NATO’s borders, contravening the INF Treaty, which is of particular importance to us Europeans, carrying out the attacks at Salisbury and bringing in question of war and peace back to the European continent with its military intervention in Ukraine five years ago.  We’re aware of the concerns of our Eastern and Central European partners in particular, and we take these concerns seriously.

That’s why NATO took action.  And we Germans have assumed responsibility.  Especially at a time when Russia is repeatedly trying to test our unity, we must and we will stand united.  Well, that doesn’t mean breaking off all channels of dialogue with Moscow.  As the security environment is changing for worse, government systems break down and tensions increase, refusing to engage in dialogue is not an option.  And therefore, working to ensure that the NATO-Russia Council convenes regularly and that the dialogue doesn’t break down at the military level, this is the only way to maintain transparency and to minimize the risk of an unwanted military escalation with disastrous consequences.

We should also try to stand united when it comes to another major power, China.  China is set to become the subject of the 21st century on both sides of the Atlantic.  There are security implications.  But China is a challenge on almost every topic, and it’s important to gain a better understanding what’s implies that for NATO, especially in the light of the possible termination of the INF Treaty. 

Therefore, we have to understand that the world as we know it is coming unhinged.  So we also have to keep China in mind when we talk about arms control and put disarmament back on the agenda in the first place, and we are doing that.  We took over the presidency of the United Nations Security Council on Monday.  We’re shouldering responsibility.  We are helping to strengthen the European security and defense policy in close coordination with NATO, not in competition with the European pillar in NATO but in order to strengthen it, and outside existing structures we are bringing like-minded party together in an alliance of multilateralists to address various security-related issues such as climate change and arms control.

Lasting security is created when we dovetail civilian and military resources, when we strengthen conflict preventions and consolidate humanitarian assistance, stabilization and development cooperation.  We believe that these are the main elements of a comprehensive concert of security and that is both effective and efficient and that’s strategic.

Now, it’s important to make NATO fit to tackle the challenges of our age.  First of all, NATO must perform its core tasks, namely, to safeguard the security of our joint Euro-Atlantic area, and Germany will continue to shoulder responsibility for that. 

Secondly, NATO’s open-door policy remains valid.  The recent accession of Montenegro and the forthcoming accession of the Republic of North Macedonia show how attractive NATO continues to be. 

And thirdly, NATO must find answers to new challenges and threats to security such as climate change; the digital revolution; hybrid, influence, or disinformation campaigns.

The alliance is an unparalleled success story.  There is no doubt about it.  And that’s not just because it has brought Europe stability during the last 70 years.  Rather, it’s because it is transforming and tackling new challenges. 

Ladies and gentlemen, George H. W. Bush once said, “We know what works.  Freedom works.  We know what’s right.  Freedom is right.”  In the light of domestic and external challenges, that’s certainly not a given.  It’s hard work.  But we’re glad to invest our efforts.

And that brings me back to the people of Berlin.  For the last 30 years, they have been unwavering in their endeavors to make their city an epicenter of freedom.  That would have been nearly impossible without NATO, without the Transatlantic Alliance.  Without NATO, Germany wouldn’t have got what the historian Fritz Stern once called the second chance – the second chance in the last century, and we Germans won’t forget that.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

DONFRIED: Mr. Maas, thank you so much, and I just want to note it’s wonderful that you have two of your incredibly impressive ambassadors – Emily Haber, the ambassador to the U.S., and Hans-Dieter Lucas, the German ambassador to NATO – here with you, and I was struck by three themes that came through in your remarks.

One of them was the fact that Germany will stay true to its commitments including in the area of defense spending, and I know that’s a message that everyone in this room certainly appreciates and applauds.

A second theme was about how when you’re a member of NATO it means that you’re never alone.  And I think about that comment you made in the context of two of the geopolitical challenges that you raised – Russia and China.  And I’m thinking that for anyone who’s living in Lithuania today, they don’t feel alone because Germany is leading a battlegroup that is part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence.  And that’s certainly one of many examples of how Germany is showing solidarity in the NATO context.

I was struck there that you mentioned China as well.  And I think that’s actually a forward-looking challenge for all NATO allies.  And it’s certainly been an issue on the American agenda for quite some time.  But it’s striking now to see Europeans becoming much more aware of the security challenge that China presents.  And I noticed the EU strategy paper talking about China as a systemic rival.  And when we think about the strategic investments China’s making in Europe through Belt and Road, when we think about the challenge of digitalization and Huawei’s 5G, I do think that NATO allies engaging more on China is critical. 

And then just a final point that you made, which is NATO is a military alliance, it’s a political alliance.  And in both of those contexts, it’s an alliance based on values.  And that sure is what sets NATO apart.  And NATO has adapted over these 70 years in terms of its missions, in terms of its membership.  But we’re not adapting those values, because those are at the heart of what we believe.  And I think that commitment is what will ensure that NATO endures.  Please join me in again in thanking Minister Maas for joining us.  (Applause.)

MIN. MAAS:  Thank you very much.  And I fully agree with everything you said.