Russia, terrorism demand a ‘collective’ response: German defense minister

Fake news must not undermine democratic institutions and the media: German defense minister

Terrorism and Russia are the greatest threats facing society today and a "collective defense" will be the only way to uphold Western democratic values, Germany's defense minister said.

In a clear nod to the NATO alliance, which has faced heated debate lately over the defense spending of member countries, Ursula Von der Leyen told CNBC Saturday that the West must maintain a united front against forces that threaten to undermine international peace.

"We are in the coalition against terror. This is a threat that will keep us busy for a long time. The other one is, of course, that Russia is projecting its power with military means and hybrid war scenes in other countries which is not acceptable for us. We have to focus on territorial defense as well as on crisis and conflict management and fighting terror."

Von der Leyen said Germany had been a key beneficiary of collective defense since World War II and added that her country would take a "fair share of the burden where collective defense is concerned."

Germany, the world's fourth-largest economy excluding the EU, currently contributes 1.2 percent of its gross domestic product to NATO defense spending, below the 2 percent target agreed to by the 28 member countries in 2014.

Ursula von der Leyen
Emmanuele Contini | NurPhoto via Getty Images

The West must forge a "good relationship with Russia" in order to resolve some of the world's largest problems, such as the Syrian crisis, said Von der Leyen, and added that it must not withstand any attempts to undermine its democratic values, including via the spread of fake news.

"It's a situation where you have to insist on your principles because they are important in the world we're moving in. But, on the other hand, we need a dialogue with Russia on different topics where we share common interests."

Referencing Russia "and others too", Von der Leyen said, "we are very open about them using bots and trolls and fake news to undermine the credibility of free medium and democratic institutions."

She called on politicians to make greater efforts to counter this, and the rise of populism, by doing more to educate society about this threat.

"The more we dismantle the patterns the more the public is able to acquire media competence on, for example, fake news that we face and this is a process that is crucial for the open society, the democracies, to convince their populations."

Von der Leyen's comments echo those also made by the German Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maiziere.

Speaking to CNBC Saturday, de Maiziere said that citizens should be included by government and made to "feel important" in order to prevent them moving towards radical groups.

This, he said, should be a priority for collective governments.

"In a way we are dependent on each other because we are, in a way, in the same focus of international terrorism: we are together the West."