Mr. Ischinger, the dust after the US election has not yet completely settled. Donald Trump is still twirling a bit, but it is no longer a bold claim to say that as of January 20, the new US President will be named Joe Biden. You know him. What can you tell us about him?
WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: First of all, the result of these American elections is what can generally be regarded as good news. The news is that America is ready to resume its duties as the leading nation of the West. The news is that we are getting a president to whom nobody has to explain where Europe is. His first participation in the Munich Security Conference, which at that time was still called the International Defense Science Conference, took place in 1980. Joe Biden knows everyone. We are dealing with a president who will get out of the starting hole very, very quickly, personally and politically. So we can be happy. But of course there are also a few problems …
You can hear the full conversation between Tanit Koch and Wolfgang Ischinger here:
Exactly – you have already warned against too much biden euphoria, but you sound very euphoric yourself at the moment.
Look what won’t happen will be a return to a transatlantic paradise. That didn’t even exist in the form. We always had transatlantic crises too. What will not be so easy to turn back through the Trump years are the doubts about the reliability and sustainability of our American partner. That is why Angela Merkel and others are right when they raise the question: Do we as Europeans, including Germans, have to worry a little more about our own security and our own future than in the last few decades? We need the closest possible relationship with the United States. But we cannot rely on the USA to be our great uncle forever, who will take care of anything if it somehow bangs, stinks or smokes here.
“What will not be so easy to turn back through the Trump years are the doubts about the reliability and sustainability of our American partner. “
The last US ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, was primarily the mouthpiece of US President Trump. What do you think a future US diplomat in Berlin will expect from Germany?
Explaining to Germans what they should or shouldn’t do – to be honest, that’s not an ambassador’s job. The wise rule is to listen, to explain your own politics and not to tell you where to go as a teacher. I hope that the future American government will find someone who can embody America as what at least my generation saw in America: the leading nation of the West, the embodiment of Western values, human dignity, freedoms, the separation of powers, the adoption of Responsibility for others too, incidentally also for issues such as global climate development or the fight against terrorism. A good ambassador can do a lot for the reputation of his country. A bad ambassador can do the opposite.
Are you surprised at how many respected Republicans have silenced Donald Trump’s election fraud lies? How great is his power?
In these four years, Donald Trump has been able to bind the Republican Party to himself in a way that is very astonishing. He has once again impressively demonstrated this power with more than 70 million votes. As of today, hardly anyone from the Grand Old Party dares to oppose this powerful president. The question is what happens after January 20th? Then he must have moved out of the White House, still has his security team, but has to take care of his indebted company. There are also a number of legal and possibly criminal problems. The power that Donald Trump embodies at the moment is likely to lose its radiance as the new administration takes its footing and shows the 350 million Americans: We are putting the fight against Corona at the top of our efforts and are not trying to do that to discuss away. But Donald Trump can continue to be an incredibly efficient disruptive factor. I hope I am wrong – but I fear that he will bring this disruptive potential to bear in a way that is causing many difficulties for the Biden administration. As we know, it has a large number of rather ruthless supporters. I’m afraid that will stay dirty. But it won’t work out in its favor.
Speaking of disruptive factors, NATO has had more than enough of that in recent years. Do you believe that a government under Joe Biden will succeed in making NATO an effective and more cohesive body again?
Yes. I believe that above all because the United States has found a determined partner in the Federal Republic of Germany. Because everyone who is able to think clearly here knows, or at least should know, that the North Atlantic Alliance remains indispensable for the security of our country. It is not replaceable. We are not a nuclear power. And if we want to protect ourselves in the face of increasing tensions with great powers like Russia, a more aggressive China, Turkey, the unpredictable developments in Tehran, then we need cooperation and protection from NATO, from our great American partner. But that shouldn’t mean, and that’s the crucial point, that we sit back and say: Yes, the new American president will fix it. Donald Trump was not the first to tell us: the burden-sharing is not right. It cannot be right that 25, 27, 28 European nations let American taxpayers finance their own security. In a global comparison, we are one of the wealthiest countries. We can be expected to make essential contributions to our security and to preventing our own politico-military blackmail. But I assume that the German government will have a partner in the future Biden Administration who would like to make NATO the consultation and decision-making body again. And I also believe that Washington knows very well how important it is not to let Turkey drift away.
What do you mean by that specifically?
We have to do Turkey – may I put it that way? – take to your chest. We must not reject them. That does not mean that we are going to let Turkey get away with what it shouldn’t. But perhaps we also need to intensify the dialogue with Turkey informally. Joe Biden isn’t the worst there. He can work with people. I’m assuming he’ll be able to work with Erdoğan too. And that can be helpful for all of us.
Where are the greater dangers currently lurking from a German perspective? Is it Russia? Is it china? Or is it your own inability to put security policy before economic interests?
I think we Germans consider ourselves the greatest multilateralists. And the very best Europeans. We know what’s good for Greece. For France. And for everyone else. Seen in the light of day, our tendency to think European, multilateral, is just as little pronounced as it is in other countries when it comes to our own elementary interests. And that’s why the way in which we treated the Nord Stream topic in its origins in its first years – I pull myself by the ear – that was not a masterpiece of German foreign policy and diplomacy. Of course, we should have included our Polish and other neighbors in such a project from the start. And of course it was wrong for the Federal Republic of Germany to say for many years: Yes, wait a minute, so it is not part of European foreign policy, energy projects like Nord Stream 2 are purely business projects. Anyone who wants to formulate a credible European foreign policy must not neglect energy foreign policy. It is an integral part of our security policy where we get our energy from, whether it can be blackmailed or not. A few weeks ago at the Munich Security Conference we presented a major report that basically postulates only one thing: Germany’s European imperative. Germany should put its political, economic and also military power at the service of a European Union capable of acting. If that were the goal after the next general election, then we will hopefully live up to our claim to be the best Europeans a little better than in the recent past.
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