“Changing times call for a readjustment of our international policy”: Nils Schmid

An interview with Nils Schmid, member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the German Parliament


Nils Schmid is a German politician and lawyer and a member of the German Bundestag (Federal parliament) since 2017, where he has been the foreign policy spokesperson for the SPD (Social Democratic Party) parliamentary group since 2018. Before that, he was state chairman of the SPD in Baten-Württemberg from 2009 to 2016. The Newsletter interviewed him at the end of May.


1.  Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to major shifts in German, European, and US European policy within three months. Germany has increased its military budget, and Russian energy supplies are in question. The EU has agreed to supply the Ukraine with weapons, and the US has taken the lead again after its hesitation and backtracking during Donald Trump's presidency. Are these changes just coincidental?Or can they be seen as a gateway to a new era? For example: a new Cold War, a new security architecture combining military and energy perspectives?


With the invasion of Ukraine, which is aviolation of international law, Vladimir Putin has not only triggered a humanitarian catastrophe, but also shattered the foundations of our European security architecture. For us,one thing is clear: the Russian regime must not win this war of aggression. These days my great respect goes to the people of Ukraine who are standing up to a Russian army that is acting with extreme brutality, as shown by the terrible reports of war crimes. The Ukrainians have prevented Putin from achieving his original war aims, but Russia was wrong not only about Ukraine, but also about the West response, one of great unity and determination against the Russian aggression and of active support to Ukraine. Together with our partners in Europe, North America, and around the world, we have imposed tough sanctions against Russia. In close consultation, we are supplying weapons and supporting Ukraine with humanitarian aid and extensive financial resources. We are also rapidly reducing our dependence on Russian gas and oil. And we are strengthening NATO's eastern flank and providing the necessary equipment for the Bundeswehr (German Army) with a€100 billion special fund.


Ukraine's successes in its defensive combat and the strong response of the Western community give us some hope in these dark times. But now the nuclear power Russia, with one of the world’s largest armies, is concentrating its military activities in eastern Ukraine. And despite all the unity in the West, we have had to conclude that Russia is far less isolated on the international stage than would be desired. It is true that a large majority of states in the United Nations General Assembly condemned Russia's attack. However, a total of five nuclear powers refrained from joining Russia's condemnation. And if you take a look at the population of the countries that did not clearly condemn Russia, you come to almost half of the world's population. This should be a wake-up call for all of us. We must now focus more on those states that also have an interest in defending international law and multilateralism. Our Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is therefore taking the right path by inviting Senegal, India, Indonesia, and South Africa to the G7 meeting in Germany.


2. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has spoken of a "turning point of times" in this context. What exactly is meant by this, and what is the position of the German and European public?


Three days after the war began on February 24, Chancellor Scholz called a special session of the Bundestag (German Parliament) and delivered a landmark government statement. In it, he aptly formulated that the Russian invasion of Ukraine marked a turning point. Based on this speech, a coherent government policy was developed in the days and weeks that followed. And as a Member of Parliament, I am happy to point out that the Parliament has clearly committed itself to the ground principles of this government policy with a motion that the governing parties (SPD, Greens, and FPD) introduced together with the largest opposition party (CDU/CSU). These principles include, firstly, that Germany and NATO mustnot become a party inthe war. Secondly, it is certain thatthere will be no national unilateral action, but that we will coordinate closely with our partners in the EU and NATO. Thirdly, Putin clearly must not win this war. That is why we have adopted sanctions of historic proportions and why we are helping the Ukraine with extensive financial resources, humanitarian aid, and arms deliveries.



However, I also want to point out that the turning point of times does not represent a complete turnaround. Rather, it is about a readjustment of German foreign and security policy. Germany and NATO have long pursued a dual approach of dialogue and deterrence towards Russia (formerly: The Soviet Union), and we will continue to do so. However, for the foreseeable future, the element of deterrence will come first, but without completely abandoning dialogue. It is therefore important that we strengthen NATO's eastern flank and provide our armed forces with the necessary equipment through the €100 billion special fund for the Bundeswehr that has just been adopted.


