What is America's gift to our generation

speech AKK: Speech on the award of the media prize Release date

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer pointed out the dangers to the Western value system as a whole in these times when the Steuben-Schurz-Gesellschaft was awarded the media prize.

Today the West as a whole is at risk as a value system. And again it is important that Germany is firmly committed to the West. So that Europe can keep the peace. So that Europe can defend the culture of the West, freedom, the rule of law, the international order based on binding rules for all, and the open markets.

The Steuben-Schurz-Gesellschaft is the oldest German-American friendship forum.

The spoken word is valid

Dear Doctor. Beermann,
Dear Mr. Schneider,
Ladies and gentlemen,

it is a joyful event to be allowed to receive an award, especially when this honor comes from such a qualified mouth.

The Steuben-Schurz-Gesellschaft is the oldest German-American friendship forum. She herself experienced and suffered all the ups and downs of German history. As an intermediary organization, it has been at the forefront of transatlantic operations for decades, in the municipalities, with students, and at the base of relations between our countries.
A prize awarded from the depths of this experience is a special honor for me.

Receiving this award is also such a great pleasure because it is presented at a special time.

Because anyone who promotes friendship with America today in an emotional, charged and politically polarized transatlantic atmosphere can also expect sharp, often sweeping criticism.

I am therefore happy about every support and every tailwind. And I am very pleased that from now on I can make General Steuben and the revolutionary Schurz advocates for my transatlantic concern.

Let me therefore say thank you from the bottom of my heart for this award and also for your extremely kind words, Mr. Schneider. That is the kind of support I would like the transatlantic link to offer.

Ladies and gentlemen,
America - this word still evokes associations and feelings in all of us. That leaves no one indifferent.

For me personally, the early experiences remain formative, as Mr. Schneider mentioned that. The word America resonated in my family - and still resonates - with gratitude and warmth. That is a deep impression that I share with many Germans of the post-war generation.

For this generation America stands for liberation and the airlift, for the Marshall Plan and flight to the moon, for vastness and individualism, for innovation and economic power, and later for the triumph of the Cold War.

America also challenges us with its impetuous strength, its many facets, its contradictions and with a modernity whose demands are sometimes overwhelming. From the McCarthy era to the student revolt to the MeToo movement - what moves America moves us too.

We learned our democracy from America.

That was a gift for us, but for a not so small minority it was also quite an imposition that often turned into anti-Americanism. How could it be, some asked arrogantly, that Germany, the epitome of the “cultural nation”, had to learn how to be civilized anew from this young Anglo-Saxon nation?

Today I have to say that the imposition did us very good. This rubbing against America is something good, something productive. This friction stands for argument, discourse, and dispute - and the constant questioning of oneself. That is the essence of the open society.

Above all, America has brought us one thing: ties to the West. And that's more than just a geographic location. Germany is firmly anchored in the family of democratic, open societies in the West.

Konrad Adenauer, in close connection with America, led the Federal Republic to the West, Helmut Kohl, together with America, further firmly integrated the united Germany into the West.

For me, the connection to the west remains Germany's clear rejection of the longing for the middle position. Our ties to the West anchors us in NATO and the EU, closely linked to Washington, Brussels, Paris and London. It positions us correctly and clearly against a romantic fixation on Russia - and also against the illiberal corporate state, which despises the parties and parliaments.

Linking to the West answers the famous “German question”, the question of what Germany wants to stand for. Germany stands inviolably in the West and only with this answer is peace in the center of Europe possible.

Ladies and gentlemen,
a new German question may arise today.

Today the West as a whole is in jeopardy as a value system. And again it is important that Germany is firmly committed to the West. So that Europe can keep the peace. So that Europe can defend the culture of the West, freedom, the rule of law, the international order based on binding rules for all, and the open markets.

Only through Germany's powerful contribution will Europe be able to regain this strength.
And again it is essential that this development take place in close partnership with the United States.

Because to keep the West strong in the face of the unmistakable exercise of Russian power and global Chinese ambitions for supremacy, to defend that can only be done by America and Europe together.

It is therefore my firm conviction that this new German question must be answered with a new German realism.

What does that mean?

First of all, it means enduring a paradox: on the one hand, Germany remains dependent on America's strategic protection. On the other hand, it must at the same time become a much more active carrier of the western order.

The Federal Republic of Germany remains a strategic recipient - and at the same time it has to become a much more decisive strategic donor.

