A Conversation with Ursula von der Leyen,
German Minister of Defense
General James Jones, Jr., USMC (Retired),
Chairman Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security,
Vice President and Director,
Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security,
Ursula von der Leyen,
German Minister of Defense
Four Seasons Hotel,
2800 Pennsylvania Ave N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007
Time: 1:00 p.m. EDT
Date: Thursday, June 19, 2014
Federal News Service
FREDERICK KEMPE: Welcome. I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. (In German.) Madam Federal Minister, I welcome you to Washington on behalf of the Atlantic Council.
At this historic moment, with new dangers in Europe and spreading insecurity in the Middle East, it’s an honor to have the defense minister of such a crucial NATO ally for such an important speech of the Atlantic Council. General Jones will formally welcome her and introduce her on behalf of the Atlantic Council, but I also want to say on my behalf as president and CEO that we at the Atlantic Council stand ready to help you and the Federal Republic wherever and whenever we can be helpful. (In German.)
It’s also an honor to have the defense minister representing a Group G rival of the United States in the 2014 World Cup. (Laughter.) As you know, we’re both atop the table right now, having both won our first round matches – some would argue Germany somewhat more convincingly than the United States. (Laughter.) But we look forward to the closing match in the group stage on June 26th, which I understand from the ambassador will also be shown at Dupont Circle around lunchtime.
But with that, it’s my pleasure to turn the podium over to General Jones to welcome and introduce you. General Jones is not only a former Marine commandant, former NATO supreme allied commander and former national security adviser to President Barack Obama, he’s also a member of the Atlantic Council board, a member of the executive committee of that board, and chairman of our Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security. He drives a lot of the strategic work and strategic thinking of the Atlantic Council.
General Jones, it’s always an honor to have you with us. (Applause.)
GENERAL JAMES JONES: Fred, thank you very much for that kind introduction. And it is in fact a great honor and a pleasure for the Atlantic Council to have the privilege of hosting the minister of defense of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen. It is an even greater pleasure for me to personally introduce her to this distinguished audience on her first visit to the United States since becoming minister of defense.
Ladies and gentlemen, this November Germany and the rest of the world will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 1989. This historic achievement would put an end to Germany’s painful division and lay the groundwork for a united or a Poland free, a trans-Atlantic vision that lives on to this day in which the Atlantic Council commemorated so meaningfully just two months ago.
In an address to the people of Germany, upon its peaceful and democratic reunification on October 1980 – sorry, 1990, President George Bush cautioned that Germany’s historic accomplishment would present new challenges and responsibilities. But President Bush also wisely outlined a vision for partnership and leadership for our two countries, built on the foundation of shared democratic values. That partnership and leadership has become the guiding principle for Germany’s relations with its NATO allies. Germany has assumed its responsibilities in multinational contexts in NATO, operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, off the Horn of Africa, and elsewhere.
This decision to contribute to international security operations outside of Germany’s borders required courageous leadership from Germany’s ministers and from its parliament, sparked by a healthy public debate within Germany about the country’s proper role in a changing world, especially in this very difficult new century. Germany is once again in the midst of a debate about the role it should play in international security in today’s unpredictable world.
Minister von der Leyen has been a driving force in shaping that debate from her first days as minister. At this year’s Munich security conference she followed the remarkable opening speech of German President Gauck by warning that, quote, “Indifference is not an option for a country of Germany’s size, influence and democratic traditions.” What a powerful statement.
The minister assumed her portfolio in December of 2013. She is one of three ministers in the government to have served with chancellors throughout her entire tenure as chancellor then as the first female minister of defense over the Federal Republic. Minister von der Leyen is European by birth, a talented physician and a dedicated German public servant by occupation, and the mother of seven children. And I thought being national security advisor was a busy job. (Laughter.)
Born in Belgium as the daughter of a European commission official, she learned fluent French as a child. And I can attest to that from our conversations last night. After receiving her doctorate in medicine, she and her husband moved to California in the midst – in the mid-1990s and established strong ties with the United States. After returning to Germany, she was elected to local office in the Hannover region in 2001 and was elected to the Parliament of Lower Saxony in 2003. In 2005, she was appointed minister for family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth in Chancellor Merkel’s government and as minister of labor and social affairs in 2009.
As minister of defense, Dr. von der Leyen has inherited a challenging portfolio requiring difficult decisions on procurement, the reorganization of German armed forces, and complex security environment marked by geopolitical competition and emergence of powerful individuals and nonstate actors. As minister of defense she has taken bold action, pledging Germany’s participation in NATO’s Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan, committing German forces to NATO reassurance measures in Central and Eastern Europe and leading the framework nations approach for multinational capabilities development within the alliance.
We look forward to hearing her views on the security agenda for Germany in and around Europe and her country’s priorities as we look forward to the NATO summit in Wales this fall. So please give me – join me in giving a warm welcome to Minister von der Leyen. (Applause.)
MINISTER URSULA VON DER LEYEN: Thank you very much, Mr. Kempe. Thank you, General Jones.
Actually, ladies and gentlemen, my family ties to the United States weigh deeper than the
Stanford experience. My great-grandmother was born in Charleston, South Carolina. My great-grandfather was in the cotton business, and he sailed to America, fell in love with my great-grandmother, brought her home to Bremen – to those who know what that is. That’s a city in the north of Germany with a typical northern German weather. I’m not sure whether my great-grandmother was very happy about that. He built, for her, a house which is typical for Charleston.
