Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to the German Bundestag on the Afghanistan AWACS mission

Mar 25, 2011

Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Colleagues,

On 17 March the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973. Following the decision in New York, it is valid, binding international law. While we support the aims underlying this Resolution, the Federal Government reached a different conclusion on the instruments than the majority of Security Council members. After weighing up the risks, including the risk of escalation, a process not without its difficulties, we decided that no German soldiers will take part in this operation. The Federal Armed Forces will not be sent to Libya. That doesn’t mean that we are neutral. We agree with the goal of protecting the civilian population, and of course also with the goal of stopping the dictator in his tracks.

We respect the decision of the international community, which is, I repeat, valid law. And so we too hope that it will be a success. That’s why the Federal Government has decided to help ease the burden on our allies, without sending the Federal Armed Forces to participate in a military operation in Libya.

The international community has been on the right path in Afghanistan since the strategy change last year. At the Afghanistan conferences in London and Kabul, and then at the meeting in Lisbon, we decided to switch strategy. We are committed to a political solution.

Despite all the terrible setbacks we are seeing, we must not lose sight of the progress that has been made. Yesterday President Hamid Karzai named three provinces and four cities which are ready to start the transition process. These include Mazar-e-Sharif in the German area of responsibility in the north of the country. This proves the success of the strategy change in Afghanistan which the Federal Government urged from the outset. Withdrawal has become a realistic prospect. We remain convinced that the mission in Afghanistan is correct, but it is also correct that the process of handing over responsibility began yesterday.

The fact that the Afghan people are increasingly able to ensure their security themselves is also the result of the new focuses of the strategy: reconciliation, integration and reconstruction. It is a success to be put down to Germany’s police and military instructors who have been working in the country to train Afghan police officers and security forces. It is fair to say that the training provided by the international community and by us Germans is making a positive impact. Civilian reconstruction is progressing. More and more, people are seeing real prospects for the future for themselves and their families.

Let me emphasize this again: we are not closing our eyes to the setbacks. Never will we forget those who have died, of whom there have been all too many. There is absolutely no doubt that they will always be remembered. And so, on behalf of the Federal Government and, I’m sure, on behalf of the German Bundestag, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those women and men, whether in uniform or not, who are working in Afghanistan to ensure our freedom and our security.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s why it remains our goal to hand over full responsibility by 2014. However, even after that, we will have to be aware of our responsibility for peace and development in Afghanistan and continue our commitment.

Yesterday’s first handover of responsibility, ten years after the Afghanistan operation started, is a major step forward. But let me say this quite clearly: we want a responsible handover of responsibility. An overhasty withdrawal would be wrong. And that’s why we will not suggest such a thing to the Bundestag.

In our view, the AWACS operation is a military necessity. One which, it should be said, was approved by the Bundestag at the time in response to a motion tabled by the previous Federal Government. It then ran out because certain objective legal criteria – overflight rights, among other things – were not met. So the Federal Government decided not, as it were, to reapply for an empty mandate, but rather to wait until all the requirements had been met before requesting a mandate.

The AWACS mission is a military necessity because it backs up the NATO operation and improves the safety of both the soldiers and the Afghan population. AWACS deliver reliable pictures of the situation and also support air rescue services. The AWACS operation is also a necessity in civilian terms, because it protects the security of civil aviation. Afghanistan lies on the air traffic route between South-East Asia and Europe. AWACS improve security in the air for scheduled flights and freight planes as well. Furthermore, the AWACS operation is an expression of the solidarity of the alliance and of our solidarity with the Afghan people. I will emphasize once again quite clearly that, in the medium term, we naturally want the Afghans to control their own airspace, also in technical terms.

Ladies and gentlemen, when the Bundestag mandate was up for extension at the beginning of the year, the Federal Government did not request the use of AWACS, because, in agreement with General David Petraeus, we were focusing on providing training. NATO’s military experts assured us at the time that the AWACS operation was possible without German soldiers. In December the Federal Government said that as long as NATO could carry out the AWACS operation without us, then we didn’t need a mandate. But now I say the situation in Libya has changed the entire situation.

Let me point out that we are not changing the ceiling for the number of German soldiers. The ceiling imposed by the Bundestag will not be changed. The ceiling remains 5350 soldiers, as decided by the Bundestag. The German AWACS crews will be included in this number. The Federal Government will only use the flexible reserve below this ceiling.

The Federal Government remains confident that the Federal Armed Forces presence can be reduced as of this year as the handover of responsibility for security progresses. We’re on the right road. We ask this House to join the Federal Government on this road towards handing over responsibility.

Thank you for your attention.

© GermanyUN