We have to keep this in mind: we cannot and do not want to carry out our nuclear deterrence ourselves. To do this, America must stay by our side and protect us.

At the same time, with diplomacy and conventional military means we will in the future have to do much of what America has done for us in large parts in Europe. Securing NATO's eastern flank. Crisis operations in our immediate non-European neighborhoods. Airspace and sea surveillance.
Both taking and giving are not always easy to accept.

To be a taker means to be dependent, not to become strategically completely autonomous, as is currently the fashion in the discussion.

And being a donor requires us to become a tough power-political factor. To play the geopolitical game ambitiously. It's very difficult for us. Not to mention the cost of this new role.

What is also new is that both roles, giver and recipient, are much more dependent on each other than before: we can only demand protection from our allies if we ourselves become more of their protector. Security as a mere gift is over.

From this we can see very clearly - and this is important to me: ties to the West and Germany's growing up in terms of security policy are closely linked. Whether you are part of the West is also measured by whether you are ready to defend it. Not only militarily, but also.

Our ties to the West are therefore a matter of fate for us and for Europe. If there is still a West to be found in the future to which we can bind, then we have to stand up for it. More than before. And side by side with the United States. I am convinced of that. And that is why, ladies and gentlemen, I am a transatlantic.

And precisely because that is me, I must not hide the fact that it is not always easy to profess the transatlantic at the moment. Because it doesn't just depend on us whether this relationship is intact.

Washington too must show us that it sees the defense of our interests and values ​​as a joint project.

We have reached our limits here in the past few years, which I hope will not shape the future of our relationship.

I am making this very clear: we are changing our policies, we are having tough debates, we are adapting to the new situation, and we are also moving on the defense issue. But we are not up for a disruptive style of politics.

Our hope is that in the future the broad lines of American politics will again come into their own.

That is not to say that we do not understand the changes in the world and its balance of power.

We know that American foreign policy in the decades to come will inevitably be different from what it has been in the past. The geopolitical situation makes this necessary.

But just as little does it mean to disregard what has proven so successful in the transatlantic: NATO and its alliance solidarity,
Europe's security needs this NATO.

The aggressive Russian policy makes this just as clear as the many other crises and conflicts that surround our continent from northeast to southwest.
But let me also add: it is not only we Europeans who need NATO. America also needs this alliance. Because

  • Through NATO, the USA becomes a European power.
  • Through NATO, the US has a reliable group of allies.
  • Through NATO, America is proving to the whole world that its guarantees can be relied on.
  • Through NATO, in which even the smallest member has a right of veto, America shows its face as a cooperative, integrating protective power. America is just not a hegemon that demands unconditional allegiance. This is unprecedented in history.

But even if you add all of that together, not all Americans are convinced that they still need NATO. I understand that. Because something else has to be added:

Namely, that the Europeans themselves can act powerfully when it matters. So that in the USA Europe is seen as a strong partner on an equal footing and not as a needy protégé.

We see: the German dilemma is also Europe's dilemma: we remain dependent and at the same time have to become power amplifiers.

Germany has a key role to play in strengthening Europe.

So let's stay with our German part of the transatlantic agreement for a moment. So with what we have to do.

In ten days the Americans will elect a new president and part of their parliament. And here, too, the general election in the autumn of next year is already casting its shadow very clearly.

In this political environment, we Germans are wondering what we can offer a future government in Washington

  • Firstly, make it clear to the US and our allies what we are willing to pay a price for,
  • second, bridges the paradox of taking and giving at the same time,
  • third, strengthens Europe so decisively that it can operate both more independently of and more closely with the United States.

Incidentally, we have to make this offer, regardless of who will win the presidential elections on November 3rd.

Let me outline the basic elements that such an offer must contain.

First: we have to demonstrate that we are serious about our defense - even under the financial pressure that Corona will trigger.

We have set a good example for the 2021 budget: The defense budget will not decrease despite Covid19. On the contrary, it actually increases slightly. This means that the capacity building to which we have committed ourselves in NATO is possible even in bad times.

Now it is important to stay on course, also with a view to the following years, in which it will not be easier.
We are also sending an important signal to Washington. Only when we ourselves value our security can we expect America to do the same.

Second, I would like to address the big issue of China.

As a leading export nation, we Germans see with great concern how China has positioned itself on international trade issues. Our criticisms include

  • the long-standing currency manipulation,
  • the aggressive appropriation of intellectual property,
  • the unequal investment conditions,
  • the state-subsidized distortion of competition.