And I remember as a small child, 5 years old, that she had this weird accent. She kept it all her life. And she always told us that she is a descendant of Pocahontas. (Laughter.) That’s true. And I was told in my family we all have dark eyebrows, and that’s because of Pocahontas. (Laughter.) And when we were in California, Walt Disney made that film “Pocahontas,” and that’s only then that I realized that every second American thinks he or she is a descendant of Pocahontas. (Laughter.) Therefore I understand why you’re laughing.
So let’s turn to serious – more serious topics. I chose the title “Strategic Challenges, Strategic Partners” today. I want to focus on the nature of the meaning and the purpose of our trans-Atlantic relations. First of all, give me a second to look back, because the term “trans-Atlantic relations” stands basically for the triumph over a decade-long painful division of my continent, Europe, and specifically of my country, Germany. And in those times we Germans, specifically the West Germans, were able to experience America at his best.
It’s, for us, a land of opportunities, of empowerment, of freedom, of solidarity. And we have not forgotten that it were these values that helped us to rebuild our country from the ruins that we ourselves were responsible for in World War II: opportunities, empowerment, freedom, solidarity. And there was something else America showed us and gave us. That’s generosity, it was trust, and also respect for our country – values which, after the war and the Holocaust, helped us to earn back the respect of the international community. After the war it was the allies who enabled us to return into the circle of free and democratic countries.
Trust means by investing in Germany, the Marshall Plan – I mean, these were wise men and women who invested in this Germany right after World War II. You laid the foundation for the German economic miracle. Today the resulting social market economy has not only made us strong; it also implies an obligation. “Strategic Challenges, Strategic Partners,” I did not only choose this topic because of our shared history but because I’m convinced that our fortune will persist if we continue to stand together in the future. For me, trans-Atlantic relations are the key component of future security policy in both Europe and America.
Now, what are the major strategic challenges? I want to talk about it. What is the best way to meet these? What are the key elements of a strategic trans-Atlantic consensus on security policy? And what does this mean for my government’s position when the question is raised of the role Germany and Europe would like or will have to assume in the world?
And you’re right; at the Munich Security Conference earlier this year we initiated an important, very fierce debate in Germany about Germans’ role given the current context of events and crises, which are likely to increase and not to decrease. As you cited, indifference is no option for Germany. We want to become involved, conscious of our international responsibility; never, ever unilateral but always with our partners and allies, and using all the instruments that are available for us.
We want to increase our commitment based on the trans-Atlantic values because we know that a peaceful and free future essentially depends on whether we can convince others of these values or not. As I said, opportunities, empowerment, freedom, solidarity, trust, respect. If our policies, and in particular our security policy, are based on these values, and if these values are represented in our foreign development and security policies, then we have a good chance of convincing non-Western countries in the long run that we are not against them.
President Obama pointed it out in his West Point speech, if I might – may cite. He said, “What makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law. It’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” And that goes for America as well as for Europe. And much is at stake indeed. In the foreseeable future of the trans-Atlantic, allies will continue to be the sole community in the world that guarantees its countries, and especially every single citizen, peace, freedom and prosperity – and all three combined and not merely one or two of them at the expense of the third.
Still, you know as well as I do that our trans-Atlantic relationship is currently not free of tension. I just want to mention two points or two areas that are tricky for us. We are negotiating, at the moment being, TTIP, and we are seeing a lot of skepticism both in the United States but even more in Europe. It’s kind of the fear of a loss of control and the fear of lower standards that seems to be stronger, and the awareness of the options and the opportunities this agreement has to offer.
This is specifically sad because we had the experience in the European single market that has shown us that opening up our markets makes us more powerful and has brought us more employment and more knowledge and more opportunities, but we seem to have forgotten that it needed to open up before we got this benefit. And if we look at the debate about the NSA, I think both sides have to learn the lessons.
In Europe, the debate was an eye-opener – a bitter one. We suddenly realized that we have virtually no independent technological basis in the area of telecommunication. We are dependent totally. That means that we have no independent instruments, as it were, to protect ourselves and to organize our communication independently. So Europe must urgently catch up in terms of technological capabilities. We cannot accept the fact that key areas of technological sustainability are virtually extinct or not existent on our continent. So this is homework for us to do, and it’s a lesson we’ve learned. We did not invest 10 to 15 year ago, but today we see what happened.
But if I may say so, the United States, on the other hand, must redefine the line between security interests of a government and freedom – individual freedom. I think we must take political action to set limits to what is possible. Not everything is allowed what is possible, and that’s the debate about it. So these two things – TTIP and the NSA, ultimately, what is at stake here is both the indispensable issue of creating more wealth and more jobs in a common market on one hand, and the (equality ?) or the indispensable issue of increasing mutual trust based on a common concept of security.
This also applies to security policy. There are two major challenges. The first one is the arc of crisis, if I may call it that way, stretching from West Africa to the Middle East to Afghanistan to Pakistan. We’re in the middle of a debate about that right now; the challenge here is the growth of transnational terrorism, which so far cannot be controlled. This also entails the problem of fragile and failing states and of poverty-related migration, which often ends tragically at Europe’s shores.
And the second crucial security challenge we face right now is Eastern Europe. We cannot close our eyes of the fact that Russia is trampling – literally trampling on international treaties, on principles of sovereignty, on territorial integrity. It is certainly an attempt – and probably also the intent of the Kremlin to reimpose rules that date back to the last century – rules that rely only on the law of the strongest instead of the strength of international law. We will not accept that.
