September 14, 2001
Interview with Chancellor Schröder
on the terrorist attacks in the United States
Question: Mr. Chancellor, let us begin the interview on a personal note. Where were you on Tuesday when you heard of this horrible attack and what were your first thoughts?
Answer: I heard about it here in Berlin and my first thoughts were dismay, sadness, and endless sympathy for the persons affected. But then, of course, you start to work - or it starts to work on you - and you immediately start to think about the consequences.
Question: The consequences could be that - like many people are saying - the 21st century actually began on Tuesday. Are we on the threshold of a new world order?
Answer: That's for certain. When you look at the declaration adopted by the UN Security Council, you see that the definition of being attacked, regardless of the country involved, has been totally changed. We used to think of attacks in terms of one country attacking another. The UN Security Council said, rightly in my view, that terrorist attacks like those that took place in New York and Washington are a threat to world peace and give a country, in this case the United States, the right to invoke Article 51 of the UN Charter, in other words to defend themselves. The Security Council went further than that, saying that one can defend oneself not only against those who are directly involved, in other words the terrorists themselves, but also against those who provide the terrorists protection and training opportunities. The Security Council even used the term "sponsoring" - which is a very broad concept.
Question: Almost a carte blanche for the Americans?
Answer: I wouldn't put it that way. But of course the Security Council said they can do everything - in accordance with international law - that protects them against similar occurrences and ensures that those responsible will be brought to justice. This is a very far-reaching authorization.
Question: Can what is far-reaching here become even more far-reaching if the Americans and the Russians work together more closely, in particular with regard to Bin Laden?
Answer: They will be doing that. Declarations to this effect have been made. President Putin told me on the telephone that the usual conflicts and differences of opinion will not and must not exist in the question of fighting terrorism. I agreed with him completely. We in Germany see this the same way. This will perhaps be the threat in the 21stcentury, not just for America, but also for ourselves, which is why I spoke of an attack, of a war against the entire civilized world. And by this I also mean against those in the Arab countries who respect the values we hold dear. Take for example countries like Egypt or Jordan, who have very clearly stated that they are against any form of support for terrorism.
Question: Many people in our country are afraid that some responses could be based too strongly on a desire for revenge. Do you see this danger?
Answer: Naturally, but I don't think the American leadership will be guided by a desire for revenge. Based on everything I know - including personal conversations with George W. Bush - American leaders, the government, the President are interested in punishing those who did this - which is necessary - and in seeing to it that something like this can never happen again, in any country in the world. This is a common task for the entire civilized world. Our shared values are at stake here. The values that hold our society together.
Question: To what extent are you able to exert influence on the Americans, to give advice. Do they listen to Europe?
Answer: We have an alliance obligation under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and we intend to comply with that obligation. Solidarity with America cannot be restricted to declarations and statements on paper. Everyone should be aware that the solidarity we want to provide includes the possibility of taking necessary actions. What actions these will be cannot yet be said, since it is not yet clear what actions the Americans will be requesting from their partners in the alliance. But those we are capable of providing and our constitution permits us to provide we will carry out.
Question: Do you think there will be tensions in the various governments in Europe as a result of the measures the Americans request and will then carry out?
Answer: No, I don't think so, since the Americans are in a consultation process with us. The American President told me himself that he attaches importance to consulting with the German government - and of course with the other European governments. The NATO decision had to be unanimous. It was unanimous and for this reason I think there will be full solidarity for the action taken. And that will be necessary, since terrorism is a threat directed against all of us, even if it is not immediate, as is the case for Germany, based on everything we know from the security agencies.
Question: What is your greatest fear at the moment?
Answer: My greatest fear is that there will be renewed outbreaks [of terrorism] somewhere in the world. And my fear or my hope is that we will find a way to curb this, rigorously, but also to proceed in a discriminating manner. I think this can be done. But I don't want anyone to have any illusions: the amount of influence the Europeans, and as such Germany, have on American decision-making is limited. For the first time the United States has been affected by an act of war in its own heartland. I think this is what it would have to be called. It has suffered severe physical - that is to say factual - and mental casualties and the American government will have to act. Its own people expect that of it and, just as clearly, Americans expect us to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, and this not just with statements, but also with corresponding actions.
Question: There have been various meetings, also with opposition leaders. Has the atmosphere changed?
Answer: Certainly. This is something positive and good to experience in this very difficult time, the fact that we have succeeded in achieving a uniform stance among the parties represented in the Bundestag in regard to our solidarity with America. We have regularly briefed our colleagues in the opposition parties. And my impression is that this has paid off in terms of public debate. For a while we will have to forget our usual party-political bickering. What is at stake here is more important than a power struggle between parties.