We share this concern with our partners in the EU and with many other nations, including the United States.

However, we do not support every position and every move by the administration in Washington on this issue. Germany is interested in functioning multilateralism, especially when it comes to trade.

Our goal is therefore not to isolate ourselves but to strengthen the global set of rules, with the WTO as the core institution, in order to achieve prosperity effects for everyone with free markets and open trade routes.

German interests - and those of Europe - need an order that can counter both threats to liberal trade: the aggressively directed state capitalism of China and the temptation of unilateral isolation and decoupling that we are currently observing in Washington.

I therefore propose that we take on the challenge of global competition from a newly strengthened Western trade alliance.

It should not be an absurd idea to negotiate an agreement between the EU and the US that completely removes all tariffs and trade barriers between the transatlantic partners. And that is open to those who, like us, want to strengthen the backbone of the liberal, rule-based order.

Such an agreement would not be a particularly good economic deal - it would send a strong signal of growth, free and fair trade and global standards that would be well understood worldwide - including where it needs to be heard most urgently.

Third, we need to exonerate the United States as a regulatory power, especially in our own neighborhood.

What is preventing us from increasing our presence in the Baltic States, the North Sea, the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean? It is primarily about our own European security!

European and German foreign policy must not be limited to small-scale project management. In our immediate neighborhood, it's about standing up for democracy and an open society, but of course also about interests and our security. Our strategy must recognize this much more clearly.

Fourth, Germany should be very determined to continue its nuclear participation within NATO and approve the funds for it.

In April I submitted a proposal for the Tornado successor.
Nuclear participation is not an end in itself, it has a political goal.

As long as there are states with nuclear weapons that actively challenge our community of values, we need a strong negotiating position. Nuclear participation serves this purpose, now as it was then.

The threat to which we are exposed is unfortunately not sufficiently recognized in Germany: Russia has only a few hundred kilometers from our borders stationed cruise missiles and modern missiles that can reach Germany without much warning. This happened against the current arms control treaties and in secret. Russia's nuclear threat potential has increased dramatically!

Of course, we know all too well that Europe's security is not just about nuclear threats. We do not lose sight of conventional dangers and we position ourselves in such a way that we can counter them effectively.

But I particularly emphasize nuclear participation here because it is so central and symbolic, because with us it sometimes threatens to slide into the realm of the unspeakable. And also because we as Germans have to give ourselves a special push when it comes to this topic.

Let me therefore be very clear: nuclear participation is about deterrence and participation, credibility and responsibility in the alliance, and also about a signal of our readiness to defend the alliance and to share the burden.

Above all, it is the political value of nuclear participation that is so important. We are showing that we have recognized the seriousness of the strategic situation and are ready to do the right thing.

I've been working hard for this over the past few months, and I can tell you that God knows it's not popular. But it has to be. As America's core ally, let us send out a clear signal as quickly as possible.

Ladies and gentlemen,

  • My personal impressions and experiences,
  • The realization that America remains the indispensable nation
  • The knowledge of German ties to the West as a European question of fate,
  • The need for our country to grow up in terms of foreign and security policy,
  • The belief that a strong NATO and a strong Europe are as essential to America as they are to us -

These are the pillars on which my friendship and my sympathy for the transatlantic relationship are based.

Freedom lives under the roof supported by these five pillars. And precisely because that is the case, there is also dissent, argument, competition of ideas - in other words: democracy.

Therefore, when we go into an election year, when there is intense debate about the politics of our country, then we must not forget to whom we Germans owe this freedom above all.

Gratitude is not a question of time, nor is it a question of day-to-day politics. It does not expire. Regardless of what concerns us in troubled times and in daily political impatience against American politics: the reason for gratitude remains.

Let me be very clear: uncritical following is not a good way to live that gratitude. Nor is it the reflexive working through a caricature image of America, which we then also think we need to give good advice.

The best way to show gratitude is to now, on our part, defend the values ​​of freedom that America has helped to make in this country like no one else.
As a strong Germany, in Europe and in the world.

If there can be such a thing as repayment of historical generosity received, it is defense of the common heritage.
Steuben and Schurz, on whose behalf we are gathered today, are representative of this legacy.

They were the transatlanticists of their time, who followed the call to the west and participated there in the construction of America with their skills and their European values.

It is our job to maintain this common heritage.

Let us draw the conclusions from the historical obligations and the necessities of the present together, also - and especially! - if it will require some political show of strength.

Many Thanks.