I think these new rules Russia wants to impose are basically borne out of weakness. It’s the weakness of an economic and social model that is far less appealing than the so-called trans-Atlantic and Western one. Those among Russians’ neighbors – they experienced the results of this weakness, because those of the neighboring countries to Russia who applied for membership in Western organizations, as is the European Union or, for example, NATO – they have not been forced to do so; they did it deliberately because they wanted all these values the Western part showed, like democracy, like prosperity, like respect for human rights. This is incredibly appealing and attractive, and these are the foundations which are common Atlantic bases.
Now, what does this mean for the security policy? I think we need a dual approach. We need to concentrate on the means we use and we need to coordinate the actual players. As far as the means are concerned, we do have diplomatic ones, economic ones and military means at our disposal, and before I cause any misunderstanding, diplomacy, the dialogue, economic cooperation always takes precedence in crisis.
Crisis cannot be solved by military means only. Any military action always needs political guidance – a political frame, but the military can be a critical asset in conflict zones. It can separate conflicting parties. It can protect civilians. It can prevent genocide. And by doing this, it gives us time for more comprehensive solution in the area of crisis. And there’s another aspect that is often neglected – the military can provide training, thereby enabling countries and regional organizations to better look after their own security, but I must admit, sometimes, military means are simply not the right option.
Second field, we need to coordinate the actual players – NATO on one side, and the European Union have to come closer together. It is an anachronism that I still have to talk about, and specifically, in the field of defense, I’m quite surprised comparing to the field of labor market or social affairs how poor the coordination between both is. And we are talking of the United Nations, the OSCE, the IMF, the World Bank, you name it. We have to better stand up for trans-Atlantic approach within these organizations. I followed President Obama’s West Point speech very closely, and I’m convinced that on many points, our strategic approaches meet, particularly when it comes to the need to strengthen alliances – that was good news in his speech – and to focus on partnerships.
In the face of the Russian-Ukraine crisis, the so-called comprehensive approach takes on completely new dimensions. Remember, please, at the beginning of the year, when I came into office, Russia still was an indispensable partner in many international issues. We were dreaming of the European house, we were full of illusions and visions, and yes, they were indispensable such as – in key questions like Syria and Iran, just to name two.
All these days, Putin’s actions reveal an entirely different worldview he obviously has. The annexation of the Crimea shows his total lack of respect for sovereignty and self-determination of other nations. He does not respect that at all, and Putin’s means of choice to solve a conflict or to go into a conflict are military ones. The pro-Russian separatists in the Ukraine, and uniforms without insignia – the so-called little green men – they are the symbol for this approach.
What is our answer? No, we do not answer by the same means. Our choice of means bears our hallmarks. It does not follow the logic of the Kremlin. There is no military option for the West or NATO in the Ukraine; that has been clearly expressed by Chancellor Merkel as well as by President Obama. The military aspect thus recedes, so to speak, into the background, but this background is decisive. It forms the backbone of a position of strength from which we can act. This is because NATO is the strongest military alliance in the world, and at the same time, a powerful political alliance.
And precisely because we are so strong, we can fall back on other means. It’s the economy, stupid, was one sentence an American president said, and he’s right. Russia’s most vulnerable point is its economy. Russia’s population is aging and shrinking. It’s undergoing a sharp demographic decline. Putin should be, at that time, investing heavily in educating the young people in his country. He should be supporting innovation, networking young people wordwide – that’s what he needs – promoting immigration of skilled labor to his country, allowing science to develop freely. All these are things he fears because knowledge, education makes people independent and hungry – hungry for an open exchange of opinions, hungry for tolerance of different views, hungry for a culture of critical debates, free speech, free press – think of that in Russia.
In addition, his actions have resulted in dramatic capital flight in Russia, and the widespread wait-and-see attitude among potential investors. This is because investment also requires trust – trust in the rule of law, and there is no trust in the rule of law in Russia. One look at the ruble exchange rate and the Russian stock price shows just how severely this trust has been shaken, and thus, the circle is completed. NATO, as a defense alliance, will give the right response to President Putin’s politics. Our military alliance is strong and powerful, but our greatest strength is our trans-Atlantic values, and as a political alliance, our unity is our true strength. He did not count on Europe’s unity. This was something that was not included in his plan, and there we are – united we stand.
The NATO summit in September will show that the alliance is adaptable, and there is no (doubting ?) in its determination. And let me state that in this context, we Europeans in particular must continue to improve our capabilities within the alliance; we know that. This is a process in which the Bundeswehr, too, is playing a significant role, but it is not only a question about how much money we spend – I’m talking of the 2 percent of GDP – but also, how we spent the money and what for we do spend it. This is the most important factor.
Many of the trans-Atlantic approaches that I have mentioned with regard to Russia are similarly to the challenges of the arc of crisis. While al-Qaida’s core structures have been substantially weakened, its regional organizations have become stronger, and unfortunately, more effective. In Syria, we see these days we failed to strengthen the moderate opposition at the right time and we underestimated the dynamics of radical Islamism crossing the borders. That’s the effect what we see now with ISIS; in consequence we have now a situation in which Syria and Iraq are threatened by an overwhelming radical Islamic movement that is using force without any compromises.
