Tanja Gönner

BDI Chief Executive Tanja Gönner at MSC2023 © vbw/Stefan Obermeier

Munich Security Conference: Security concerns us all

On the occasion of the Munich Security Conference, BDI Chief Executive Tanja Gönner emphasized in her speech at the joint kick-off event of the BDI with the Bavarian Business Association that the simultaneity of crises in an increasingly complex world situation is omnipresent: "We must finally start investing more in our security. The turn of the times must be lived, not talked about."

The simultaneity of crises in an increasingly complex world situation is omnipresent: First and foremost, of course, the war in Ukraine, but also a highly confusing situation in the Middle East, the unmistakable tensions between China and the USA. The catastrophic effects of the climate crisis in very different regions of the world. Now, most recently, the terrible earthquake catastrophe in Turkey and Syria. And I could go on with the list for a long time.   

Certainties have been destroyed, plans thwarted, principles shaken. The world is in severe turmoil. And our country is also in the midst of massive challenges. Exactly one year ago, here at the vbw, Mr. Russwurm had already raised the questions in the face of the many security, geopolitical and geoeconomic challenges: 

  • Where do we want to stand? 
  • What values underlie our actions? 
  • And above all: Are we prepared to stand up for them? 

With the immediate and united reaction to Putin's war against Ukraine, the West and we in Germany have given a clear answer to these questions. But of course, as long as this war continues, there is a need to fill out our fundamental position again and again concretely through our behavior, through our actions - from saving energy here in Germany to targeted support for Ukraine in its defensive struggle against the aggressor. For exactly 358 days now, Putin has been waging a merciless war that he has unleashed. As German industry, we condemn this war of aggression by Russia, which is contrary to international law, and have very resolutely drawn our consequences. It is absolutely clear who triggered this war and bears full responsibility for it. We stand firmly by Ukraine's side. And for more than one reason. 

First, the people of Ukraine are not only defending their own territory against an aggressor who denies Ukraine the right to exist as a sovereign state with its own identity. They are defending our common ideas and values of democracy, the rule of law, freedom. Secondly, for the security of Europe a decisive defense against Russian aggression is imperative. We must not tolerate the forcible shifting of borders or even the annexation of territories of sovereign states. The law of the strongest as a principle of conflict resolution is unacceptable. Thirdly and closely related: This war of aggression in the middle of Europe, it shakes the foundations of our global order, which is based on a core of rules. First and foremost, the inviolability of borders, the sovereignty of states and the freedom of people to decide in which society and order they want to live. 

If Russia succeeded in annexing Ukraine, the effects would be felt not only by the people there, but also by us - albeit on a completely different level. For even if we were not directly attacked: The much-cited rule-based order against which Russia's war of aggression is directed is much more than mere theory, even for us here, far from the front lines. It is the foundation of the civilized world - even across different economic and social systems. It is the unifying element and the prerequisite for exchange and trade in our export-oriented, globally interdependent world. Putin has denounced all of this - and at the same time fundamentally called into question Russia's anchoring in the international community of states. Tolerating military aggression in the midst of Europe would irreparably damage the international rules-based system on which peace, security and prosperity are founded. We should make no mistake: If Putin, with his unleashed new imperialism, were confirmed that war pays, he would not stop at Ukraine. Ukraine would be just the beginning. He would continue, and a glance at the map shows what then threatens to happen. Putin has left no doubt that his aim is to occupy a dominant position in Eastern and East-Central Europe. Beyond that, he is intent on hitting and destroying the European Union in the form we know it today. Stabilizing this area, which experienced so much inconceivable devastation in the 20th century, must be a very high priority for Germany in particular: It is one of our central political interests. This means that we must oppose the destabilization emanating from Putin's Russia with all our might. Therefore, there is no alternative to supporting Ukraine. But what does this mean for us as an industry?

