Key-note address by Ambassador Wittig: “Beyond Europe – Germany’s global commitment”

Mar 26, 2013

Key-note address by Ambassador Peter Wittig at the Annual Meeting of the Members of the American Council on Germany:

“Beyond Europe Germany’s global commitment”

 (as prepared for delivery)

“Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

Secretary Kerry recently made Berlin his first destination in Europe, continental Europe that is, when he embarked on his first foreign trip in office. And while he was in Berlin, he recalled how he – as a young boy and son of a Berlin-based US diplomat – rode his bike through the Berlin of the Cold War. And he told people how he ventured even into the Eastern part of the city, much to the chagrin of his father who – quite reasonably – was afraid of major international complications.

Now, I don’t know whether Secretary Kerry would have prefered a bike to his Limousine on his latest visit to Berlin – but surely the episode underlined how much he himself bonded with our capital, and with our people, before he then said that the US relationship with Germany is “unquestionably one of our strongest, most vibrant alliances in the world.”

This gives credit to the work of the American Council on Germany: because you help to nourish this vibrant alliance, you fill it with life. An alliance that goes much further than mere politics, but is rooted in a set of shared values, in common interests and very often in strong personal relationsships. And sometimes even in biking adventures.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Wall Street and Turtle Bay are part of the same City – but on some issues they seem like worlds apart.

Wall Street – like much of the international media – currently watches Europe through the “debt lens”. Their focus, quite understandably, is on how Europe is dealing with the debt crisis. These efforts go far beyond questions of financial policy, but touch on  the very substance of the European project.

Chancellor Merkel has expressed her conviction that Europe will emerge stronger from this crisis than it entered it. And I can assure you that both Germany’s government and its people are dedicating the utmost political will and substantial resources to this end. There’s no doubt that Germany is at the heart of current efforts to overcome the crisis.

By contrast, Turtle Bay is not so much about Europe and the debt crisis. The United Nations worry about violent conflicts and turmoil in hot-spots around the world, and they try to deal with the pressing global challenges of the 21st century: e.g. terrorism and fragile states, poverty and disease, climate change and global warming. This is where Germany’s global commitment, beyond Europe, comes to the fore – and this is what I want to talk about tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen,

while Europe is a large contributor to these efforts – approx. 40% of the UN’s budget is paid for by EU governments (compared to 22% by the US) – the notion of Europe as an integrated supranational structure is largely alien to the world of the United Nations.

The United Nations, still very much a product of its time, is basically a body created by governments for governments. Over decades it has developed into an institution widely (though not universally) regarded as a force for good – an impression sometimes obliterating the fact that member states still are in the driver seat. All 193 of them. And all 193 of them with their own national interests – sometimes narrow, sometimes wide.

The United Nations is the forum where Germany’s global commitment becomes manifest, a commitment that goes beyond Europe – but is driven by the same motivation: to contribute to a peaceful, prosperous and free world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to walk you through some of the examples on the agenda of the United Nations and to show you where and how we put our commitment into practice, and how we take part in the international community’s efforts to maintain international peace and security, one of the core tasks of the United Nations. Our involvement in these issues was obvious while we served as a non-permanent member on the Security Council in 2011/12 – but our contribution did not and will not depend on this role.

First I want to talk about the upheaval in the Arab World. The beginning of the so-called Arab Spring coincided with the beginning of our Security Council membership back in 2011. In our view it was clear right from the start that these changes had a fundamental impact on stability and security in the region.

This is why Foreign Minister Westerwelle had addressed these developments very early on in the Security Council. He stressed the right of the population in the Arab world to peaceful change. In consequence, we worked hard to have the Security Council put the Arab hot-spots – Libya, Yemen, Syria – swiftly on its agenda. This was easier said than done since quite a number of Security Council members regarded these developments as purely internal affairs.

Why were we so keen to have the Council involved early on? Because we are, in general, convinced: the earlier and the more united the Security Council acts, the greater is its political leverage and impact, and the better are prospects to arrive at a political solution to the crisis. The absence of unity and the failure to act can bring devastating consequences, as shockingly illustrated by the Syrian example.

Here, our early efforts to arrive at a unified position in the Security Council failed: three times Russia and China chose to double-veto a European draft resolution that would have condemned human rights violations, demanded an end to the violence and called for an inclusive, Syrian-led political process. The message these – and the following – vetoes sent to Syria was basically twofold: Assad could still bank on the support of his patrons – as some observers called it, a “license to kill”. And the Syrian people couldn't hope for the international community's united support. This was a recipe for further violent escalation.

But the most important aspect transcends Syria: the Council doesn’t not live up to its responsibility to maintain international peace and security. Instead it dashed the legitimate hopes and aspirations of the people in the Arab world. These hopes were, in the case of Syria, continuously deceived: even the mediation efforts by the League of Arab States were not supported by Russia and China, as they would not relent their strategic support to the Assad regime.

Today the Syrian crisis has developed into an unprecedented humanitarian and political disaster at the heart of the Arab world – with the risk of an explosive spill-over to neighboring countries and long-term consequences for regional stability. This risk is severely aggravated by the chemical arsenal in Assad’s stock. Their very existence is a major concern for us, and the possibility of their use is extremely alarming.