And what we see already is the dawn of a crossborder civil war that, besides all the bloodshed, might end in the fragmentation of the countries and the region. I think this is not the right way to go, because we know, if you think of fragmentation, that will not end hatred. It will not dissolve the prejudices of Sunnis and Kurds and Shia. It will produce enormous refugee movements, and therefore, I think we have to work on an inclusive solution of reconciliation. This was always the answer in history for long-lasting peace, not fragmentation, because then you isolate the groups who kind of take care of their prejudices and their hatred, but you need reconciliation between those groups for long-lasting, sustainable freedom and peace.
Well – and therefore, it should be obvious to all the neighboring players in the region that there will be no sustainable stability without reconciliation. I’m speaking of – if I speak of Kurds, I speak of Turkey. If I’m talking of the Shia, I’m speaking of Iran. If I’m talking of the Sunnis, I’m speaking of the Arab League, and specifically of Saudi Arabia.
So we will have to use all of our influence together with those relevant players in the region to convince the Iraqi government to turn to an inclusive policy and to find a constructive solution for the region itself. At this moment, I think the president of the United States is giving a statement on exactly that subject. I was at the Pentagon this morning; I have been speaking to my colleague Chuck Hagel, and we share the analysis that the crisis at the moment being has two dimensions. The first one is ISIS has to be stopped as soon as possible. This is way easier said than done. And second, we have to find a path that leads towards this sustainable stability in a highly complex situation. It’s the complexity of the situation – ethnic, religious, powers fighting for dominance in the region and an almost failing state – that makes it so difficult. And of course – and I think what I learned from my talk with Chuck Hagel: There is, at the moment being, a very delicate and substantial analysis of those problems in this region that are interlinked. So in other words, I’m glad to see how deep the insight in the complexity of the problem is, and how carefully solutions are being chosen.
I am convinced if we apply the comprehensive approach to the current arc of crisis, we can build a strategic consensus that would allow us to safeguard the specific interests of the United States as well as of Europe.
Whenever we use this comprehensive approach to build strategic consensus in these areas, the chances of improving our common security increases enormously. So I have to say, in the other way around, whenever we take uncoordinated or unilateral actions, the chances for lasting stability decreases.
I know very well that in today’s world there is a need for flexible partnership, no question. But many of them are based on self-interest to such an extent that it is not possible to establish sufficient trust, and what we need is long-lasting trust – not for the moment being, but long-lasting trust. And this is why I am convinced, besides all the flexibility that is needed and the coalitions that are needed and partnerships, the stable bond of the trans-Atlantic partnership, since a long time there – and we had many crises, and we managed it – is an incomparable valuable asset that points the way ahead.
Ultimately, the strategic trans-Atlantic consensus can succeed because we, Americans and Europeans, are guided by the same values, if I may come back to opportunities, empowerment, freedom, solidarity, trust, respect.
The strategic consensus will succeed if our political actions actually embody these values in the day-to-day activities. And this is where the trans-Atlantic partnership today finds its essence, its purpose and its meaning. And thus, once again, the circle is complete.
We have not forgotten, in Germany, who protected us when Germany was divided and we shared a border with the Warsaw Pact. We haven’t forgotten that. It was America that offered protection. It was America that helped West Germany to become a constitutional state, the same state that we are defending today, with all its freedoms.
And because this basis is so exceptionally strong, the following is true for all trans–Atlantic allies: We carry responsibility. We carry responsibility because we know how important it is to attain peace and freedom, because we know what it takes to grow into a pluralistic society, because we know that freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, of profession, of movement are not for granted. You have to work for it – and because responsibility’s like a call to action, time and again, for peace and for freedom and for justice and for our collective, indivisible, security.
Thank you so much. (Applause.)
BARRY PAVEL: Thank you so much, Madam Minister, for a perfect beginning to the conversation that I think we’ll continue here today.
I’m Barry Pavel. I’m the director of the Brent Scowcroft Center at the Atlantic Council. I also wanted to warmly greet German Ambassador Wittig to this discussion, and also to remind those in the audience that there’s a very active Twitter discussion underway right now. The hashtag that we are using is #futurenato. I’ve been trying to follow it, but it’s been quite active already because of the very stimulating remarks that the minister gave. Thank you again.
You hit such a wide range of issues.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: I’m sorry. (Laughs.)
MR. PAVEL: No, it was fantastic. And at such a strategic level, and your title of your speech was “Strategic.” We spend quite a bit of time on strategy, more and more time on strategy at the Atlantic Council, and it sort of raises the question – I mean, so many different issues came up – Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, terrorism. There’s a lot of issues that we didn’t – just didn’t talk about as much years ago. And it makes me want to ask you the question: Do you think we’re sort of in a different era of international relations? There seems to be something different about the last few years than even 10 years ago or 15 years ago.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: Well, 10 to 15 years or 20 years ago, of course, Europe, and Germany specifically, experienced this enormous amount of peace and freedom and integration by reunification, so that was the dominant feeling. And within this dominant feeling, we had the impression that there are no limits to build our European house, as I said. And at the beginning of the year, nobody would have thought that the Kremlin and President Putin do act as they did. So this is a sharp turning point we experienced. And I’m convinced – at the very beginning of the crisis I just had the illusion, well, a few months and we’ll all be over it.
By now I know that in my political lifetime, we will not be back to the point where we were with Russia a year ago. Russia is no partner anymore, so we have to work on the fact that – or we have to work towards the direction that it does not turn into an opponent.
