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Germany calls for European defense union

February 14, 2020

The German foreign minister has called for greater defense efforts out of Europe. NATO allies will likely butt heads at the annual security conference as France pushes for more independence from the US.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaking at the 2020 Munich Security Conference
Image: Reuters/A. Gebert

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, speaking before a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference on Friday, called on his country and all of Europe to take on a greater international security role in light of evolving relations with the United States.

World leaders have gathered in southern Germany on Friday for the 56th iteration of the annual conference on international security policy.

"For too long, we Europeans have shut our eyes to the uncomfortable reality of what a withdrawal of the US from military engagement and from international treaties means for us," Maas said, opening a discussion on the changing nature of the international order. 

Mass called for the "construction of a European security and defense union as a strong, European pillar of NATO."

Responding to an offer made earlier this week by French President Emmanuel Macron, he also said that Germany is prepared to discuss a European strategy related to France’s nuclear weapon arsenal. 

Macron will speak at the conference on Saturday. 

Steinmeier warns of a 'destructive dynamic'

Striking a similar tone earlier in the day as he opened the conference, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized the US for neglecting its international duties and warned of an "increasingly destructive dynamic in world politics."

"Year by year, we are distancing ourselves from the goal of international cooperation to create a more peaceful world," Steinmeier said in his opening address. He criticized world powers Russia and China before adding that "our closest ally, the United States, under the current administration itself rejects the idea of an international community."

Steinmeier: World less safe as US retreats

In addition to Steinmeier and Maron, this year's three-day Munich Security Conference will host Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as well as several other foreign and defense ministers from around the world.

Also scheduled were NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

'Unforgivable failure'

Conference chairman Wolfgang Ischinger said he was "deeply troubled" by the "unforgivable failure" of the international community in the Syria conflict, and said he regretted the failure of the Libya peace plan recently secured in Berlin.

"We have more crises, more serious crises, more horrific events than one can actually imagine," he said.

NATO tensions

NATO allies will likely find themselves in conflict during the meeting, with Macron pushing for Europe to become more independent from the United States.

US General Tod Wolters told reporters at the conference that NATO will resume its training mission in Iraq in the coming days or weeks, after activities were suspended following a US drone strike on Baghdad. Wolters said the 500-strong mission had received assurances from the Iraqi government.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer earlier on Friday met with fellow defense ministers from the coalition against the "Islamic State," including US Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Esper and Kramp-Karrenbauer reaffirmed the need to continue the fight against Islamic State, with the German defense minister saying that the group was "not yet defeated."

Russia and Turkey to meet

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to meet with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of the conference, the Interfax news agency reported.

Russia's Foreign Ministry earlier criticized Ankara, after it said would use force against rebel groups violating a ceasefire in Syria's Idlib. 

US-Afghanistan deal

Pompeo said the US was making headway with negotiations with the Taliban, on his way to the conference.

The US said it had secured a seven-day reduction in violence in Afghanistan, while US President Donald Trump said a peace accord was "very close."

Read more: US announces 7-day partial truce with Taliban

Middle East peace

The US peace plan for Palestine will likely lead to conflicts at this year's MSC. European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell criticized the Israel-friendly plan, and called on EU foreign ministers to table their own ideas to promote peace.

Borrell said he was concerned that the current US plan could lead to the annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank. He warned the EU would be forced act against such serious violations of international law. 

However, he acknowledged, that EU lacked unity on the Middle East peace process. 

Read more: Top EU diplomat wants European strategy for Middle East peace


On the sidelines of the conference, Kosovo and Serbia signed a US-brokered agreement to build road and rail links between their capitals. 

"Another milestone!" Kosovo President Hashim Thaci wrote on Twitter after the signing, thanking Trump

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also expressed gratitude towards the Americans.  "We feel that this will bring us a better future and that we will ensure peace for decades to come," he wrote on Twitter. 

Police deployed

Thousands of police have been deployed to the streets of Munich for the conference with support from several other German states. Several protests are expected, including one expected to attract 4,000 people on Saturday.

kp,aw/rg (AFP, dpa)

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