Speech by Joschka Fischer, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the 40th Munich Conference on Security Policy

Posted in Broader Middle East , NATO , Europe | 07-Feb-04 | Author: Joschka Fischer| Source: Munich Conference on Security Policy

One year ago this conference was the venue for a frank debate on the question of a war against Iraq.

Our opinions differed on
  • whether the threat was analyzed as sufficient to justify terminating the work of the UN inspectors,
  • the consequences that a war would have on the fight against international terrorism,
  • the effects of a war in Iraq on regional stability,
  • whether the long-term consequences of the war would be controllable,
  • and whether the controversy surrounding the legitimacy of the war would dangerously reduce the sustainability so essential in the post-conflict phase.
The Federal Government feels that events have proven the position it took at the time to be right. It was our political decision not to join the coalition because we were not, and are still not, convinced of the validity of the reasons for war.

Nevertheless, two things were clear once the coalition had decided to go to war. Firstly, the coalition must bring the war to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible, and secondly, the peace must be won.

For a failure would have had equally damaging consequences for us all, for Europe as for America, for pro-war and anti-war countries. This conviction informed Germany's position during and after the war on Iraq.

We are appalled by the horrific terrorist attacks, not least the most recent bombings in Erbil, which have claimed so many victims, both among the civilian population and from the armed forces of our allies and friends. Our heartfelt sympathy goes to all their families.

When we say that, regardless of our opinion of the war, we have to win the peace together because otherwise we will lose together, we have to look forward:

We are in agreement that the coalition's efforts must be successful. The forces of violence and terror in Iraq must not win the upper hand.

We are therefore convinced that it is now vital to restore the sovereignty of the country with broad legitimacy and to transfer it to an Iraqi government, preferably one legitimized at the ballot box. The United Nations must take on the key role in transferring sovereignty and supporting democratic reconstruction, for only it can guarantee the necessary legitimacy of the process.

From the very beginning we have said that reconstruction in Iraq should build on experience in Afghanistan. This stance is also reflected by our humanitarian commitment and our police training project for Iraq.

Permit me to refer openly to a discussion that began some time ago. I believe that the decision on the direct involvement of NATO in Iraq needs to be considered and weighed up with the utmost care. The Federal Government will not stand in the way of a consensus, even if it will not deploy any German troops in Iraq. But the risk of failure and the potentially very serious, possibly fatal consequences for the Alliance absolutely must be taken into consideration.

Honesty demands of me that I do not conceal my deep scepticism on this account.


It is becoming more and more apparent that the crisis in Iraq will not be solved without a sustainable long-term reform process in the region as a whole.

Notwithstanding the controversy about the war in Iraq, we have long shared the view that following 11 September 2001, neither the US nor Europe and the Middle East itself can tolerate the status quo in the Middle East any longer.

For the Middle East is at the epicentre of the greatest threat to our regional and global security at the dawn of this century: destructive jihadist terrorism with its totalitarian ideology. This brand of terrorism does not only pose a threat to the societies of the West, but also and above all to the Islamic and Arab world.

We cannot counter the threat of this new totalitarianism by military means alone. Our response needs to be as all-encompassing as the threat. And this response cannot be issued by the West alone.

If we were to adopt a paternalistic attitude, we would only inflict the first defeat upon ourselves. Instead we must formulate a serious offer based on genuine cooperation, an offer to work together with the states and societies of the region.

This jihadist terrorism is not strong enough to achieve its political aims, i.e. the destabilization of the Middle East, by a direct route. It is therefore attempting to embroil the West, and above all the United States, in a clash of civilizations – the West versus Islam – and to provoke it into overreacting or making the wrong decisions, thereby bringing about the destabilization of the entire Middle East. To this end, terrorism and asymmetric warfare are pursued with two aims: firstly, to wear down the forces deployed in the region, not to mention the general public in the West, and secondly to drag the region down into chaos.

Precisely for these reasons we must consider every step in the fight against terrorism very carefully and we must develop a common strategy with which to prevail over the jihad terrorists.