But we cannot go back to business as usual, basically because the break of international rules and laws with the annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of the eastern Ukraine – it’s the principle of not respecting sovereignty of other countries that is so painful, and therefore we cannot go back just to business as usual.
And if you look at the scenery in Iraq, it shows that we do not only have to solve potential conflicts between Islam and the West, but the Islam in itself, Sunni and Shia, needs – and it’s difficult for me to speak about it because I’m not an expert on it, but my gut’s feeling tell me need some kind of new order and reconciliation too. That’s what we are seeing under a microscope in Iraq right now.
MR. PAVEL: Yes. I definitely agree. The other thing I really liked about your speech – and I’ll just ask one or two more questions and then open it to who I know is a very eager audience – was how you sort of based it all on trans-Atlantic values, which, again, is something, as you might imagine, the Atlantic Council spends quite a bit of time on.
An issue that’s come up recently that, to me, raises questions about those values is when members of NATO sell military equipment to Russia. And so you might be aware that there’s an ongoing transaction between France and Russia to sell amphibious assault ships, and there’s other transactions in various stages of maturity. And I wonder, is this something we should think about a new rule set on, something we should be rethinking, working with those countries that are in various stages of transactions? But it strikes me as something that could be very damaging, you know, if the worst case happens and we end up in some sort of military contingency. Those very weapons would be used against the NATO alliance.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: I cannot speak for the French government. I can only speak for the German government. But I am aware of the fact that these – possibility of selling weapons to Russia are being rethought and this – if I speak for my own government, you know, whenever you talk about selling armament to other countries, each and every time you have to look at the situation that is actually there, and you have to measure, what are the basic conditions? What are the risks you see ahead? How do they deal human rights? What is the state of the government? So this is not one thing where you say once, this country yes or this country no, but ongoing, by each different step, you have to look what is the actual situation.
MR. PAVEL: Thank you. The last question I’ll ask, which also relates to values – and I thought you brought it out very well – was the sort of the reaction in your country and elsewhere to the NSA revelations. And I was quite taken with your, I thought, very wise counsel about how the United States should frame its own debate in light of those revelations. But I also was thinking –
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: The good part is that you have that debate right now – (laughs) – if I may say, because when you have a debate you have the pros and the cons, and then you start to open up the field and to realize there are conflicting goals and values, of course. There is the necessity for government, for security policies, no question at all, but there’s the necessity for the individual, you know, to take care of his own rights. And you have to see where the dividing line is in between.
MR. PAVEL: Yes, I agree. That’s a very healthy debate for a country and its civil society to have. You also said, though, that it’s time for Germany and potentially for Europe to be developing its own capacities in this area, which are indeed, you know, the lifeblood of the global economy increasingly going forward, but also very important means of technological capacity. Can you give us any more of your thoughts on sort of how that might play out?
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: I cannot speculate on how that might happen, but the lesson I have learned from that is being in a government, you have to be aware what are future trends that develop, and you have to invest in the research and young companies in these future fields at the very beginning. This does cost money, and often these are fields you do not like at all because they are new, and there’s a lot of criticism in it.
We did not do that 10 to 15 years ago, and all of a sudden we realized the whole production in this field has gone somewhere else and we have no ability anymore. And I’m thinking my responsibility (context ?) to what are the capabilities we will need in the future? Although we do not like to talk about them right now, there is a responsibility of a government to invest in them, not because of the military means, but because of the civil means – and not means, but the civil products and goods on the long term you’re going to have. And there was an obligation for government to invest in research, in basic development, in young companies in these fields, because if you do not do that, they go somewhere else. That’s what I’ve learned.
MR. PAVEL: Very good. Thank you very much, Madam Minister.
I would like to now turn to questions. I see the first hand in the back. Right there. Thank you. If you could please identify yourself and then state a clear and brief question.
Q: Brian Beary, Washington correspondent, Europolitics. Just still have a question on the development of drone technology. What’s your view of the state of European collaboration at the moment to do something together on drones?
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: In our coalition treaty, the German government agreed that we will, first of all – and we need that – have a broad debate, a public debate about what’s behind that word, “drone,” and its capabilities, because if I look at the long-term acceptance, the long-term public acceptance, you need a consensus within your government, the parliament and the society what you want and what for you want something.
We will have this debate in one or two weeks in Germany. Afterwards we’re going to take a decision. So it’s not the far future, but very close, what the timelines are concerned. And yes, the European heads of state and government decided in December last year that Europe needs to invest in UAVs, needs a joint development of new UAVs. This is the same topic of capabilities you have to develop just to be able to be independent.
So first step is the public debate, and second step then is take the decision, perhaps in the summer or later this year, how we’re going to proceed.
MR. PAVEL: Thank you. I had a gentleman over here next. Against the wall.
Q: Minister Von der Leyen, may I ask you three – two or three quick questions? First of all, the last report from the defense ministry about its platform was in 2006. Do you think a white paper will be forthcoming in the – in the next year or so on your plans for the defense ministry?
Second of all, do you think you’ll hit 2 percent as your goal by the time your term – your first term as defense minister has been reached? Do you think that you’ll –
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: I didn’t get the –
Q: – you’re at 1.3 percent now, can you reach 2 percent and how quickly can you do it? And thirdly, just the principle that you laid out, the U.S., France and Britain were in Berlin for a long time, and a very small group of people that held back a large number on the other side of the wall. You got in a lot of trouble in May on the Anne Will Show when you suggested that German troops might be possibly placed on the eastern part of the NATO alliance. Do you still think that that is a good idea?
