Security Council Open Debate: "Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Statement by Ambassador Thoms on "War, its Lessons, and the Search for a Permanent Peace“

Jan 29, 2014

"Mr President

This year we commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. 75 years ago, Germany plunged humanity into the catastrophe that was the Second World War. The toll that both wars took, the suffering, the millions of dead, still leaves us speechless today. It strengthens our resolve to draw the right lessons from past conflicts instead of repeating the terrible mistakes of the past.  

The collapse of the shaky balance of power 100 years ago in Europe was also a huge failure of diplomacy. This is not only the case for the days of the July Crisis. Already in the years before, diplomats and politicians alike had failed to construct the institutions and instruments for building trust and coming to a peaceful trade-off of interests among neighbours. At the time, foreign policy dwelled on outdated paradigms that could not keep up with the highly interlinked and rapidly changing world that was the young 20th century. When the disaster took its course, diplomacy lacked the means as much as the will to prevent the catastrophe. 100 years later, this should be a great spur for us to draw lessons for the future by understanding the causes of past wars.  

2014 also marks the fall of the Iron Curtain 25 years ago. In Germany, we take it as a reminder that reconciliation and sustainable peace can indeed be achieved based on diplomatic and political efforts and mutual understanding.

From a European point of view, two key lessons have been drawn from the calamities of the first half of the 20th century.  

The first was to strive, with our partners around the world, for an international order which is based on common rules and shared values. The United Nations is in itself a lesson learnt from the atrocities of two world wars. As a second lesson, Europeans decided to replace the fragile equilibrium of their continent’s powers by a community based on a new legal order. The project of the European Union was built on an ever closer network of neighbouring countries, interlinking politics, economies and societies. Today, war has become unthinkable within the European Union.  

Overcoming the Franco-German antagonism was an important cornerstone for this achievement. It is a prime example of how a shared understanding of history and a common vision of the future can contribute to lasting peace and a prospering friendship. This concept is at the core of the Elysée Treaty signed in 1963 by both countries and contains engagement in a variety of fields such as economy, education and culture. It does not leave peace in the hands of politicians, but makes it a cause for civil societies. Particular emphasis is placed on engaging youth jointly in a critical analysis of historic developments. Today, many students in France and Germany use the same Franco-German textbook when learning about their common history.  

Open questions about the past can mean open wounds in the present. From its own experience, Germany cannot but underline the importance of learning from history in general and sharing an understanding about conflicts in particular. Working jointly on a better concept of why and how a certain conflict came about can serve as a powerful catalyst and solid foundation for reconciliation between two parties. It is an honourable cause for the United Nations to engage in supporting such processes where it can. The concept note made by the Presidency contains some very pertinent points for addressing this in practice.  

However, the task may sound simpler than it is. Conflicts – may they be wars between states or civil wars – leave deep scars. Those springing from ethnic or other cultural backgrounds run particularly deep. The will to seek peace and true reconciliation can only come from the former adversaries themselves. Hence there are limits to what can be achieved by third parties. As valuable as assistance from outside can be in these processes, these parameters should be kept in mind when designing them.

Nevertheless, the manifold commemorations that 2014 holds teach us about the importance of learning from history and sharing these lessons with our neighbours. This should be worth every effort.

Thank you very much."

© GermanyUN