11 September and Al Qaida's homicidal terrorism are the reason why NATO is today in Afghanistan to secure the reconstruction and stabilization of the country on the basis of the ISAF mandate issued by the UN. Germany presently has some 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, of whom 1,800 are in Kabul and 200 in our reconstruction team in Kunduz. We have also taken a lead role in reestablishing civilian police structures. In addition, Germany is one of the largest donors of reconstruction aid in Afghanistan: by the middle of the year we will have made available some 280 billion euro, thereby exceeding our pledges.

Nevertheless, if we are to win the fight against jihadist terrorism, we will have to take a much broader and further-reaching approach on the Middle East. For behind the new terrorism lies a profound modernization crisis in many parts of the Islamic Arab world.

Our concerted efforts to foster peace and security are doomed to failure if we believe that only security issues matter. They certainly do, but security is a much broader concept in this fight against terrorism: social and cultural modernization issues, as well as democracy, the rule of law, women's rights and good governance, are of almost even greater importance.

The European Security Strategy adopted by the EU in December 2003 is based on this realization.

It has been barely possible hitherto in the countries of the Middle East to shape globalization in a way which is even remotely positive. The region has not yet found any answers to the pressing challenges of the 21st century. It is largely unable to meet the expectations of a predominantly young population – more than half of those living in the region are under eighteen. The latest figures show that investments are falling in the Middle East.

We should also be alarmed by the current Arab Human Development Report issued by the United Nations Development Programme. In response to the shortcomings in this region, the report puts forward the strategic vision of a knowledge society in the Arab world. Its cornerstones are democracy and the rule of law, equal rights for women and their integration into public life, the development of strong civil societies, as well as of modern education systems and of the economy.

This is a generational task. And the initiative cannot only come from the outside. It must, first and foremost, come from within. The key to successful reforms lies in the region.

Anyone who now thinks that all of this is nice to know but has little or nothing to do with security policy is very much mistaken. The question of whether NATO engages in Iraq or not is of less importance to our security (even though I certainly do not underestimate the importance of this question) than whether finally we, America, Europe and the countries affected in the region strategically tackle this challenge of modernization and stabilization in the Middle East.

In order to succeed, the European Union and the US should, in view of this major challenge to our common security, pool their capabilities, assets and projects to form a new transatlantic initiative for the Middle East.

Such an initiative could open up a completely new perspective to the countries of the Middle East: enhanced cooperation and closer partnership in the fields of security, politics, the economy, law, culture and civil society.

Of course, such a joint transatlantic initiative depends on the fulfilment of two conditions: first of all, this initiative needs sustainability and must be based on a long-term perspective. Secondly, the key regional conflict, namely the Middle East conflict, should neither be set aside nor allowed to block this initiative from the outset.

The common threat presented by jihadist terrorism and the possible destabilization of a region crucial to our security in strategic terms; our common interests; the proliferation of our options through close cooperation – all of this would indicate that America and Europe should now draw the right conclusions from their differences of opinion concerning the Iraq war and develop a perspective and strategy for the wider Middle East together with our partners in the region. Mark you, I am talking about a common strategy here, not a "toolbox" approach.

An initiative in two stages would seem appropriate. Both NATO and the EU already have cooperation arrangements in the Mediterranean. A first step would therefore be a joint EU/NATO Mediterranean process.

A second step could then be a "declaration on a common future", which addresses the entire Middle East region.

Allow me to first of all explain our views on the EU/NATO Mediterranean process.

Whether the Mediterranean becomes an area of cooperation or confrontation in the 21st century will be of strategic importance to our common security.

The dialogue which NATO is conducting with the Mediterranean countries and the European Union's Barcelona Process could strengthen and complement each other by closely coordinating their work and linking it up to form a new EU/NATO Mediterranean process.

The EU's Barcelona Process and NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue should not be amalgamated in this process. Rather, they should complement each other through their specific strengths.

The new EU/NATO Mediterranean process should include all participants in the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue: in addition to NATO and EU member states, the Maghreb states Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania, as well as Egypt, Jordan and Israel. They would be joined by all participants in the Barcelona Process, i.e. the countries already mentioned as well as the Palestinian territories, Syria and Lebanon.

The cooperation should focus on four main priorities: security and politics; the economy; law and culture; civil society.