And finally, your president – (laughter) – Mr. Gauck –
MR. PAVEL: That’s three questions.
Q: OK. (Laughter.) That’s three questions.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: I cannot memorize more; this is too much. (Laughs.) I’m intellectually limited.
MR. PAVEL: White paper?
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: White paper. Thank you. (Laughs.) You see?
MR. PAVEL: It’s my job.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: Yeah. Thank you. White paper. It’s an interesting thought. We haven’t taken a decision right now, but yes, it might be an interesting thought. Second was –
MR. PAVEL: Two percent of GDP.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: Thank you. Two percent of GDP. Well, 2 percent of what is the question. Let me give you two examples.
In Germany, we have a defense budget that has been stable compared to other countries where there were – European countries where there was a sharp decline – 30 (percent) and 40 percent cuts in the defense budget. And there will be a slight increase in the next years. But our problem is with this percentage that the GDP is growing faster. The German government budget is not growing as the GDP is growing. This is good news for the German economy. So that’s our governmental goal.
And therefore, you see it’s kind of absurd to link this to the 2 percent because if you look at another country like Greece, they had tremendous cuts in the defense budget, but the GDP was shrinking faster, so they kind of reached the 2 percent by now because of the shrinking GDP. This cannot be the solution for sustainable defense budget.
And therefore, my pledge is to say OK, the 2 percent goal, yes, but what are we spending the money for and how are we spending it? So let’s find common capabilities we want to invest in that is way better. Actually, it strengthens the position of the defense minister within the cabinet and with the finance minister if you know what you want the money for instead of saying I need – in Germany, it would be like 6 billion (euros) more for defense, the first question would be what for?
So it’s not only a matter of 2 percent of the GDP, but it’s also a question of where you want to spend the money and how you want to spend the money.
MR. PAVEL: The third question was on deploying German forces further to the east.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: I said we have to show more presence. That’s what’s happening right now already. Air policing of the Baltic States, naval presence in the Baltic Sea, and we’re going to have the Multinational Corps Northeast in a high readiness status. So all these things that happened, but what this discussion showed was the public was not prepared at all to that, and I realize you have to talk a lot, a lot, a lot about these things to explain why this was necessary.
This was at the very beginning of the crisis, and the criticism was you kind of pushed the crisis forward instead of calming it because then it will be over fast. Now we know – yes, as I said, it’s not – the military means I’m not the solutions once again, but you need a certain amount of strength that it is absolutely clear that the Baltic States – Poland, for example – feel safe, and they are safe.
MR. PAVEL: Great. Thank you very much. I have a lady here in the third row.
Q: Thank you. Hope Harrison from George Washington University. Thank you, Minister Von Der Leyen so much for speaking to us.
My question is about generational differences in Germany on relations with the U.S. and on use of force or more active German foreign policy, the kinds of values and shared values that you talked about between Germany and the U.S. Sadly, on my many trips to Germany, it seems that many of the younger generation who grew up with George Bush’s war in Iraq and now with NSA don’t feel those same things for the U.S., which is a big concern for transatlantic relations.
And secondly, on a more active German role in the world, including use of military, I’m wondering if there’s a different generational difference where the older generation remembers what the U.S. has done – sorry, on the use of the force, the older generation feels more the weight of the Nazi past and is still very reluctant to be – to take the lead, whereas some younger Germans I’ve spoken with say that they think Germany is ready and should move beyond the weight of the past. So I’m wondering if you could talk about these generational issues in Germany. Thank you.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: First of all, what the German-American friendship is concerned, we all know all with any values, you have to renew it over and over again in each generation. So my personal experience is send these young kids over to the other country so that they make friends and then –
And the good news is the numbers of young Germans going to the United States and having an exchange year or being – or studying in the United States is rising still. And they come back and they are believers and they understand you and things are way easier because when we understand each other, we can’t have conflicts. So that’s one thing.
NSA is bitter and painful, yes, but I know I think it’s also a call of action to debate about what is the true basis we do have and aren’t we able to solve a conflict like that one on the basis of our shared values and on the basis of our shared history too? And I’m positive that we are able – if all of us talk enough about the fact we can be – have different opinions on NSA and we can be hurt by what has happened, but this does not change our attitude towards the German-American friendship. And it’s a duty of our – all of us to communicate that.
And what the willingness is concerned to take over more responsibility. Well, this is a very delicate debate in Germany. I have learned that – and that’s true. The German public wants more diplomatic responsibility, yes, economic development and they are very skeptical what military means are concerned, and they are right because the military means are not the primary option. Not at all.
But if you see the polls, there is acceptance that to prevent a genocide, of course, you need something else but diplomacy to protect people from being killed. You need something else than economic development. There is no security without development, but there is no development without security. And what I realize in this debate is that we have to talk about it much broad – in a much broader way. That’s my duty, that’s my job to do – to communicate.
I’ve been at the United Nations Tuesday, and the principle of peacekeeping missions – and there are, of course, the whole concept of diplomacy, economic development and military peacekeeping. This is the right way to go. That’s where we want to take over more responsibility. The United Nations asked us to get more involved with our technological capabilities, with the people in headquarters, and yes, we’re willing to do that.
