Speech given by Federal Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen to open the 53rd Munich Security Conference alongside US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on 17 February 2017

Translation of advance text

For the US Defense Secretary and the German Defence Minister to be opening this conference together is a good sign for the friendship between our countries.

We stand here primarily as transatlanticists, determined to take a joint approach to the difficult questions of security. It is also an affirmation for the Munich Security Conference, which is – my dear Mr Ischinger – the place for looking to the future together.

People on both sides of the Atlantic see the breathtaking speed of the conflicts and crises around us. The patterns have become familiar, globalised terrorism operating with archaic brutality and ultra-modern technology. Military power projection is being combined with subversive methods. Spheres of influence are being defined while sovereignty and international law are ignored. In the cyber sphere, bots, troll and fake news are hacking away at the credibility of democratic institutions and of the free press.

These hybrid activities may seem harmless, but the overall aggressiveness of their nature is only revealed further down the line. This is, at heart, an attack on our open societies – on our freedom-based way of life, on our diversity and thus on the foundations of our prosperity. They are under attack from terrorism and from authoritarian behaviour. We need to respond.

For us Germans, our usual reflex – i.e. to chiefly rely on our American friends to be proactive when the going really gets tough, and contribute only modestly ourselves – will no longer suffice.

Burden sharing is of course a matter of funding, of money; I’ll go into that later. But burden sharing is also about much more than euros or dollars.

Jointly shouldering our burdens means being there for one another whenever a partner is in need.

That means no-one going their own way, whether to press ahead alone or to shirk their responsibilities. It also means, however, that we need to work to get the people at home on side and develop joint positions on crises and conflicts with a view to then taking joint action. We Germans intend to take on that challenge – as Europeans and as transatlanticists, but also, a quarter-century since the Wall came down, as a grown-up democracy that is aware of its responsibilities.

Yes, we know that we need to bear a larger, fairer share of the costs of common Atlantic security.

We want to grow – and we want to grow as Europeans.

We have started down that road, and we have already made a good bit of progress.

Last week, I joined the Lithuanian President to welcome the first German enhanced Forward Presence soldiers to Lithuania. The people of Lithuania had to live without freedom for decades under Nazi and Soviet dictatorship – but they did not bow down. I remember the pictures from the Singing Revolution in 1990, and Bloody Sunday in Vilnius 26 years ago. The courage and pride of that country’s people triumphed over what had seemed an infinitely more powerful opponent.

Since then, Lithuania has been part of an undivided Europe of democracy and freedom, a respected member of the EU and NATO, like Estonia, Latvia and Poland – a country that deserves our solidarity and our protection. There are German soldiers in Lithuania today in part because we have not forgotten that we ourselves owe our freedom and unity to the protection afforded by our allies.

In our German Battlegroup, we have Dutchmen, Norwegians, Belgians and Luxembourgers at our side, soon to be joined by Frenchmen, Czechs and Croats. That, too, is NATO. But the European pillar is about more than that. It’s a matter of our security, and no-one is going to take those problems off our hands. It is up to us, and us alone. That is why we have the Framework Nations Concept, which we Europeans are using to develop those capacities which are lacking and which none of us could provide alone – from cyber defence to CBRN, air defence and European drone technology.

Burden sharing also means taking the initiative to make us collectively more effective.

But our determined political will to stand indivisible as Europeans in the service of peace goes further than that. It was only seventy years ago that the Germans were mortal enemies to the French, the Dutch, the Czechs; these days, parts of the Dutch army have been integrated into German formations, and parts of the German navy are operating under Dutch leadership.

The Franco-German Brigade is being deployed to Mali today, and we are dovetailing our army with Romania and Czechia. We are building and running submarines in collaboration with Norway and developing drones in cooperation with France, Italy and Spain.

This interconnectedness contributes to peace and protection for ourselves, but we will need to take an even broaden approach if we want to contribute to stability in our surrounding neighbourhood – in West Africa, for example, or in North Africa or the Near and Middle East. We can do that, in our own way. After all, Europe has a unique range of economic, diplomatic and security tools at its disposal.

Building up the police, border security and loyal armed forces; developing the economy, agriculture and infrastructure; providing advice to assist good governance, the education and healthcare sectors and the creation of jobs with a future – all this is required as part of a comprehensive approach to stabilising Europe’s neighbours across the sea. In the end, that will benefit not only us in Europe but the world as a whole as well. This is therefore exactly the right moment for the EU to be taking ambitious steps.

