This interview with Minister of Defence Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was partially published on 28 August 2020 by POLITICO at Brussels Playbook.
Q: Following up on a question you received about the „strategic compass“ and regional interests, it does seem that the EU continues to struggle to assert a common and unified security strategy, and it would be helpful if you could share some thoughts about the Union's inability so far to curtail aggressive action in particular by Russia in Ukraine and by Turkey in the Mediterranean, as well as the failure to enforce the agreed-upon arms embargo in Libya, which of course is not just an EU responsibility. At what point must the EU acknowledge that such rogue actors will continue to act with impunity? Doesn’t the poisoning of Navalny show the Kremlin is not moved at all by previous warnings, including by the UK and Germany, about such malign activities by Russian special services?
AKK: Let me first say how unbelievably sad and regrettable it is that anyone feels the need to revert to these kinds of methods today – also when you look at the series of similar incidents in various countries over the last few years. To me these tactics are a sign of weakness and insecurity. Also, Russia’s reluctance to cooperate tells us a lot.
But it is also true that the „language of power“, as it has been called, does not come easily to the EU’s member states when acting in concert. This is slowly changing, and we are working very hard to push projects and change minds. What makes me optimistic is that the sense of urgency is growing. Looking at Russia, China and a few other issues, there is no doubt that we need to hurry up.
Regarding EU-NATO cooperation, do you expect that this better cooperation will be possible following the November election in the United States? Recognizing the good intentions of Secretary General Stoltenberg and HRVP Borrell, how should the state of EU-NATO cooperation be understood given such unilateral actions by the U.S., NATO's largest and most powerful member, as the announced force reduction in Germany, and given the different reactions to this decision by various EU member states?
EU-NATO relations are high on my list for the German EU presidency, and we have taken a few very concrete initiatives that will leverage the two organizations’ joint power. NATO and the EU have been collaborating at the top level for some years now. That’s crucial. Most importantly, the „single set of forces“ philosophy really is the starting point of our thinking today. It is clear that all investments by member states will benefit both organizations. A strengthening of one is no longer seen as a weakening of the other. What we need is a shared strategic sense, ambition for European security, healthy budgets and quality capabilities.
Compared to the inaction in 2014 following the Russian invasion of Crimea, would the EU respond differently to Russian military intervention in Belarus?
The Europeans showed considerable unity in implementing a sanctions regime that comes with a price tag for most member states. And this unity is still alive today. There were many predictions that it would die very quickly, but thankfully that never happened.
What we see in Belarus is not a geopolitical contest. It is the domestic fight of people for their freedom, for their right to choose their own path. Lukashenka and his friends are trying framing this as a conflict between Belarus and the West. Let’s not walk into that trap.
Regarding HRVP Borrell's statement regarding military leaders in Mali having been trained in Russia and the U.S., do Washington or Moscow have a responsibility to respond in some more proactive fashion to the coup? What is the EU's expectation of those powers in the Sahel at this point?
The ball is actually in the court of those who staged the coup. Mali has to return to constitutional order very quickly. This includes elections. We support ECOWASEconomic Community of West African States in leading the dialogue. The international community, including Germany, wants to continue its mission on the ground because the task that we came for is still relevant.
The European Peace Facility will have 5 billions at its disposal, as confirmed yesterday by Borrell, the initial figures that were proposed were almost the double. Is this money sufficient to fulfill EU geopolitical ambitions? Or does this money represent a scaling back of EU ambitions?
For me it’s very encouraging that we received so much support for the EPF at the ministerial this week. There is a lot of support for the idea that those whom we train we must also equip properly. Training missions become a lot more effective that way. It is true that our numbers now are lower than originally intended. Corona forced us to adjust budgets in a pretty dramatic way. But that does not mean that our ambitions are changed. The Peace Facility will be a game changer in the way we deal with EU training missions. The five billion Euros, if used right, can make a big difference.
The standoff between Greece and Turkey is between two Nato countries and Nato seems unable to sort it. Does this prove Macron was right that Nato is brain dead?
Don’t worry, NATO’s brain is in good shape. NATO is deeply engaged in the fundamentals of European security: the nuclear balance after INFIntermediate Range Nuclear Forces, reassuring member states on the Eastern flank, coordinating force planning among all members – all of this is done, and can only be done, by NATO. NATO is in the midst of a thorough reflexion process in which its future course is charted. Also, the alliance was very active during Corona, providing a great deal of help when it mattered. And when it comes to Greece and Turkey, the mere fact that they are both members makes a big difference in easing the tensions. Diplomacy is easier this way.
The US has announced a reduction of troops in Germany, could they be replaced by EU members’ troops?
It is important that the US troops stay in Europe. We do not know very detailed plans and timelines yet, therefore I will not take part in speculations. What’s crucial here at the same time are Europe’s own capabilities and its readiness to act. Europeans have to build more muscles themselves. This is also behind my own efforts in Germany, where we have been hard at work to improve readiness, increase budgets and change the tone of the security debate.
On the Strategic Compass. In November, we will have the first assessment of the threats that the European Union is facing. You seem to indicate that it’s meant to be broader than assessing regional fears and mentioned also issues like AI and hybrid. But which one is in your view the EU top threat at the Moment?
The biggest threat to our security is our own complacency and disunity. Europe is surrounded by instability and conflict. It also has profound interests in its neighborhood. And yet we find it hard to create our own meaningful ability to act. That must change. I want to move towards a Europe starts producing security and stability where it matters. The risks that surround us are manifold. But they are also manageable. We need to do this with aspiration and with unity. Not having enough of either is the biggest risk I see.