Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on the day of peacekeeping

22.06.2023 - Speech

Freedom is precious. Peace is fragile. Security is not a matter of course.

You, esteemed peacekeepers, experience this every day in your work in crisis regions. And you see what peace and security mean for people.

Namely that mothers and fathers don’t have to spend every day worrying about how to put food on their children’s plates that evening; that girls no longer need to fear being attacked on their way to school; that citizens can vote in free elections without facing intimidation outside the polling station.

That is why your work, that is why civilian and military peace missions are a core part of our foreign and security policy. What you have been doing for ten years in these peace missions – integrated at the intersections between domestic, foreign and defence policy – is reflected exactly in our first National Security Strategy. Integrated security, namely –

a policy that we have enshrined in the National Security Strategy and are discussing intensively, not least here in the German Bundestag. In this Strategy we clearly state that what applies to your work worldwide applies to our own security too.

We need the ability to be robust – and that’s why we are increasing our contributions, also with respect to NATO.

But at the same time we know – and this is what makes the integrated Security Strategy so special and unique for this country – that security in the 21st century is about more than tanks and air defence systems.

Peace is more than the absence of war.

Germany and Europe can be secure in the long term only if children, women and men in other parts of the world can live in peace, too.

As a strong country, we have a special responsibility to contribute – to that peace, to a just and equitable world order in which what counts is the United Nations Charter, not the law of the strong.

That means further developing the UN Charter and the UN as an institution. That means funding it. And that means remaining engaged in peacekeeping. That also means constantly reflecting on what we are doing – at home for our security, but also abroad, in our peace missions.

The Vice-President of the German Bundestag, Aydan Özoğuz, has pointed out that that’s why we should not only give the international peace missions we’re participating in a much clearer mandate here in the Bundestag, but also that we should think much more about what has changed on the ground. Because in that way we can help to ensure that our partners on the ground are getting not only theoretical, but very concrete support. For example, we took that lesson on board when we adapted the MINUSMA mandate, because the situation in Mali has changed so much.

As much as Russia is forcing us to invest more in our own robustness, it is even more important to stress – as we are doing not only with the National Security Strategy but also here today – that German contributions to UN-led or EU-led peace missions are and will remain an important tool of the integrated security policy to which we are together committing ourselves.

Because reiterating that makes it clear to our partners: you can count on us. Your security is also our security. Precisely that – and just a few years ago we were saying it as an aside – is more important now than ever.

Because we all travel round the world – you as peacekeepers and we as ministers – advocating for others to see as well that our security in Europe is crucial for security in the world. And if we want others to stand shoulder to shoulder with us as regards this brutal Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, against our European order of peace and against the United Nations Charter, then it is more important than ever to make it absolutely clear that we are committed to our partners’ security worldwide. And Germany is concerned not only with conflicts that affect us directly in Europe, the ones that the German papers keep reporting, but also with conflicts you don’t hear very much about. We are working to ensure that conflicts elsewhere are avoided, defused, resolved – in Africa, in the Near and Middle East, in Asia and in Latin America.

That’s why I am pleased, Nancy Faeser and Boris Pistorius, that we are sending a positive signal of precisely this today, representing our three ministries in honouring our peacekeepers – not just the Federal Foreign Office, as used to be the case.

Actually – and this is something you as peacekeepers can be proud of – this day of peacekeeping stands for the integrated security that the Federal Government is now trying to pursue together.

For a long time now, ten years in fact, you have emphasised that internal security and external security go hand in hand. You stand for Germany’s reliability on the international stage and for civilian engagement, the police and the military working together, not all separate from each other like they used to. Through your international peace missions, combining civilian, police and military components, you are also role models and the standard we are aiming for in our actions as a Federal Government.

I am therefore especially happy that for the first time we are guests here in the German Bundestag for the tenth anniversary of this event. At this point as a politician I could say that it was all planned this way, the presentation of the National Security Strategy and the celebration of ten years of peacekeeping taking place here in the Bundestag.

But honesty compels me to admit that this wasn’t the case. Instead – as so often in politics, when many claim that something was strategy when it was merely coincidence – it came about like this: in October 2021, when, here in front of the Reichstag building, we celebrated the military tattoo for our soldiers who had had to return from their mission in Afghanistan in such an ad hoc, not to say brutal way, we held a joint reception beforehand.

I was not yet a Minister at that point, just one of many members of parliament trying, with the soldiers, to warm up a bit first here inside – it was cold outside. And one of the young soldiers – unfortunately I didn’t take note of his name – said: Wow, why doesn’t this always happen? This is the first time I’ve seen politicians, members of parliament and Ministers just wandering around, talking to us and listening to what we experienced in Afghanistan. And I thought to myself: he’s right, we ought to do this more often.

So when we started to plan the day of peacekeeping, I remembered this and thought about how I had said at the time we ought to do it more often. So let’s try to do it for the day of peacekeeping. Last year we didn’t quite manage it, but this year we have.

The nice thing is not only that we have a chance here to talk with the soldiers about what they do, but also that what your young colleague said back then now holds true for all other peacekeepers. Yes, it is important for civilian peacekeepers, too, whether Federal Police officers or employees of the Center for International Peace Operations, to be honoured and recognised like this here in the German Bundestag. Because this is the place, the heart of democracy, from where we send these people out into the world.

