Background - 08.07.2022 - 00:00 

Insightful foreign policy review with ex-Secretary of State Stephan Steinlein

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, many certainties regarding international politics were laid to rest. While the West is now strongly fixated on the war in Ukraine and the immediate consequences, the question of "prospects for foreign policy after this turning point in history" arises. This was the guiding theme of a discussion with Stephan Steinlein at SQUARE, organised by foraus and the Center for Philanthropy (CfP-HSG), moderated by Dr. Andreas Böhm.

8 July 2022. As former State Secretary in the German Federal Foreign Office and Head of the Office of the Federal President, Stephan Steinlein played a key role in shaping German foreign policy for almost two decades. One pillar of this policy was the continuous effort to define common interests and to integrate Russia into a European order of peace. He had certainly not been under any illusions, but he did not think such an escalation was likely. Now we have to soberly conclude that it will not be possible to patch up the rift in the foreseeable future, that the conflict cannot be resolved either militarily or diplomatically. 

Support instead of dictation

Steinlein recalled George Kennan, an American diplomat and outstanding supporter of the realist school of thought on international relations, whose "Long Telegram" of 1946 realistically assessed the West's situation vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and shaped the strategy that followed. Kennan's concept of containment was also the most realistic way to deal with Russia in today's constellation, whereby Steinlein emphasised that the West must not succumb to the temptation of cynical power politics, whereby its own principles were abandoned during the Cold War and credibility was lost. Furthermore, one should not try to impose principles of human rights and democracy that have evolved in the Western context on other countries, but instead support them on their own paths that led them there. 

Growing from the challenges

 "Putin will try everything to divide Western societies," Steinlein warned. Gaps in energy supplies and a foreseeable global food crisis causing large migration flows will pose enormous challenges for Europe. Whether and how these can be mastered was a question from the audience. Steinlein expressed his confidence that it is the strength of democratic societies to stand together in such situations and to grow from the task. He appealed to courage and self-confidence, to the ethos and commitment of the citizens. It is now particularly important to create forums of exchange in order to maintain dialogue with those who hold different opinions. Steinlein also emphasised the importance of innovation to ensure the future viability of societies. The EU is also facing a Herculean task. It must improve its capability to act in matters of foreign and security policy, for example, by introducing majority voting. Although Ukraine now has candidate status, the road to accession is still long. Vehicles of cooperation should therefore be created during the accession process, which are also open to other countries.  

What is Steinlein's assessment of Switzerland after almost three months as a Guest Fellow at the Institute for Legal Studies and Legal Practice (IRP-HSG)? As a German, he does not want to give advice to Switzerland. But he appreciates its special tradition, as well as its role as a neutral state and as the seat of international organisations such as the ICRC, whose function in humanitarian aid and conflict resolution is unique. In the final discussion with the students, faculty members and other guests present, other topics such as the perspectives of the USA and China rounded off an insightful evening. 

Image: Foraus St.Gallen

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