Today, we are speaking about a region in which, last year, more people died in terrorist attacks than in any other region in the world. Where the climate crisis is robbing people of habitable space. And in which almost every third person is dependent on humanitarian assistance. But today we are also speaking about us, about our security and above all about our responsibilities in the field of foreign policy and international affairs.
“Your strength is your dependability, the fact that we can rely on you, especially when times get tough.” That is what a fellow foreign minister from a country in southern Africa told me recently. And that is what I hear time and again, whether it be in New York, in Brussels or in Berlin, when I’m on foreign visits for our country. It is what we hear from the heads of the UN peacekeeping missions, who are visiting Berlin this week, what we hear in the German Bundestag – and it’s a view that I hope is shared by all parliamentary groups.
And dependability, Mr Wadephul, precisely does not mean that we abruptly withdraw from a mission. It is not helpful to deliver speeches here that employ all buzzwords of the parliamentary opposition – a group to which I belonged myself until recently.
Dependability does not mean that we make a hasty exit when something doesn’t suit the interests of our domestic policy. I am deviating from my script now when I say that not only do I have a state‑given responsibility – logically, due to my current function – but that we all have such a responsibility to not think only in short electoral terms, but to make sure that what we’ve built up over decades of German foreign relations – that is, our dependability – is not suddenly abandoned. We do not know who will be in charge after the next Bundestag election. That is why I ask you, as the CDU, to see this debate that we are only beginning today as another opportunity to reflect on this.
Dependability means we must act prudently and transparently, and that we continuously coordinate with our partners, especially with the United Nations. Particularly in times like these, when international law, the UN Charter and the UN as an institution are coming under attack, it is so important for there to be countries that work to show that we as the international community can still bring about change.
I can’t help but wonder why you have expressed doubt about our ability to write an honest report on the current situation. I believe it is our responsibility, as the Federal Government, for the Minister of Defence and myself to not draw up a report that simply lists what we would have liked to achieve when we decided to become engaged in Mali ten years ago; rather, I believe we must say that, at the start of our coalition government, we believed we could remain engaged there for some time. Should we now write a report that embellishes everything? Is that what you are suggesting?
No, in this report we’ve described very honestly – and this is no secret – how we wish events would have taken a different turn. We conducted a visit to Mali with colleagues from all parliamentary groups, including the CDU. The Defence Minister and Development Minister went there recently, and we took a joint trip there with Members of the German Bundestag one year ago. We wanted to see if there was an opportunity to stay.
We believe we have a responsibility in the country, because the MINUSMA mandate is not some random mandate, but was designed to support the peace process. And then, during our talks, we saw that we can no longer trust the Malian Government. Later, we saw the situation deteriorate even further, due to Russia’s war of aggression, and that our Heron UAVs were not able to fly. But then again, there is also what people in the region were telling us – and all of us have met with people there. Yes, I am quoting people from the region, even though you will ask why I am choosing to speak about women and children. You will find this, too, in the report. They said that efforts in recent years were not in vain. This is at least true for areas near the camp where German Bundeswehr personnel, too, were stationed. “There, we can go to the market,” they said. And that actually is a positive thing, isn’t it? We will never be able to save everyone in a country that is not our own. But we can try to do a certain minimum. And for this, I want to thank the women and men in uniform of the Bundeswehr.
Now the United Nations is asking us – or rather, begging us: Please, do not do like other countries that are in an election cycle, who due to a change of government are driven by domestic policy factors to think it’s a great idea to pull out their assets as quickly as possible. The United Nations are asking us: If you do decide to withdraw now, because you are no longer able to work with the current Malian Government – and this is what the report says, and it is your and everyone’s opinion – can you then please do so in an orderly fashion, so that we can avoid what happened in Afghanistan, even though that’s an entirely different example?
We should, after all, learn from mistakes. In the present situation, in which we are able to ensure the safety of our soldiers, even if they no longer leave their camp, we should say that, OK, we will withdraw in such a way that we will not suddenly endanger the safety of those soldiers from other countries that will remain and that are far less well equipped – including many soldiers from African countries. Also, we will not, as one of the largest troop contributing countries, suddenly withdraw all of the infrastructure. That is, after all, what international responsibility is about. If and when the time comes to establish new UN peacekeeping missions, I want other countries to have positive recollections of us. They should be able to depend on us when they ask that we keep our helicopters deployed in theatre for a few more months. Otherwise, they will remember that they couldn’t trust us the last time around. And that is why we have presented this timeline. Yes, we do not know if the elections will take place. But should that be a reason for giving the military regime in Mali – which itself doesn’t know if they will hold elections or not – a point of attack, so that they can say “Even the Germans, it seems, do not believe these elections will take place; after all, they are making an early withdrawal.”
No, I want to do everything I can, for as long as the security circumstances permit, to deliver on what we promised – dependability – also in Mali, in this very difficult situation. What we have accomplished during the past ten years, through the deployment of soldiers and in terms of development cooperation, is certainly not what we were hoping to accomplish. But we must not once again jeopardise what we have achieved by repeating the mistakes of the past. I urge us to reengage in joint dialogue, because what is at stake here is the dependability of our country, not only that of its current government.
Thank you very much.