And that’s why, if I may, I would like to ask that we be invited back to the Bundestag next year as well. Even if the event actually rotates between the ministries. But I believe that this, the German Bundestag, the place where our members of parliament decide on Germany’s contributions to international missions on which we deploy you as peacekeepers, where we approve mandates (last week for UNIFIL in Lebanon, for example) – this is absolutely the right place in which to thank you.

And exactly that is the purpose of today’s event. On the day of peacekeeping, we want to highlight your achievements, but especially your dedication, your work for peace in the world on behalf of the Federal Republic.

As Foreign Minister, I would like to honour those who are active around the world for the Federal Foreign Office as employees of the Center for International Peace Operations.

Ms Schirmer, you have worked for a long time for the OSCE in occupied Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, as acting head of a patrol hub of the observer mission. I myself was there at the contact line just a few days before the outbreak of this brutal war. And I often think back and think about how everything has been destroyed in the places I saw then.

I simply cannot imagine how you feel, having lived in Luhansk. Along with your team, you monitored repeated temporary ceasefires between the separatists and the Ukrainian troops, during which water pipes and electricity lines were repaired.

When the Russian war of aggression broke out on 24 February 2022, you and your colleagues in the OSCE mission were stuck in Luhansk. Day and night, cruise missiles flew over your heads, fired from the Russian side towards Ukrainian territory. I remember this too: asking on an hourly basis “Where’s our OSCE mission now?” It was a week until you could leave the city.

I don’t think any of us can really imagine what feelings you have reflecting on your work today. Especially because everything that was done on the ground over many years then suffered such brutal bombing. Even here some people wonder whether there was any point to it all. And so I would like to say quite clearly – you know this better than any of us, but not everyone in the world wants to hear it –

yes. Yes, there was a point, even if such missions fail in the end because the aggressor turns to even more brutal violence. Every day you and your colleagues spent on the ground, you helped to ensure that families had water to wash their children. Every day you were there, you helped to ensure that they were not freezing cold in their homes.

And I think what you achieved then is all the more important today – I’ve just had one of my counterparts here to talk about this – because some people are now saying: how about trying talking? How about trying saying “We’ll freeze everything”? You saw what that meant day in, day out.

On behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany, I thank you very much indeed for your work. Not one single day was in vain. Every day was worth it, to help the people in eastern Ukraine.

I would also like to thank Mr Dornig, whom we are also honouring today. By chance, Mr Dornig and I have both just been in Colombia, though not in the same place. I met Vice-President Francia Márquez, who told me what deep wounds the civil war has left in her country, and how difficult it is to build peace.

At the event we were attending, where she received an award for her feminist work in the country, she was really excited, because the peace agreement between the Government and the ELN was due to be signed the next day. You were not directly involved with the peace agreement, but your work on the ground as a NATO civilian expert was a stepping-stone along the way.

Right up until yesterday, you were in Colombia as part of an expert team, advising the Colombian military on human security. This means how soldiers deal with survivors of sexual violence when they come across them in the area of operations.

Girls and women are often the first victims of violence in conflicts. That is why it is so important that the theme for this year’s event is the UN’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda.

Because we all know that where women are safer, all other groups in a society are safer too. NATO is now making this clear again and again – but still we in the German Bundestag, too, know that this is not something that can be taken absolutely for granted everywhere.

That is why I wish to thank you most sincerely for your work. Thank you for working as part of a NATO delegation – and as a man – to make it so clear on the ground that if women are not safe, then no one is safe. World peace requires the integration of all genders and all people. We honour you for your work for peace, and also as a representative of the work done by the Center for International Peace Operations all around the world. Thank you very much!

That the opposite conclusion – peace work gives courage and strength; where women are safer, societies become safer – not only can but must be drawn is something that you, Ms El Fassi, see every day in your work for the World Food Programme.

You work in Gaza and the West Bank with women’s cooperatives where women learn how to grow more vegetables using less water. This not only means that all their family members have more and better food, but also empowers these women as an active part of society.

Being able to sell their produce and gain an income makes a huge difference to these women, because it gives them greater independence and frees them to escape structures of violence. Here too, in a far-off place, we see what our approach to integrated security means: independence and freedom secure peace.

That this peace and this security cannot be taken for granted is something you see across the world – and unfortunately we are now seeing it in Europe, too. Our country must stand up for this peace, worldwide, with our partners, reliably and responsibly.

To my mind, the fact that we are not withdrawing from places like Gaza and the West Bank also demonstrates our global commitment to peace. But the prime demonstration of that is your work.

Ms El Fassi, we are honouring you today for your work, but also for repeatedly having the courage and passion not to give up – not even where you are working, a place where it has not been possible, even after decades, to at last establish common peace. Because with your work you make it clear that being present on the ground prevents the situation from being even worse. Ms El Fassi, thank you very much for your important work for the World Food Programme.

These were just three of many peacekeepers working for the Center for International Peace Operations. My colleagues Nancy Faeser and Boris Pistorius will shortly be honouring three individuals representing those working in the area of the police and the Defence Ministry.

We thank you all for your engagement. And I am looking forward to talking with you, Ms Schirmer, Mr Dornig and Ms El Fassi, and to presenting you with your awards.

May I invite the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Michael Roth, to join us on the stage. Because, as the Vice-President of the German Bundestag so aptly put it just now: your work for peace is also advocacy for our democracy.

And we as the Federal Government could not do this work if we did not have such a strong, critical and, perhaps, sporty parliament.

Thank you very much!


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