Question: What about the question as to what we will be able to agree to? What kind of mission can we agree to? There are differences of opinion on this. There is resistance in the ranks if the Greens, perhaps even in your own party. How do you judge this resistance?
Answer: I think it is understandable that members of parliament are just as fearful as other people in Germany. Let me say once again that no one can afford to take a position that amounts to wanting to have your cake and eat it too. A government with responsibility for a country of 82 million, one of the most important alliance partners the United States of America has, cannot afford to take a stance of this kind. And I would like to add that the Germans know full well that without our American friends we would not have freedom and democracy and prosperity in Germany. John F. Kennedy said here in Berlin: "Ich bin ein Berliner." The kind of solidarity he wanted to express with those words is something, I think, the Americans have a right to [expect from us].
Question: What do you need the approval of the Bundestag for or what will you ask the Bundestag to approve? Are there situations where you can say I'll decide that on my own?
Answer: Everything that does not involve the use of the German armed forces the executive government can and will decide on its own. The Federal Constitutional Court ruled that Parliament must approve any use of the German armed forces outside the NATO area - needless to say at the request of the executive government. Should this be necessary, if a request of this kind should be forthcoming, something that cannot be determined at the present time, then the Bundestag will have to make the decision. Let me say it once again that for me it is very important that it be clear that we have assumed obligations to assist the Americans, obligations which we will fulfill - but we are not at war.
Question: This will have repercussions on future policy, particularly with regard to immigration. Peter Struck, the leader of the SPD parliamentary group, said we need to rethink a lot of what we have done in recent years. Otto Schily said today that we may have to sharpen public debate on immigration and with regard to domestic security it may be the case that we will shift the dividing lines between military missions and police missions. How far can or must the right to immigration be restricted in light of the circumstances that now prevail?
Answer: We are an open and free country. This openness and freedom is also something we require for economic reasons. And we are convinced of the values of freedom. For this reason we must not conduct the battle in a way that would compromise our superior values. But it will always be necessary to keep reassessing and redefining the borderline between the openness of a cosmopolitan country and the need for security. This is what our Interior Minister has said. With regard to immigration let me say only that the bill Otto Schily submitted is intended, among other things, to strengthen security with regard to those who come to our country to apply for asylum. I am very much in favor of this bill being passed. To say in the present situation that we no longer want this bill would not mean more but rather less security and that is not my position.
Question: One of the people involved may have lived in Germany for ten years unnoticed. Shouldn't adjustments be made so that something like this can't happen again?
Answer: Sure, he came to Germany in the early 1990s, at a time when - I don't want to talk about that. Then he apparently lived in compliance with the law here, that is to say he was never convicted of any criminal acts. It is of course difficult for the security agencies to make someone who has abided by the law - except for a failure to comply with a departure date requirement - a focus of attention for the investigative authorities. That's a problem. Incidentally, this is not just a problem in Germany. The British have the same problem, as we know from news reports. This is a problem that every free country in the world has. As such, there is a need to show reserve in criticizing the security agencies.
Question: Bavarian Interior Minister Beckstein has called for an inquiry into the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution.
Answer: I don't think we are in a situation now where we should be dealing publicly with demands on individual issues. I have an entirely different task before me. Sometime next week - I don't know when exactly, that is part of the consultations - I will probably have to make one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make. I would ask you to understand that I cannot publicly discuss proposals put forward by a state interior minister. I am having to deal with other very important questions, namely what is the appropriate form of solidarity - which I expressly referred to as "unrestricted" - with the United States of America, what is the consequence of this for our actions, since we will not be able to leave it at declarations, and how can we bring this in line with our objective capabilities? We also need to ask what assistance we can provide and how this relates to the constitutional situation in Germany, which I must and will respect. These are some of the questions that are going through my mind.
Question: Also questions like whether or not the armed forces budget should be increased, or whether or not we need an entirely new finance system?
Answer: Yes, of course. I have told the Interior Minister that everything requested after careful assessment of whether or not it is really needed the Finance Minister will have to provide for. There can be no doubt about that. What is involved here is not just a request for quantity but also for quality.
Question: Isn't the issue here also the question of future policy, the assertion that we need an entirely new kind of budget management?
Answer: No, not budget management. But it may well be the case that this will cost something - there is no doubt about that. The armed forces are currently right in the middle of a reform process. What Rudolf Scharping is doing with his policy, that is to say moving this reform process ahead, freeing up a lot of money through better management and privatization, is something that will be of benefit to the armed forces. That is part of his reform plan.
Question: Mr. Chancellor, one more personal question to end the interview. Are you afraid of what's ahead?
Answer: No, I'm not. I was elected to this office and it is my duty to fulfill the responsibilities associated with it. There is no fear involved and nor must there be any. But I do need advice and sometimes a little encouragement.