BERLIN — When Germany began its two-year tenure in 2011 as a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council, its diplomats promised to hold a debate on climate change and to improve the protection of children in armed conflict, to name just the top items on their list.
Now in December 2012, with Germany leaving the council on the 31st, it is time to draw up a balance sheet of the German tenure: what has it achieved?
The balance sheet is, all in all, quite positive: Germany gained substantial success in some of its political priorities, after overcoming initial problems in defining its political course. Regarding the protection of children in armed conflict and as chair of the respective council working group, Germany worked successfully for the adoption of two resolutions under its council presidency in July 2011 and September 2012. Through strong language, the resolutions intensified political pressure on protecting children.
As for climate protection, Germany reached – also during its presidency in July 2011 – agreement on the first official council statement, acknowledging that climate change might also have “security implications” that the council should pay attention to, even if the statement’s wording was considered to be soft.
Problems turned up regarding the German approach toward the conflict in Libya: Peter Wittig, the German ambassador to the UN, had to overcome in early summer 2011 considerable irritation among his fellow Western diplomats on the council after Germany’s abstention in adopting Resolution 1973 in March. The vote established a no-fly zone over Libya and authorized member states “to take all necessary means” (including military force) to protect Libyan civilians, while “excluding a foreign occupation force . . . on any part of Libyan territory.”
Shortly before the vote, Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister, decided on the abstention, as he explained in a March 18, 2011 statement before the Bundestag, the German federal parliament, that “in weighing the arguments . . . we came to the conclusion that we will not take part in a military mission in Libya with German troops.”
Partly as a reaction to criticism on the abstention by German mass media and press in Britain, France and the United States,Westerwelle later gave the UN German delegation a green light for a more concerted voice behind UN policy in supporting the protest movements in Arab countries, particularly in Syria. The German diplomats in New York demonstrated this backing so convincingly that the council trusted them with the preparation of a high-level meeting on peace and security in the Middle East.
Germany did the political lobbying for the meeting, held during the country’s second council presidency in September 2012, so effectively that it succeeded in reaching agreement on a substantial presidential statement on the “situation in the Middle East.” It expressed the council’s “determination to further enhance cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States” — a milestone in improving relations between the UN and Arab countries.
The most remarkable feature of Germany’s tenure was its top diplomat, Wittig, a calm, modest, soft-spoken diplomat who combines dignity and friendliness with toughness in striving for his goal.
In the election campaign for the council seat, Wittig, who has been the UN ambassador in New York since 2009, revealed his skills and charm, which brought Germany in the first round of ballots in October 2010 a solid two-thirds majority and the desired council seat.
During the German tenure on the council, Wittig impressed his fellow diplomats by his high motivation for work, rarely missing a meeting, and his readiness to cooperate with all groups in the council as well as his commitment to the issues he was focused on. He also won a lot of respect among the UN correspondents, meeting with the press and offering background talks with journalists, a group that Wittig treated as partners in his efforts to create political support for the council’s work among the UN member states.
His involvement during his country’s council term was oriented strongly at the UN’s core function, the maintenance of peace. As Wittig told PassBlue: “We set out with the aim to create an added value for the wider membership of the United Nations. We wanted to strengthen the United Nations as a whole. And we have done this, especially through our substantial contributions to the international crisis management – not least in the context of the upheavals in the Arab World. In the past two years we have demonstrated, yet again, that Germany is a reliable, strong and efficient partner of the international community in the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Helmut Volger has written and edited several books about the UN, including A Concise Encyclopedia of the United Nations, of which the second revised edition was published by Brill Academic Publishers in 2010. He is also a co-founder of the German UN Research Network (www.forschungskreis-vereinte-nationen.de).