Interview with German Foreign Minister Steinmeier 'History Judges the Success of Foreign Policy'

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier believes Germany must take a more active role on the international stage.
Hermann Bredehorst/ DER SPIEGEL

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier believes Germany must take a more active role on the international stage.

Interview Conducted by and

Part 2: 'The Chancellor Has Nothing Against Germany Being More Visible'

SPIEGEL: That sounds as if you're mostly talking about diplomacy. When it comes to military intervention, you yourself have said that a culture of restraint cannot become a culture of disengagement. Has that too frequently been the case in the past?

Steinmeier: It's not just about diplomacy or military intervention. It's about foreign policy. And it's pretty absurd that the quality of a foreign policy is measured by the number of foreign interventions and deployed soldiers it involves. Military intervention must remain a last resort. That will not change.

SPIEGEL: Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen says Germany can't look away when murder and rape have become commonplace. Do you share her opinion?

Steinmeier: At the end of the nineties, I was part of our decision to take part in the NATO airstrikes against Serbia. We said no to the war in Iraq and yes to the deployment in Afghanistan. You have to look at those decisions together. Those were very difficult choices that were made with a lot of responsibility. That will continue to be the case in the future.

SPIEGEL: Then why do we need this new foreign policy?

Steinmeier: The world has changed and we need to do a few things differently. People have noticed that foreign policy's reputation has begun to improve again. But that's not enough. In the Foreign Ministry, I have introduced a policy of self-review in order to kick off a public debate about the terms and perspectives of German foreign policy. We want to ask whether German foreign policy has emphasized the right things in recent years.

SPIEGEL: Do you think the chancellor also believes it is time to take a critical look back at the past four years?

Steinmeier: To my knowledge, the chancellor has nothing against Germany being more visible in the world and concentrating on its core foreign policy challenges.

SPIEGEL: Angela Merkel has been extremely restrained when it came to military deployments. The Merkel Doctrine favors arms deliveries to conflict areas so that regional players can determine their own outcome.

Steinmeier: Germany's arms export policy will remain restrictive. That is a core conviction of the Social Democrats. But we want to go further, namely, we want to make arms exports more transparent. That will change the nature of such deals in the mid-term. In the future, tank deliveries to Saudi Arabia won't be so simple.

SPIEGEL: We've spoken about difficult partners, and on Thursday you'll be visiting one. What will you tell US Secretary of State John Kerry about the mood in German parliament?

Steinmeier: The United States look at the balance between freedom and security differently than the Europeans, especially the Germans. It has a lot to do with history. The divide is a deep one and we cannot underestimate the work that lies ahead of us. I doubt, by the way, that a "no-spy agreement" will get us very far.

SPIEGEL: The Americans continue to spy on us unapologetically and your reaction is: Let's talk about it?

Steinmeier: I don't believe the Americans will continue to act as they have. Washington has hopefully understood that the way it treats its partners can have a political price. In other areas, the European and American concept of privacy is still very different. I'd like to talk about this with Secretary of State Kerry.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Steinmeier, thank you for this interview.

Editors' Note: Some questions and answers from the original print version have been cut from this version because events over the weekend in Ukraine made them irrelevant.

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subo_168 02/25/2014
1. optional
It is amazing how much the German foreign minister praises Putin for supposedly playing a positive role in resolving the crisis when it is Putin who caused the crisis by putting pressure on Yanukovych to chose Russia's aid package instead of a trade agreement with the EU. Oh my the German left is still in thrall to Russia, no matter how thuggish the Kremlin behaves, Germany's left can only see the good in Russia's political leaders. Must be some kind of subconscious admiration for authoritarian leaders. Or perhaps they are easily duped by the Russians due to their innate sympathy for Russia plus add in Germany's dependency on Russian energy resources, and we have the German left swooning over the Kremlin like a love struck teenage girl. "Steinmeier: Russia backed our roadmap. President Putin sent an emissary to Kiev on Thursday -- he negotiated during night and was very constructive."
johnhall500 02/25/2014
2. Ukraine
At a time when the USA has announced major troop reductions, France is tied up in the CAR and the public mood in the UK {after 13 years of Blair's illegal wars}precludes any military activity for the forseable future.Germany has decided to step onto the word stage,while the "chattering classes" of all countries urge action and sanctions they are the very people who will be the last to put their lives in danger.These situations tend to escalate.Proceed with care but keep your Bombs,Bullion and body bags handy the Ukraine could be a rocky ride.
ronald_thomas_west 02/25/2014
3. great laugh
"The situation in Kiev shows that it works" This is one of the Q/A that should have been in the editors category: "Some questions and answers from the original print version have been cut from this version because events over the weekend in Ukraine made them irrelevant"
Inglenda2 02/25/2014
4. It is clever to learn from the mistakes of others.
Despite good trading results, the U.S.A. and Britain are both nearly bankrupt, largely thanks to the many years in which they have (often with very expensive armed forces), been interfering in other countries, where they have little right to be. Germany is now going down the same street. The recovery it made following 1945, mainly owing to its concentration on internal national interests, has been and is being thrown away by a series of governments, whose members put personal prestige before economic common-sense.
ghasbee 02/26/2014
5. Fair and balanced assessment
"...I found the division of the world into black and white along the Axis of Evil to be much more unrealistic." I'd like to see a more assertive German foreign policy initiative to temper the spirit of gunboat diplomacy which seems to be the default mode of the West.
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