We know that there are voices calling for arming the opposition forces. This is a difficult, complex debate. You know that Germany has taken, much like the US, a rather cautious approach. We are afraid that more weapons might not only end up in the wrong hands and further fuel the conflict, but also render a post-Assad scenario even more difficult. Our goal remains a political solution – as elusive as it may seems today. This is why we are working hard to support unifying the opposition groups – as challinging as it is right now. Yet, their organization and structure is crucial to any meaningful political process: only if there’s a credible and inclusive alternative will the Assad regime erode, only then will some of the minorities loose their fear of a post-Assad-Syria, and only then will they have a real choice – and make their move.

The case of Syria was one of the rare examples where the clash of national interests – that shapes the daily work at the United Nations – did not take place behind the scenes, but came to the fore and reminded the public of the basic configuration of this organization – an assembly of souvereign nation states.

The case of Syria is, in several ways, instructive for the way we German diplomats go about our business - in the Security Council and beyond:

-        First, a sustainable political solution is always our top priority. This is why we strive for an early engagement of the international community so that we prevent crises rather than just manage them once they break out.

-        Second, we work in close partnership, with our European and – of course – our transatlantic partners, but also with our partners in the region: in the case of the new conflicts in the Arab world particularly with the League of Arab States and its key members.

-        Third, we try to build bridges, however challenging und slow this sometimes may be – I am thinking here in particular of bridges to the emerging powers of the “global South”.

The approach I outlined about the way Germany assumes its global responsibilities can also be seen when looking at the Iranian nuclear program.

Together with our European partners France and the UK, our transatlantic partner and the other permanent members of the Council, Russia and China, – the so called E3+3 – we continue to pursue the dual track approach: showing willingness to negotiate and at the same time exerting pressure. As Foreign Minister Westerwelle has unequivocally made clear: we cannot accept Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and we want to prevent it through diplomatic and political means.

Iran responded with positive comments to the latest offer of negotiations by the E3+3 in Almaty, which the German government cautiously welcomed. But we also made clear that talks for talks’ sake aren’t enough but that we, the international community, need tangible, substantive results as long as the window of opportunity is open. Iran should not think that it can draw us into an endless game of playing for time.

And again, the same approach is valid for the third conflict I want to touch upon, the crisis in Mali: The fight against terrorism in the north of Mali is not just a concern for the Malian people and its African neighbors. It is a common concern, shared by the European and Western countries. The failure of the Malian army to fight back well-armed intruders from the North, compounded with the feeling of marginalization by the North-Malians plus major internal divisions in Bamako led to a political vacuum and a collapse of effective Malian state authority over its full territory.

After the swift military action of France, which we supported, our goal is to work towards a sustainable political solution. A political solution that must include a roadmap, a return to constitutional order, a reconciliation within the country, and economic and social participation in the south, but especially in the north. Germany has offered to play an active role in a political process, as it did in the 90s of the last century.

The German Foreign Minister recently emphasized that we will lend our support to enable the Africans themselves to play their role in stabilizing northern Mali. To this end, the German Bundestag mandated the deployment of up to 330 German soldiers. One part of these troops is meant to provide support for African contingents deployed in Mali, another part is assigned to the European Union’s training mission for the Malian army.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Syria, Iran and Mali are only but three examples to illustrate how we put our global commitment into practice. There would be much more to say on our other priorities, on the Middle East, on our commitment to Israel, on our engagement in Afghanistan or our activities in the Balkans.

I have emphasized that we are committed to work towards political solutions. But the case of Mali illustrates that the real world is not just about diplomacy. Allow me therefore a couple of words about Germany’s military engagement abroad.

Libya and Syria have demonstrated that there is no blueprint for each decision on military action, and there won’t be. There always needs to be a careful and cautious assessment for each single, individual case. The first and most basic question for us will always be whether our German constitution allows for the military action in question. That is usually the case if the deployment is part of an international effort mandated by the United Nations Security Council or part of a collective security system. The framework prescibed by the German “Grundgesetz” is less broad than that of our European partners. Another basic question is whether the German parliament is ready to authorize such a military action. Let’s not forget: the German Bundeswehr is a “paliamentary Army”. And then there will  also be political considerations about the situation in question: Is the military deployment required – in terms of security or for humanitarian goals? Is a deployment the adequate and wise choice? Do we have the ability to carry it out – and do we have a perspective to get the job done? Is there any realisitic exit strategy?

There are a lot of questions involved with military deployments, and none of them are easily answered. Not in Germany, and not in other democracies. We always and consistently have to convince our public – in each and every case – that the price we’re paying with military action is worth it, that it is in our interest and that it is based on the values we represent. And this is why partners – who today expect Germany to take part in international efforts to maintain peace and security, also with military means – cannot and should not expect any automaticity in these decisions.

Thomas de Maizière, the German Minister of Defence (and alumnus of the Young Leaders Programme of the ACG), recently said in a speech that the united and sovereign Germany, being one of the strongest economies in the world, shares a responsibility for the maintenance of international security – and that we will assume this responsibility within our capacities and resources. He made clear: we don’t want to abdicate our international responsibilities, we know them well.

Ladies and gentlemen, German foreign policy is fully committed to building a stronger future for Europe. At the same time our commitment stretches well beyond Europe. We share part of the international community’s responsibilities. But those two commitments are not separate from each other, they emanate from the same basic set of values and interests: only through partnerships and strong multilateral mechanisms can we achieve a peaceful and prosperous world. And only a strong Europewith a strong voice firmly anchored in a viable transatlantic partnership can find its place in a changing global order.”

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