The EU is currently involved in 17 civilian and military missions, but it needs to be significantly more effective. That is why I have launched several initiatives alongside France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and others which all have the same objective: The EU has to improve the way it runs its missions, with civil and military strands coming together in one place, better joint planning and better funding for joint armaments projects.

European security and defence will thus become more efficient and effective. That, too, is part of burden sharing.

I am sure this is noticed and appreciated in Washington. In the other direction, our American friends are well aware that the tone they take on Europe and on NATO has a direct effect on cohesion in our continent.

A stable European Union is in America’s interest, as is a cohesive NATO.

The key questions remains, of course: how much are we prepared to invest in security?

We Germans have demonstrated in recent years that we can be relied on.

We have significantly increased our involvement, not least – though certainly not only – militarily: be it in fighting ISIL terrorism, stabilising Mali, providing ongoing support to Afghanistan, persistently consolidating peace in the Balkans, preventing human trafficking in the Mediterranean and the Aegean or maintaining a considerable presence in the Baltic. We will continue along that road.

This is a matter of being credible and reliable – for the people of our country, for our soldiers and for our partners and allies.

The NATO goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence is going to take consistent effort to achieve, for us as well as for many others. In 2014, we all pledged in Wales that we would reach the 2% goal within ten years. We stand by that, and we have started to fulfil the pledge. Our defence budget grew by 8% between 2016 and 2017. As you know, this is an election year in Germany. It will be a while before the newly elected parliament votes to adopt the budget.

But we need to be clear that we have to increase investment in internal and external security more quickly in the coming years.

We are doing this to enhance fairness within Europe and within the Alliance, but we also urgently need that investment to modernise the Bundeswehr. That is why I presented parliament last year with a strategic plan for the coming decade. It covers an investment package of 130 billion euros for the years ahead, which describes in detail how we intend to eliminate equipment deficits and undertake important innovation measures for the Bundeswehr.

At the top of our list of priorities is cyber and digital technology – the megatopic of the coming years. We will establish a new branch of the armed forces in April, alongside the army, air force and navy, to deal with that topic, headed by the Chief of the Cyber and Information Domain Service.

Many of our European friends are making similar efforts and progress. The crises and conflicts have opened our eyes to the fact that, if you want to be secure, you need to have your own strengths and capabilities. If you want to be secure, you need reliable alliances.

It did us good, Jim Mattis, to hear from you in Washington last week and in Brussels yesterday how explicitly the US Secretary of Defense stands by the transatlantic bond. NATO is not something we – neither Americans nor Europeans – can take for granted.

We all need to be convinced that it stands on solid foundations of common interests and sound principles and values.

That means fair burden sharing. It also means safeguarding the priceless and unquestionable value of Article 5, the fundamental essence of our Alliance, and the unconditional confidence that we will step up for one another at any time.

It also includes the fact that NATO is based on shared values and is beholden to the primacy of human dignity in everything it does.

That leaves no place for torture, and it obliges us to avoid civilian casualties at all costs and ensure protection for those who need it. It also means that there can be no equivalence between the trust we place in our Allies and our trust in those who openly call into question our values, our borders and international law. We therefore need to take a joint approach to re-establishing reliable relations with Russia, rather than negotiating bilaterally over the heads of our partners. We also have to act jointly in the fight against transnational terrorism, particularly that of ISIL.

We should beware of perverting this fight into a confrontation with Islam and Muslims as such. Otherwise we run the risk of deepening the rifts in which violence and terrorism grow. The right things to do is still to seek partnerships with like-minded Muslim and Arab states.

Ladies and gentlemen!

I am delighted that Jim Mattis is also going to say a few words in a moment – only a few days after taking office.

The crises of the last few years have made it clear that the world needs a globally engaged, responsible United States.

We Europeans know the value of the United States’ commitment to security and freedom on our continent.

We Germans have understood that, having benefited from a peace dividend for a time, we now need to invest assiduously to build up security reserves. We advocate greater European relevance – and, by extension, a more fairly balanced transatlantic security partnership.

We Europeans need to give transatlantic security and NATO itself a more European face and, conversely, locate our European thinking and planning on a more transatlantic and consequently more global plane.

Jim Mattis has said it very well; as he told Congress, “No nation is secure without friends.”

Jim, the floor is yours.

Your are leaving the mobile version of the German Mission website.