MR. PAVEL: Thank you very much. I want to switch it up and go to the people over there.
Q: Hi Madam Minister. Byron Callan. I’m an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners. You talked a bit about capabilities. I wonder if you can elaborate a little bit more about the capabilities, the priorities that you see for the German military. What are the things that you’d like to see Germany invest in in terms of military capabilities? Thank you.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: Oh, this is getting detailed. (Laughter.) Well, we are good at strategic airlift, we are very good – and these are key capabilities others do not have. We’re very good at Medevac, the whole medical evacuation. As a physician, I love that. (Laughs.)
Pioneers – I have to ask my general because he’s way more into the topic. Pioneer activities. For example, logistics. Germans are very, very – (laughter) – intensive into logistics, but logistics are necessary. You have to be organized even in military means. And headquarters staff. So – and, of course, future capabilities we’ve been talking about, these future capabilities you have to invest in. But those are the core competences – I hope I’m not missing one or two because otherwise I have a problem at home. (Laughter.)
So – to name some is the political correct word – is something where there’s a lot of demand in the European Union, in NATO and at the United Nations, and yes, it’s smart to invest in what you can do best.
MR. PAVEL: So just to follow up on that, the types of capabilities that we saw, for example, required by the United States to continue to contribute in the Libya operation: lift and refueling; some targeted –
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: Refueling very important, yes.
MR. PAVEL: – for all of those, will – is your goal to get European capabilities to the point where perhaps the – such U.S. capabilities would no longer be needed for discretionary efforts?
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: U.S. capabilities will always be needed, but you cannot be all over the world with all your capabilities.
MR. PAVEL: Right.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: So that’s something we’ve understood. It’s not only the question of capabilities, it’s a question of how to approach a problem or conflict zone. So for all of us, it’s necessary under the roof of the United Nations with a clear mandate, and the decision-making process towards any kind of whatever action has to be in a partnership way, and that’s what President Obama said in his West Point speech.
MR. PAVEL: Yeah. Let me just ask you one follow-up on that, though, because your earlier comments I thought about Vladimir Putin and Russia are very important. And as we know, Russia has a seat on the U.N. Security Council. I mean, is there any hope of a U.N. Security Council mandate of a future operation with Russia being in such a status for the foreseeable future where we’re not looking to them as a partner anymore? So I really worry about how we’ll get U.N. mandate.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: As I said, we’re not looking at them as a partner anymore, but we have to take care that they go back on a path that they do not turn into an opponent. So this is the zone in which we’re moving forward. And, therefore, I’m convinced that the attitude is show force with economic sanctions if necessary, but never the slam the door in their face. Always keep the door open, always stretch out your hand and say there are problems in the world; I’m speaking of Syria or Iran.
We do need each other. I mean, Russia has no interest that the ISIS virus is spreading towards Russia because they have an Islamic population too. So as difficult as it is, we have always to keep up dialogue. This is the most difficult thing, I think, in conflict partnerships.
MR. PAVEL: Thank you. Yes, a question in the middle here.
Q: My question, in fact, follows up on the Putin point where you stated explicitly that you’re concerned that he’s behaving out of weakness.
MR. PAVEL: Could you identify yourself?
Q: I’m sorry. Michael Schrage with MIT. The – President Putin believes he’s acting out of weakness. I would like to ask, as somebody who has access to intelligence and clearly cares about the future of the region, does President Putin believe he’s acting out of weakness? (Laughter.)
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: No, no, no, no, no. You’re right. If you read his speech he gave – I only have this enormous golden Kremlin before my eyes – (chuckles) – I do not know the time anymore. But all of us know which speech we’re talking of. This was really shocking for the Western world. My experts tell me – not the fact that he – the annexation of the Crimea was the most disappointing thing, but his speech he gave, where he was kind of destroying the whole security architecture that has been built over the last 25 years.
And, therefore, you’re right: He has a different worldview on things, which is legitimate, because not everybody in the world has to have the same view on things. And, yes, you are right – I think he sees – or he thinks the western part – specifically Europe – is weak, is decadent, is aging, is unable to act strong. And therefore unity, which we see it right now – the unity of the West is such a precious thing – something he didn’t count on, that’s for sure. He did not count on the capability of Europe and the United States to have a coherent, united approach towards his kind of behavior. And if you look at the figures in Russia – what the Russian society is – the Russian economy is concerned, he is highly – or, Russia is highly dependent on imports, a broad, diverse amount of imports, while Russia itself has a very homogenous export; only 80 percent (are ?) energy. So if the West – and the West (did ?) start already – to turn around to look for alternatives for energy supply, it’s enormously devastating and damaging the export possibilities of Russia, while Russia still is, as I said, in a diverse and wide range of goods, dependent on importing. And I think the second thing is even more impressive – to see that it needed only the turmoil of the last weeks and month that capital just flew away. The IMF and the World Bank estimated the loss of capital in Russia this year – it’s about 100 billion (dollars) to 200 billion (dollars), the estimated loss of capital. And if you know how potentially weak the economy is, if you look at the – how the population and its ability are built up, then you know what that does mean for Russia.
This is the next worry for the world, because a weak Russia is not a good Russia neither, but, well, that’s another story.
