Chancellor Merkel explains NATO policy in view of the new security situation in Europe

6 May 2017

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(© Federal Government of Germany)
The interview was conducted by Sebastian Feyock, a programme officer from the think tank of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

Sebastian Feyock:

Chancellor, the next NATO summit will be held in Brussels at the end of May. You are meeting NATO’s Secretary General Stoltenberg on Thursday to discuss that. Last year, in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and to Russian provocations in Europe, NATO decided to enhance its presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. The Bundeswehr is playing a role there. How would you explain to the people of Germany that this involvement is in our long-term security interests too?

Chancellor Merkel:

Well, I am looking forward to the meeting with the NATO Secretary General as part of the preparations for the North Atlantic Council session in late May. It is going to be a relatively informal Council meeting, but it will be the first attended by the newly elected President of the United States. We have indeed enhanced our presence within Allied territory, particularly towards the East and South – as we decided to at the Wales and Warsaw summits. On one side of the coin, it was very important to me that we respond to what is, after all, a new security situation. The annexation of Crimea, as you rightly said, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, has been a cause for concern among NATO member countries, particularly the Baltic states and Poland. To name another example, the situation in Moldova raises questions for Bulgaria and Romania. So we have responded, sending NATO troops to the Baltic states, for instance, with Germany represented among those troops by our contribution in Lithuania. From Germany’s point of view, we wanted to cover both sides of the coin – firstly demonstrating that Article 5, i.e. readiness to defend the whole of Allied territory, is very important to us and secondly, the other side of the coin, setting great store by keeping channels of communication with Russia open. We therefore arranged all measures in such a way as to ensure continued compliance with the NATO-Russia Founding Act and meetings of the NATO-Russia Council. And I think that in taking this two-pronged approach – both showing strength as well as repeatedly demonstrating readiness for dialogue – we have chosen the right path.

The North American Allies, the US and Canada, have deployed large numbers of troops to take part in the enhanced Forward Presence on the Alliance’s eastern border. Shouldn’t it be the European NATO Allies who do more for security in Europe?

I don’t think we should draw such a distinction there. I think NATO is NATO. There is such a thing as European Security and Defence Policy. The ESDP has taken on its own missions, and it is intended to be compatible with NATO policy. Many missions in Africa, for example, are European missions rather than NATO ones. However, as a transatlantic Alliance, NATO does have to be present as NATO in all aspects of its activities and responsibilities. We couldn’t have the US and Canada see to all tasks in the American region and the European Allies do everything in the European area. We have to be able to act jointly; we need to have the ability to conduct joint manoeuvres. From that point of view, I think that NATO, as a transatlantic Alliance, is fulfilling its purpose.

NATO has been concentrating more on Alliance defence again since 2014. One gets the impression that there is no more interest within NATO in long-term stabilisation missions like the one conducted in Afghanistan in recent years. What further developments do you think NATO needs to undergo in order to meet the current security threats, and what role will Germany play in all of that?

Well, NATO is still in Afghanistan, and I am very glad that the United States did not leave Afghanistan either when Barack Obama was still President, and that we are instead still engaged in our assistance and training mission there. Germany has assumed responsibility in northern Afghanistan and also acts as a kind of coordinating nation for around 20 other countries. I feel this is extremely important, because the very long-term commitment that we have already shown in Afghanistan must not be cut short too early, as this would mean all the results we have achieved or could still achieve would simply crumble. And the incidents we have been seeing recently are evidence that our presence and the assistance we provide in the form of advice and training are still urgently needed. And in my view, this long-term commitment has demonstrated that NATO certainly is ready. It has also taken on responsibilities in the Aegean Sea, through its deployment there, to assist in monitoring the refugee situation and combating traffickers. We therefore do have responsibilities not only within Allied territory but outside it as well.

The US President is calling for greater involvement from NATO in the fight against international terrorism and especially against the terrorist group calling itself Islamic State. What do you see as NATO’s role in combating international terrorism? Does NATO perhaps have be prepared to stabilise Syria in future, once a ceasefire is in place?

First of all, NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan has shown that it is active in the fight against terrorism. What sparked NATO’s involvement there – and the invocation of Article 5, i.e. defence of Allied territory outside Allied territory – happened in Afghanistan. And back then – we can all remember the terrible events of 11 September, which led to NATO’s current presence in Afghanistan. On a second point, turning to Syria, for example, and the fight against Islamist terrorism, I feel it is right for us to be forming coalitions that include regional forces, such as the Gulf states and others – for NATO not to be there as NATO alone but through coalitions that combine a number of member countries and regional forces as well. That is the most constructive approach, in my view. Not everything has to be done by NATO directly. NATO is now considering whether to get involved in training in Iraq, but on the whole, I think such regional coalitions are a better answer.

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