[Interview] Diplomacy, military strength both needed for keeping peace, says senior German defense official

Posted on : 2023-02-23 17:30 KST Modified on : 2023-02-23 17:53 KST
Siemtje Möller, the parliamentary state secretary to the defense minister, spoke to the Hankyoreh via a written interview about how the war in Ukraine has affected Germany’s own outlook on security
Siemtje Möller, the parliamentary state secretary to the German defense minister, speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 16. (MSC/Kuhlmann)
Siemtje Möller, the parliamentary state secretary to the German defense minister, speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 16. (MSC/Kuhlmann)

During the chancellorship of Angela Merkel (2005-2021), Germany maintained what it called a strategic partnership with Russia. But following Russia’s full-frontal invasion of Ukraine last February, Germany declared a “Zeitenwende” — or epochal shift. In the year that followed, a series of massive changes and monumental events occurred on a scale that hasn’t been seen since the country’s unification in 1990. In a written interview with the Hankyoreh on Monday ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Siemtje Möller, the parliamentary state secretary to the defense minister, said of the changes, “peace can only be maintained when we stand united, do not tolerate these aggressions, and employ diplomacy alongside military strength,” adding that Germany would continue its “unwavering support” for Ukraine as the war drags on.

Hankyoreh: Regarding the “Zeitenwende,” or watershed moment, for Germany announced by Chancellor Scholz, it seems Germany is now moving to deter enemies by military strength. Can you comment on the change and why Germany feels it is necessary?

Siemtje Möller: Russia is waging an imperialist war of aggression against sovereign Ukraine and the international rules-based order. In this new world, peace can only be maintained when we stand united, do not tolerate these aggressions, and employ diplomacy alongside military strength. Diplomacy and military strength are two sides of the same coin, the complementary effect of which we have seen in EU and NATO actions to support Ukraine.

Hankyoreh: Germany had for the previous 70 years maintained a principle of not sending weapons to crisis regions. Why did this principle change after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Möller: We Germans – just like Koreans – are all too familiar with the horrors of protracted war. Not sending weapons to crisis regions was a way of preventing further escalation.

The situation in Ukraine is quite different because Russia has placed itself in direct confrontation with us. What shocks me most is the fact that Russian forces are using war crimes as a military tactic and are targeting civilians, as was seen in Bucha. This is a cruel breach of humanity that Germany cannot and will not tolerate. Instead, we stand up for international law, human rights, and peace – and that is why we support Ukraine so extensively, also with military equipment.

Hankyoreh: Can you touch on the significance of Germany upping its defense spending to 2% of GDP?

Möller: We were in a comfortable position to spend more on public goods, social services, and balance the budget during the peace dividend. But all these savings came at the cost of investment and innovation in the military. The special fund of 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr is making up for these shortfalls but cannot sustainably strengthen our military capabilities if it is not followed by a permanent increase in spending.

Hankyoreh: What did Russia mean for Germany's security and how has that changed now?

Möller: Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia is too big and too powerful to be left out, which is why we tried to welcome it in our common European house and construct a security architecture beneficial to all. But with its unprovoked attack on sovereign Ukraine, Russia has revealed itself as the greatest threat to our security.

Hankyoreh: Do you see any possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons in this war?

Möller: We strongly oppose even these implicit threats, which are in themself a violation of international law. Playing with fire cannot end well for anyone, especially as it could encourage others to follow suit.

Hankyoreh: Do you see any possibility of a large-scale war in Europe?

Möller: The post-Cold War European peace architecture was created to prevent war of any form. Russia broke that peace unprovoked. Now, we do our utmost every day to prevent the war from spilling over to neighboring countries.

Hankyoreh: What is the German government's position on Ukraine’s accession to NATO?

Möller: The German government stands by the NATO decisions taken in Bucharest in 2008. But now is not the time to discuss the implementation of these decisions. All our attention and effort should go toward helping Ukraine defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Hankyoreh: Last month, Germany decided to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks. What do you say to those who have been critical of what could be called a delay in aid?

Möller: Including civilian aid, Germany is the second largest donor to Ukraine [after the US -eds.]. Those decisions are always made in close consultation with our allies in the EU and NATO because the more we coordinate, the more effective and sustainable our support can be, while maintaining our own defense capabilities.

Hankyoreh: Can you explain the significance of Germany sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine?

Möller: The Leopard main battle tanks complement well Marder infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers Panzerhaubitze 2000. Taken together with equipment from other allies, they create strong synergies on the battlefield that allow sovereign Ukraine to defend itself against the Russian aggressors and liberate its own territory. But they are not the one weapons system that will turn the tide of the war. Instead, it is the sustained and unwavering support in all dimensions that will enable Ukraine to prevail. As a nation all too familiar with such threats, I am confident Korea understands what is at stake, for its own security, too.

Hankyoreh: Does Germany have any plans to supply fighter jets to Ukraine?

Möller: Our armed forces are supplying Ukraine with material that it desperately needs for itself — which is still the right decision but has its limits. On fighter jets, our Chancellor Olaf Scholz made it clear that we cannot live up to our NATO commitments if we were to give them up – and we must stand by our promises to keep our citizens and those of our allies safe, too.

Hankyoreh: How do you anticipate the war will end?

Möller: No one can predict how the war ends but we all know it must end on terms chosen by sovereign Ukraine. The German government and its people repeatedly underlined their full solidarity with Ukraine and assured it of their greatest possible support for as long as necessary. There is no sensible alternative to it as we cannot allow the rule of law to succumb to the law of the jungle.

By Noh Ji-won, Berlin correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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