MR. PAVEL: A very brief follow-up on that. I mean, that speech was really important, and I think it created a bit of a debate in all of our countries. You know, one of the main themes of the speech was how the West was to blame for all of Russia’s problems and for all of the problems in the world, in many ways. NATO enlargement, you know, caused new hostilities, and there are – there is a bit of a debate in the U.S. even on sort of how that speech landed and what the reaction is in terms of sort of how we should view Russia going forward. Can you give us just a brief sense of the – how did that speech play in Germany? Did it shock some people into thinking, as you do, they’re not going to be a partner for a – for a while? Or did some people – did it resonate with some of the German population in a way that said, yes, maybe the West didn’t – maybe the West did have some responsibility for this?
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: Oh, yes. We had this debate. The one and the other position as well. I can only tell you what my perception is. As I said, these countries who tried to associate with the West or even become members – Poland, Baltic states, the United – the European Union and the NATO – they have not been forced to do so. It’s – the way this decadent, aging – (chuckles) – heterogeneous Europe is appealing, by democracy and by respecting human rights, and yes, we are pluralistic, but that’s fascinating.
And they have not been forced to try to get to be members or to be at least partners, and that’s the basic thing that I think Russia saw, that they had to force them to stay with their pivot to East, to the East, to Russia. This is tragic, if you look at that, but it tells a huge story.
That’s one thing, and the other thing is, we had a debate – when Putin is, by his speech and his actions, kind of – (in German) – oh, he gives up on international treaties like the NATO-Russian Founding Acting, is then the NATO-Russian Founding Act gone? My position is, no. On our side, we try to stick to it, because rules we impose on ourselves – international rules – we have to try to stick to them as long as possible, even if one side gives up on them, because there is no (arbitrary ?) anymore – then us – it’s the international community who imposed these rules on itself, so we have to stick to it.
MR. PAVEL: I see. Thank you. Time for a few more questions. This gentleman here in the third row.
Q: Hi. (Inaudible) – McCain Institute. I’m from Georgia. Thank you for the excellent speech. I would suggest to publish it in Russian language for the wider Russian audience. (Laughter.)
My question is on Russia. In your recent interview, Spiegel interview, you mentioned that Russia destroyed the massive amount of trust. So my question is when, and for what, Russia earned this trust? And the second is what Russia needs to do in the short-term to restore this trust, if it was existed.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: Well, to be honest, there was a lot of trust, and, as I said, confidence in my country. Even I had this trust and confidence. When I was in the first cabinet with Mrs. Merkel it was 2005. I remember when we had those first intergovernmental meetings in Russia – the German government and the Russian government – and there were so many projects together and the – so many investments of the Eastern economic partners in – Western, excuse me – the European business sector in Russia. There was the illusion of an open market, what we could do together. There was a lot of enthusiasm. Yes, this was there.
And, to be honest, we share a lot of history, Russia and Germany – I mean, over the centuries. We admire their old culture, the Russian music, Russian literature. Therefore, I want to differentiate between the Russian people and the Kremlin. That’s, for me, important. But I’m not as naïve as to think we’re going to be back at that point pretty soon again, because, as I said, it will take long, long time to establish trust again, because if you’re not sure whether your rights – either being an individual or a company or a neighboring state – are being violated or not, there will not grow any trust.
MR. PAVEL: Thank you. Yes, right here.
Q: Thank you. Alex Paul, Women in International Security. So I wanted to – you mentioned the U.N. earlier, and I wanted to ask about U.N. Resolution 1325, because it’s the 15th anniversary next year. So, obviously, U.N. Resolution 1325 commits –
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: Tell me, what is behind that number?
Q: I will explain to you. (Laughter.) It was passed in 2000. It commits all U.N. member states, including NATO, to gender mainstream in all its –
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: (Inaudible.)
Q: Yes, all its operations and missions. So I was wondering what, maybe, Germany might be mentioning or pushing other NATO countries to do at the summit in September to try to ensure that, you know, women and the concerns of women are really at the forefront when NATO’s considering future operations around the world.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: Woah. This is – I learned a lot from your question. (Laughter.) First of all, I learned that I have to look up this resolution, being the first female minister of defense in Germany. Why did my staff not tell me about – tell me about this resolution? (Laughter, applause.) That’s a new field to work in. (Laughter.)
MR. PAVEL: That should have been in your orientation packet.
MIN. VON DER LEYEN: Yes, yes. So thank you. Thank you for that. Opens up totally new dimensions, because some people in Germany fear me – (laughs) – because I have a history as a minister for women’s rights – (laughs) – and labor and family affairs.
So I cannot answer directly to that question, but I’m going to – well, let’s put it that way – at the moment, I’m looking at the Bundeswehr – is it OK if I speak a little bit of the Bundeswehr? It’s very specific. Since 12 years or 13 years, women are allowed to join the Bundeswehr, which is a shame that it’s only 12 years old, but, well, it’s another story. It’s a typical German story.
At the moment being, I’m – I raised the question whether they have access to career path similar to men. And as I’m very experienced what the glass ceiling’s concerned, and I’m very experienced what the stubborn way of German enterprises is concerned to tell me that women are not capable and they are not present to take over leading positions, I know how to have – you have to break the glass ceiling. I’m on my way to find out whether there’s a glass ceiling in the Bundeswehr. If there is one, I’m going to destroy it. (Laughter.)
MR. PAVEL: Unfortunately, I think we are out of time. I would like to go on all afternoon. This has been both interesting, important and so fascinating and entertaining for me as well, but please join me in thanking Madam Minister for coming to the Atlantic Council. (Applause.)