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“Assad is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people”

In an interview with “loyal”, the publication of the Bundeswehr reservists’ association, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks about Germany’s term on the UN Security Council, the conflicts in the Middle East and international terrorism.Published in the February issue.

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Mr Minister, Germany served a two-year term on the UN Security Council ending 31 December 2012.The German public paid very close attention to our abstention – along with Russia, China, India and Brazil – in the 2011 vote on NATO military intervention in Libya. This move isolated German internationally, at least from our NATO partners.What do you think when you look back on this decision today?

We have repeatedly stated multiple reasons for our decision. Incidentally, we’re working very closely with our partners and allies – in Afghanistan, in Mali, in the Balkans, off the Horn of Africa, in the Mediterranean and also in Libya.

What was Germany able to achieve for the UN in its two years on the Security Council?

We helped shape important Council decisions, and in doing so we worked together very closely with our European partners France, the UK and Portugal, as well as with the US. We also brought our own priorities onto the Security Council’s agenda: important topics such as the Arab League’s greatly expanded role in its region, the impacts of climate change on international security, and the protection of children in armed conflicts.

What do you wish you’d been able to move forward or conclude?

The Security Council’s public image is significantly affected by the stalemate on Syria. Germany has from the outset pushed for the Security Council to react swiftly and decisively to the Assad regime’s violent suppression of peaceful protests in Syria. As you know, our draft resolutions failed three times in the face of Russian and Chinese vetoes. The Security Council has to step up to its responsibilities here. Especially in the interest of the Syrian people, I wish that this had been possible during our term on the Council.

In the confusing fray of the situation in Syria, the US is focusing on the opposition forces that are fighting against President Assad’s Ba’athist regime.According to recent information, these forces include both the Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist groups such as the terrorist organization al-Qaida.Where does Germany stand on this?

President Assad bears the primary responsibility for a brutal and heinous civil war that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people. Germany and more than 100 partner countries in the Group of Friends of the Syrian People regard the Syrian opposition’s national coalition as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people. What is important now is for the national coalition to effectively represent the Syrian people and strengthen its ability to act. In recent months we’ve spoken out in favour of the national coalition becoming an open platform for all of Syria’s ethnic groups. A lot of progress has been made on this front.

Where do you currently stand on the old call for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for Germany?Will this be possible in the foreseeable future?

Germany has long campaigned for a reform of the Security Council. With the Council’s insufficient representation comes an ever-growing risk of declining legitimacy. We will weaken the Council if we fail to adapt it to today’s world. It cannot be that Latin America and Africa have no permanent seats on the Security Council or that vast and dynamic Asia has only one seat.

When I spoke to the General Assembly in September 2012, I reiterated that as part of the process of reforming the Security Council we were prepared to take on more responsibility along with our G4 partners India, Brazil and Japan.

The Bundeswehr will largely withdraw from Afghanistan in the next few years.So how does Germany intend to support Afghanistan in building up its infrastructure, its democracy and especially its internal security?

Despite all the difficulties that remain, Afghanistan is far better off today than before the international mission. German soldiers and development aid workers have played an important role in this. We and our partners will work to help Afghanistan stay on its current path towards greater stability and development after the end of the international military operation in 2014, rather than turning back into a breeding ground of international terrorism. Together, we will keep contributing to funding, training and equipping Afghan security forces. Support for civilian reconstruction will remain a key area of focus. But it’s also clear that true peace is only possible if political reconciliation among all the different parts of Afghan society succeeds.

Where do you think Germany needs to take action in the coming years to support other countries or peoples faced with the threat of armed conflict?

No one can see into the future; no one can predict what crises will erupt when and where. That would be pure speculation. I can only refer to the current situation: Bundeswehr soldiers are active in many places, working for peace and security and fighting international terrorism: in Afghanistan, in the Balkans, in the Mediterranean, and off the Horn of Africa, to name just a few examples. Wherever we succeed in stabilizing the situation, we can gradually withdraw our German soldiers. That is what we did in Bosnia. The withdrawal of German and international combat troops from Afghanistan is in full swing and will be completed by the end of 2014.

Islamic fundamentalism poses a growing threat to the free world.There was a failed bombing attempt in your hometown, Bonn, just recently.What does Germany intend to do in terms of foreign policy to stop terrorists within Germany from receiving assistance and support from abroad?

I cannot comment in advance on what conclusions the relevant authorities will reach in their investigation of the bomb that was found at the Bonn Central Station. But in general, Germany is watching the activities of Islamic terror networks very attentively and is working together with our partners very closely to combat international terrorism within the existing and proven structures of the UN and the EU, as well as multilaterally.

While the Arab Spring swept away the authoritarian Mubarak regime in Egypt, it also ultimately cleared the way for a fundamentalist constitution.What approach will Germany take in its policy towards an Islamic Egyptian state?

Egypt is a key country in the region. Political, economic and social developments in Egypt reverberate far beyond the country’s borders and also influence the course of events in other Arab countries. My advice is that the power of revolutionary changes in Egypt and elsewhere should not be underestimated.

In our dialogue with the Egyptian Government we will continue our dedicated advocacy of building up democratic institutions and the rule of law, of separation of powers and an independent judiciary, of plurality and religious tolerance. It is vital for all societal and religious groups in Egypt to feel accepted and respected in their own country.

How great of a threat to Israel’s existence do you see in this situation?In a worst-case scenario, would Germany lend military support to Israel?

Because of its past, Germany bears a very special responsibility towards Israel. But our close relationship with Israel is not only based on our history. We also share a genuine partnership of values with Israel: Israel is the only proven democracy in the whole region. Of course, the upheaval in the Arab world also has consequences for Israel. This always plays a crucial role in all our engagement and work in the region.

I’d like to end with a personal question, which is of particular interest to reservists: you didn’t serve in the Bundeswehr, because in spite of the Cold War in the 1980s you weren’t drafted.Is there a particular reason for this?

I was mustered out in 1979.

Interview by Detlef Struckhof and Wilhelm R. Schreieck, reproduced with kind permission of “loyal”.

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