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Interview: Gero Schliess / gswNovember 15, 2012

Horst Teltschik, the former national security advisor to Chancellor Helmut Kohl and former chair of the Munich Security Council, sees a need for action in Germany following Obama's re-election.

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) talk REUTERS/Andres Stapff (MEXICO - Tags: POLITICS)
Image: Reuters

DW: President Obama's new administration will continue its rebalancing of American foreign and security policy away from Europe and toward Asia and the Middle East. What new challenges will fall to Germany and Europe?

Horst Teltschik: My conclusion is very simple: The US as the biggest superpower will continue to concentrate most heavily on Asia because relations between China and the US are fundamental for security and peace in the region. That also has immense significance for Europeans. That's why we have a big interest in seeing the relationship between China and the US further develop in a responsible way.

That means Americans can count on us here to occupy ourselves with the remaining conflicts in Europe, including the fragile situation in the Balkans as well as the so-called "frozen conflicts." In the case of Georgia, we've seen that frozen conflicts can heat up very quickly.

And relations with Russia still aren't entirely clear. The key question is: Do we want an independent Russia, which in my opinion would be more dangerous, or do we want to include Russia as an ally of NATO and the EU? That's a central issue facing Europe, particularly Germany and Poland.

What can Germany and Europe do in order to regain strength on the world's political stage?

Germany is in a complicated position. On the one hand, we are in a leadership role in Europe, but on the other hand, that unleashes mixed feelings, as we've seen up close with the demonstrations in Greece. So there can only be one answer for Germany: We have to come up with a clear and convincing foreign policy. What do we really want? That relates back to an issue that is also a key question for the US - the missile defense system. Promises were made at a NATO summit to former Russian President Medvedev, and if they're not kept, then we will have big problems.

What does President Obama's strategy of "leading from behind" mean when it comes to Germany's potential involvement in conflicts in Mali, Syria or Iran, which German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle sees as key issues?

I don't think that the US expects us to get involved militarily in such conflicts. In the case of Syria, no one expects Europe to take part in a possible military intervention. There's a simple reason for that: Even if we include NATO, we don't have the military capabilities to get involved there.

My biggest hope is that Obama is prepared to accept Chancellor Merkel's invitation to talk about all of these issues. It's almost scandalous that Barack Obama did not make an official visit to Germany during his first term as president. That's never happened. Fortunately, the chancellor has invited him, and I hope that he comes. There needs to be a discussion about these issues.

I don't know whether Mali is of central interest for us. Africa on the whole, yes, but it's very questionable whether the Bundeswehr [Germany's armed forces] would get involved specifically in Mali. If our foreign minister aims to do that, then he should do so with our French partners but not put the Bundeswehr in the foreground.

Things are different when it comes to Iran. In that respect, I'm glad Obama won. Because Obama still prioritizes a diplomatic solution. And, of course, we are included in the Group of Six [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany]. But there, too, we can only act in close coordination with the US. The goal cannot be conflict. Based on experience and our own history with the Cold War, and with such a strong opponent like the Soviet Union, we should seek dialogue and cooperation with Iran today, and not confrontation.

Do you not see any expectations from the US that Germany and other European states should expand their military budgets to be capable of supporting military actions like the ones you mentioned?

We've had discussions for decades about the distribution of military spending between Americans and Europeans. It's true even for Great Britain and France, but also for us: We haven't expanded our defense budgets, instead we've done the opposite. We don't even have the money to convert the Bundeswehr from a volunteer force into a professional armed force. Even if the US were to demand that, Europeans would respond by pointing to the American defense budget, which should be reduced.

Horst Teltschik is a former national security advisor to Chancellor Helmut Kohl and headed the Munich Security Conference from 1999 to 2008.

German security and foreign policy expert Horst Teltschik Photo: Matthias Schrader dpa/lby +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
German security and foreign policy expert Horst TeltschikImage: picture alliance/dpa
President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a meeting (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
A key policy question: The US missile defense plansImage: dapd