The first priority would be to develop close political cooperation and a security partnership. It would be aimed at creating transparency and at confidence-building among all the states involved. Furthermore, the reform processes of the countries in the region should be supported, indeed in all areas of policy, institutions, democracy and law.

The legitimate security interests of all states in the region should be reflected in a system of regional security cooperation based on transparency and verification, disarmament and arms control. The European Union has already made precise proposals to this end in the Barcelona Process.

NATO could make a notable contribution to the success of a political partnership and an effective security partnership. Its particular strengths and the experience gained with the Partnership for Peace programme would be of major importance.

A new economic partnership for the Mediterranean countries could be the second focus. Above all, developing and integrating hitherto separate national economic areas could play a decisive role in supporting the process of political and social change.

So why should we not vigorously pursue the ambitious goal of creating a free trade area together by 2010 to embrace the entire Mediterranean area?

What is more Europeans and Americans can create incentives for cooperation within the region by opening our markets precisely for goods produced transnationally.

The partnership in law and culture, the third priority, should include the development of institutions based on democracy and the rule of law, as well as free media and cooperation in education and training.

Similarly, the dialogue between the religions, an intensive exchange and close cooperation in the cultural sphere and a partnership of tolerance in culture and education would be of central importance here.

The fourth focus would have to take in strengthening and integrating civil society and the entire NGO sphere. A strong civil society is indispensable for democracy and the rule of law and at the same time is essential for any process of renewal.

The new transatlantic initiative for peace, stability and democracy in the Mediterranean would have to build on the work of the current institutions. Regular meetings of the foreign ministers or other line ministers of the states involved would therefore be an obvious steering instrument. Civil society should also have its own forum.

Let me now turn to the second phase of the initiative, the "declaration on a common future". It is not just intended for those involved in the EU/NATO Mediterranean process but also for all other members of the Arab League. Iran's participation ought to be considered.

The signatories of the declaration should undertake to promote and support reform together in the countries of the region.

This declaration offers all states involved a partnership based on equality and comprehensive cooperation for a common future.

The treaty should contain a number of principles to which the countries subscribe.

Firstly, the signatories commit themselves to peace, security and the renunciation of the use of force; to democracy and economic cooperation; and to arms control, disarmament and a system of cooperative security. All participants pledge to support the joint fight against terrorism and totalitarianism.

Secondly, the signatories see the decisive response to the challenges of the 21st century in a policy of political, economic and social reform of state and society. They support the integration of their economies.

They are all striving for good governance committed to human rights as well as law and justice, for participation of the citizens in the political decision-making processes, for a strong and independent civil society in their countries and for equal rights for women and their involvement in public life.

Thirdly, the signatories pledge to grant all citizens, both men and women, equal access to knowledge and education. The aim is to build knowledge societies in the region. This goal mirrors the central strategic task identified in the Arab Human Development Report.

In early summer this year, the G8, European Union and NATO summits in rapid succession offer the opportunity to truly launch such a project. Its key components are already included in the current initiatives drawn up by NATO, the EU or the national capitals. A joint offer of partnership with the countries of the region could then be extended in Istanbul.

Nevertheless, such an initiative requires careful preparation and consultation with the partners in the region because it is crucial to avoid any paternalistic misunderstanding.

These considerations on a new transatlantic initiative are rooted in the conviction that the modernization of the wider Middle East will be decisive for our security in the 21st century. It is therefore in our best interest that the people in the Middle East can share in the achievements of globalization.

On 1 May this year, the EU will take on ten new members and thus finally end the division of Europe. Europe is growing closer together. Of course, this does not happen without difficulties, conflicts and arguments, but Europe is growing closer together. I am absolutely certain about that. Our experiences since that dreadful day in September 2001 must have brought us to recognize on both sides of the Atlantic that, in the face of the huge challenges that lie ahead, the transatlantic partnership is indispensable.

If the states of Europe and North America work together strategically as partners in the European Union and in NATO in response to the common threat, and if they bring their particular abilities and strengths to bear in a new cooperation with the states of the Middle East, then we can make this truly paramount contribution to our joint security. If we fail to do so, or if we are too short-sighted, too narrow-minded or too hesitant, we will have a high price to pay.

The spoken word is applicable!

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