I have heard many positive reactions from other European countries to the Chancellor's speech on February 27. The government's turnaround policy is not only supported by a broad majority of the German parliament, but also receives great support among the population. Since there have hardly been any arms exports from Germany to crisis and war zones so far (one exception was the delivery of weapons to the Peshmerga [Kurdish armed combatants] for defence against the IS), there is a lot of discussion right now particularly about heavy weapon deliveries. And it is indeed a difficult situation for the German government, which must carefully weigh up every measure and make sure that NATO does not become a party to the war and that there is no weakening of national and alliance defence. Every step must also be closely coordinated with the allies. I am glad that in these stormy times, we have a Federal Chancellor who steers us with a clear compass through the unknown and rough waters.


3. If we are facing a new era of tension in which the US defines the People's Republic of China and Russia as its main adversaries, should Europe join this position?Or is it time to develop a European security policy that recognises its own needs?


The focus of our current policy is to support the Ukraine with all our strength, for example by supplying weapons to Kiev and imposing tough sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Russia. Putin's Russia will remain a threat in the long term, which we must prepare for together with our partners and friends in Europe and the USA. But,today especially, we should not forget how widethe challenge posed by China is for us. We must ask ourselves what lessons we should draw from the experience of our policy towards Russia for our interactions with China. For example, it became clear how problematic strong dependencies in systemically important areas are. Certainly, our economic dependence on China is different, as we are not dependent on a few raw materials here. Nevertheless, the current developments should be a wake-up call for German companies to reduce their dependencies on the Chinese market.


The Xinjiang Police Files have shown how brutally the Chinese leadership represses parts of its own population. But China is not only becoming more repressive internally, but it is also pursuing its national interests more and more assertively in its foreign policy. Our view of the Far East has been clouded by economic interests for too long. What is needed now is a reorientation of German policy towards China. That is why I am glad that the Federal Government is currently working on a China strategy.


For us, China is at the same time a partner, a competitor, and a rival in the system towards which we must courageously stand up for our interests and values. This requires not only close cooperation with our partners in Europe and North America, but also a stronger cooperation with partners of value and interest in the Indo-Pacific. It was therefore an important sign that Chancellor Scholz's first trip to Asia was to Japan, and that he recently held government consultations with India in Berlin.


In the face of Russia's war in the Ukraine and the comprehensive challenge from China, it is certain that in the future we will not only need a continued strong transatlantic community, but also reinforcedEuropean sovereignty. That is why we should use the rising national defence spending to strengthen European defence, for example, by expanding European armament cooperation or in joint projects such as the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), the combat aircraft of the future.


4. Do you think that all this will also have an impact on Latin America? And if so, what do the countries have to prepare for?


First, I would like to point out that it was significant that many Latin American countries joined the resolution at the UN General Assembly and condemned Russia's attack on Ukraine. The global impact of the war shows us once again how closely interconnected we are in our globalised world and how quickly events far from home can affect our everyday lives. This is illustrated by the example of the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grains. Russia's war against the Ukraine increases the riskofhigh energy and food prices, which will drive many people around the world into hunger and poverty. Of course, this also affects many countries in Latin America, where the Covid-19 pandemic has already led to an increase in the number of people suffering from hunger.


5. The war in the Ukraine is causing major budgetary efforts to be concentrated both in the military sphere and in humanitarian and development aid, as well as support for European citizens due to the impact on their energy bills, as well as  concerns about global food security in Central Europe. However, the major problems affecting countries in the South (food crises, impact of climate change, wars, terrorism, migration, authoritarianism, etc.) are still present and are likely to worsen and have an impact on Europe. How can Germany and Europe link the urgencies in the North with the crises in the South?


The Federal Government and the Bundestag have only recently approved a supplementary budget to deal with the consequences of Russia's war against Ukraine—not only regarding Germany and Europe, but also consideringits global impact. It is clear to us that the lack of grain supplies and increasingenergy and food prices pose enormous problems for many countries in the Global South. There is athreat of famine of historic proportions. I am therefore very grateful to our Development Minister, Svenja Schulze, for playing a key role in promoting an alliance for global food security, which has now been launched by the G7 development ministers together with the World Bank. And I am glad that Germany has sent a strong signal to the international community by pledging €430 million for global food security. The turning point of times requires a readjustment of our international policy. In addition to an effective and progressive Bundeswehr and a far-sighted foreign policy, we need to continue our strong commitment in the areas of humanitarian aid and development cooperation. This includes, for example, the global fight against hunger and poverty, support for our partners in the energy transition and in overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as our commitment to crisis prevention, focusing on preventing armed conflicts. It is also clear that more cooperation with many countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia is needed to solve the major challenges humanity is facing, such as the fight against climate change.


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