WORLD: Mr. Heusgen, Ankara has so far been loudly blocking Sweden and Finland from joining NATO. Western unity is more important than ever. Is Turkey under Erdogan still a partner you can rely on?

Christoph Heusgen: Due to its geographical location, Turkey is strategically very important for Europe. We are very interested in a close cooperation.

WORLD: But it is not the first time that Erdogan has acted against Western security interests. How do I handle this?

Heusgen: It’s often difficult with Turkey. We had a similar case at the NATO summit in 2009. At that time, Anders Fogh Rasmussen was to be appointed Secretary General. Turkey blocked a joint decision until the last minute (the reason was its attitude towards cartoons of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, ed.). But in the end there was a solution.

WORLD: So are you optimistic about the current dispute over Sweden and Finland?

Heusgen: We must come to a positive result at the NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June. If we fail, Putin will win. I can’t imagine that Erdogan will let it go that far and present Putin with a defeat for Ukraine’s supporters on a silver platter.

WORLD: Putin is a master at starting at fracture points in the political West and splitting them – not only with a view to Turkey, but also to the Balkans, for example. How can the EU counteract this?

Heusgen: In the Balkans, the EU is the most important donor, the most important trading partner, the most important investor. Nevertheless, the impression persists that China and Russia, but also Turkey, have a much greater influence. That needs to change.

WORLD: What do you suggest?

Heusgen: Germany and the EU must be much more present locally, in the media and in public. We have to make our contributions visible, take care of solving the problems. The Russian foreign minister was regularly in Belgrade. We must do the same in all Balkan countries.

WORLD: French President Macron is proposing a “European Community”, i.e. a federation for non-EU members that the West has an interest in binding to itself: such as Ukraine, Turkey, the Republic of Moldova, the Western Balkans . What do you make of it?

Heusgen: Such considerations have been around for a long time. My impression from many conversations with representatives from these countries is that they want to belong to the EU and not be fobbed off with a second-class model.

WORLD: But many of these countries do not meet the accession criteria. Is there an alternative?

Heusgen: The countries that want to join the EU should be able to quickly become EU members and take part in European Councils and Councils of Ministers. However, they should only be given the right to vote if they meet the criteria. Otherwise we would weaken the EU. We see that in Poland and above all in Hungary, where there are major deficits in the area of ​​the rule of law.

WORLD: The USA is doing a balancing act between its policy of containment towards Russia and its systemic competition with China. Is Washington even strong enough to take on both at the same time?

Heusgen: There’s no point in speculating about the strength of the United States. In any case, we Europeans and Germans must take on more responsibility in the world.

WORLD: The war in Ukraine shows that Europe cannot stand on its own feet in terms of security policy. What happens if Trump or a Trump-like candidate is elected president in the US in 2024?

Heusgen: That’s why it’s so important that the new era announced by Chancellor Scholz is implemented quickly. We cannot replace the US with this, but we will become a better partner of the US. For example, we should develop a rapid reaction force so that we can also act in cases where Washington stays out.

WORLD: Does the traffic light do enough for that?

Heusgen: That remains to be seen. Very soon we will know how the budget funds for the next year will be distributed and whether specific projects such as the procurement of the F-35 fighter jet will be tackled quickly.

WORLD: The war in Ukraine has been going on for three months now and promises to be even longer. Do you dare to predict how it can be ended?

Heusgen: Ukraine must determine what form our support should take and whether and when there should be diplomatic efforts. We must do everything we can to help Kyiv, including by supplying heavy weapons. Because Ukraine is also defending us and the security of the NATO countries. Putin himself said that the fall of the Soviet Union was the worst catastrophe of the 20th century. If he considers his invasion successful, then he will not stop in Ukraine.

WORLD: In some countries, the view persists that Russia and NATO are equally responsible for the escalation.

Heusgen: The problem is thinking in terms of East and West. Americans have a worse reputation than they think. In Africa and Latin America, for example, it is often said that the West has also violated international law in the past, for example with the second Iraq war, and that double standards are now being used. So we have to be very precise. The Ukraine war is about the implementation of the UN charter, the prohibition of violence, the universal declaration of human rights. We have to make that clear to the countries that keep equidistance. And if there is now a food shortage, it is because only Moscow is restricting exports. This has nothing to do with a conflict between Russia and NATO.

WORLD: Let’s talk about China. A leak of internal documents recently brought new insights into the crimes against the Uyghurs to light. How should Western countries adjust their China policy – and is it even possible to influence Beijing’s course?

Heusgen: As a UN ambassador, I started an initiative in the UN Human Rights Committee in 2020. I, along with like-minded people, have persuaded many countries to sign a statement denouncing China’s treatment of the Uyghurs. Beijing is sensitive to criticism. It is therefore important that we do not exercise such criticism as an individual country, but as a community of states. This is the only way we can influence China and ensure that the Uyghurs are treated humanely.

WORLD: Why should third countries follow the course of the West? Many African countries, for example, benefit from Chinese investments.

Heusgen: If the will is there, we have a lot more to offer the African states. We have to compensate for the fact that the Chinese are more invested than we are everywhere. In New York, I often heard African ambassadors pleading that we should do more. Germany, for example, has only very small representatives in many of these countries. That can not be. We have to increase our staff and finances, we have to pool our diplomatic, development policy and economic strengths.