Security concerns us all 

Most importantly, we must finally start investing more in our security. The new era must be lived, not talked about. First, the funds from the special fund launched by the German government must finally be earmarked and then used quickly to close existing and long-known gaps in national and alliance defense. Otherwise, the turnaround will become a slow-motion turnaround, as was so aptly put in a major weekly newspaper last week. Secondly, the 2 percent target must be achieved promptly and permanently in order to equip the Bundeswehr adequately for the new era and to meet alliance obligations and international requirements. Thirdly, this must be coupled with a prudent and long-term procurement policy. The Bundeswehr and industry need planning security, long-term contracting, in order to equip the Bundeswehr in the best possible way, to play our security role in Europe and in the alliance appropriately and to support Ukraine as long as this is necessary.

Preventing risks and more strategical positioning for crises 

The war and the accompanying increased threat level from acts of sabotage - whether physical, digital or hybrid - have shown: We need to be better prepared and have strategic foresight. This includes recognizing and using deterrence as a cornerstone of crisis prevention and risk mitigation. People my age still remember the NATO rearmament in the early 1980s - wanted by Helmut Schmidt, pushed through by Helmut Kohl. Ultimately, it was a key to disarmament and détente in the period that followed. Military strength is a necessary part of any overall security strategy. We must return to this. We have benefited from the peace dividend over the past decades - now we have to admit that the hope that this is the permanent normal state, no longer holds.

Firstly, deterrence in this sense means, to be sending clear signals about one's goals and interests to a potential competitor or rival. Secondly, making it clear that one has the will and the means to stand up for those very goals and interests, and that one will take appropriate measures to protect, to harden one's system against whatever may come. And third, deterrence means always having a plan B in your pocket. This is the only way to achieve resilience against any risk. Be it - in the case of states - a possible armed conflict, or - in the case of industry - economic dependencies or an act of sabotage on companies, on operators, production facilities or transport routes.

The war underlines the importance of innovations and new technologies 

The war has shown, that not only protection, but also the constant development and expansion of critical infrastructure are necessary conditions of strategic. Reducing risks and threats - whether cyber or physical - to the maximum is something we must work on. I'll spare you lengthy remarks now on the topics of gas availability, power generation restructuring and grid expansion - but of course these are highly relevant and still pressing issues here - still far from reliable on track, especially in terms of the necessary pace. And in the larger context, of course, all the issues of greater resilience and greater independence from individual raw material suppliers are also part of this. We all know,these are mammoth issues, and we have a considerable need to adapt better to the geopolitical situation. Innovation and technology policy is also at the heart of an effective, resilient Europe that defends its security, stability and prosperity. In this context, future technologies in the field of space are increasingly taking center stage. Without the use of Western reconnaissance and Earth observation satellites or the Starlink satellite system, Ukraine might already no longer exist. These technologies have led to an information superiority of Ukraine, with which it can successfully compete against the quantitative superiority of the Russian army. Our conclusion from this is clear: Germany must invest more in civil and military technologies of the future. This also includes the development of a Responsive Space capability, which Germany can implement in a leading role in and for Europe and contribute to UN, EU and NATO missions.

No business as usual with Russia 

One thing is clear: Even after the war has ended, there can be no more business as usual with Russia, no more cooperation with the Putin regime. On the contrary, we must prepare ourselves for the fact that in the long term Russia will not regain its role and importance of past decades as a political and economic partner. In the coming years, there can only be security in Europe against Russia. That, bitter as it is, is the sad new normal. All the more we need to close ranks with our partners in Europe and the world, and explicitly with our neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe. Because, as is often overlooked, these are much more important for Germany in terms of broad economic relations than Russia ever was. Poland, for example, is Germany's fifth most important trading partner after China, the USA, the Netherlands and France, closely followed by the Czech Republic. Eastern and Central Europe is elementary for German industry as a market, as an integral part of our value chains. Intensifying cooperation with the countries in the region is therefore in the strategic interest of German industry. This brings us full circle: We all want Ukraine's European path to be a success. Security and prosperity are indivisible in Europe - the industry stands behind this claim. And this clearly answers the question: Where do we want to stand? at Ukraine's side, protecting the order on which our democracy and our economy are based.

The decisive goals are undisputed among politicians and industry, but we are progressing too slowly. We need speed, we need to move from cognition mode to implementation mode, which is where we should have been long ago, since day one after the invasion of Ukraine. But not just as a chain of ad hoc decisions, but more and more with a systematic line and strategy. To this end, let us pull together, join forces and continue to resolutely support Ukraine on its path, which is also ours.