What do the Turks think of ISIS

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Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke in an interview with Tagesspiegel (October 12, 2014) about the fight against ISIS terrorists, the role of Turkey and the German contribution.


Why is the international community watching as the “Islamic State” on the border with Turkey shoots the Kurdish city of Kobane ready for storm?

The world is not idle. The Americans, several European and Arab states are carrying out air strikes against the terrorist militia. Germany supplies military equipment to the Kurds to strengthen them in this struggle. The use of military means is necessary, but must be integrated into a longer-term political strategy. German foreign policy also makes a contribution to this.


We are trying to convince the Arab countries, Turkey and Iran that it is necessary to take action against ISIS together. To do this, old hostilities must be overcome. I'm flying to Jeddah today to talk to the Saudi leadership about it. But Kobane also shows that the alliance is a necessary prerequisite for moving forward in the fight against ISIS. It is no guarantee that this fight will be won quickly.

Isn't Kobane already the symbol of the inability of the international community to stop the advance of IS?

I really hope that's not true. Kobane adds another chapter to the book about the Syrian tragedy. For more than three years there has been neither a military decision nor steps towards a political solution in the Syrian civil war. Hundreds of thousands of people have already died, millions on the run. We are trying to contain ISIS 'scope of action with military means. With the same strength, however, we must make a fresh attempt to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war.

Are air strikes enough to stop the advance of IS?

It is much more difficult to achieve success with air strikes against ISIS in Syria. In Iraq one can identify the course of a front - on the one hand the terrorist militia, on the other their opponents. Therefore the advance of ISIS could be stopped in many places. In contrast, Syria has broken up into tiny territories in which ISIS militias operate from densely populated areas. In the case of air strikes, there is a greater risk that bystanders will be hit. That is what makes it so difficult.

Isn't it then necessary to use ground troops?

No western state is ready to intervene in Syria with its own ground troops. All of our partners see it that way. The suffering of the people in Syria leaves no one indifferent, including me. But we are also responsible for our own soldiers: we must not send young people into a brutal multi-front war in which ISIS, the troops of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and dozens of other militias fight each other.

The USA, many European and Arab countries are flying air strikes. Why not Germany?

The answer is simple: we acted decisively earlier than others. We are providing humanitarian aid, we are delivering military equipment to the Kurds in Northern Iraq. This German contribution to the fight against IS is highly valued internationally. If a dozen states are flying air strikes, it makes no sense that Germany, as the thirteenth or fourteenth nation, is also flying. It is fundamentally wrong to make participation in air strikes a yardstick for international engagement. We need a sensible division of labor, since not all countries can do the same thing.

What do you think of the Defense Minister's plan to set up a Bundeswehr training camp for Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq?

We are in the process of getting the promised weapons to Northern Iraq. The first tranche has arrived in Erbil. Training has also started. The question of whether we can do more to strengthen the Iraqi security forces can then be considered once we have fulfilled our promises.

Turkish tank units are in sight of Kobane, but do not intervene. Is NATO partner Turkey failing in the fight against IS terror?

I welcome that Ankara has joined the international alliance against ISIS. Turkey lies in the middle of the crisis area and has long borders with Syria and Iraq. The Turks have helped millions of people to at least save their lives in refugee camps. I don't think it's advisable to remotely give Turkey wise advice on what to do.

The Chancellor complained to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag that the NATO partner was setting the wrong priorities. Is Turkey sparing IS to harm the Kurds?

I was not there when the Chancellor is said to have said that. I want Turkey to take part in the fight against ISIS with all vigor.

Anger is growing among the Kurds in Germany, and there were street battles with Islamists. Do we have to live with the fact that the conflict is also being carried out here?

We share the pain of people living in Germany who are angry and mourn their compatriots, relatives and fellow believers in Syria or Iraq. But one thing must also be clear: anger and sadness are never a justification for violence. Germany has contributed least of all to the disorder in the region. We were not involved in the 2003 military intervention in Iraq, which ultimately plunged the region into great turmoil. In the Syrian civil war and after the advance of ISIS, Germany provided extensive humanitarian aid from the outset. And the truth also includes: In view of the dimensions and the enormous dynamics of this religiously reformed conflict, the possibilities of Western states to quickly end internal conflicts in an Islamic state are limited. This also applies to us. It will not work without the neighboring states adopting a stance to this end.

There is a debate about the future of the German arms industry. If the Minister of Defense has its way, the federal government will in future only support key technologies in the armaments sector, namely encryption and sensor technology. Is that enough?

We can best guarantee the best possible security for the European Union if the 28 member countries combine their military capabilities. Not every EU country has to be able to do everything, but together the EU has to be well positioned. That will only work if a large country like Germany has something to contribute to this division of labor. We have to maintain core capabilities in our own country, including in production and development, in order to remain capable of alliances.

So more than just sensors and encryption?

We have products that are envied for all over the world. Why give up building submarines, even though German industry is the world leader in this? Germany is an innovative, high-tech location. We should stay at the forefront of progress wherever possible. That is not only sensible in terms of economic policy, but also in terms of security policy. It has always been our goal not to make ourselves completely dependent on others when it comes to equipping our own armed forces, but rather to retain our own technological capabilities in defined areas. We should not give up this principle.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel suggests that the Federal Foreign Office should take the lead in deciding on arms exports instead of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Are you looking forward to your new task?

Future governments may worry about this. The responsibilities are regulated for the current legislative period.

Interview: Stephan Haselberger and Hans Monath. Accepted with the kind permission of the Tagesspiegel.