Speech by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to the German Bundestag on the debate on the German Government’s guidelines on crisis prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding

30.06.2017 - Speech

Madam President,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Fellow members of this House,

First of all, I would like to thank you for your readiness – despite the approaching summer recess and the other important decisions we have already made today – to discuss an issue which may at first sound somewhat abstract. However, I believe you all know that it actually concerns the very concrete fate of people caught up in wars and conflicts, people who are quite literally struggling to survive. After lengthy debates and consultations – not only in Parliament but also in civil society – we adopted German Government’s guidelines entitled “Preventing crises, managing conflicts, building peace”.

A very cruel gauge of the current trend is the number of those who have to flee from violence. There have never been so many refugees and displaced persons: 65 million people at the close of last year. Even though we here in Germany have experienced, and indeed are still experiencing, challenges with this issue, we have to realise that we aren’t bearing the greatest burden – not by a long chalk! Rather, many other countries around the world are carrying it, for the majority of people flee within their own country or move back and forward between poor countries.

When we look at what’s happening in northern Uganda and in the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, far away from the public eye, we see that sadly there is a very real danger that another record high will be reached this year. And – let me be quite open here – we’ve been hearing in the last few days about the huge number of refugees who have once again been arriving in Italy. I heard the actual figure today: 20,000 refugees within just a few days. I believe the first message to Europe must be: we cannot leave our friends and partners in Italy in the lurch. That’s not acceptable.

Whatever the debates in the European Union about migration policy: we have to ensure that in this issue everyone in Europe, not just a few countries, shows solidarity with the Italians. It cannot be that they are left to deal with this situation on their own and that ultimately we’re faced once more with completely chaotic refugee flows in Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, islands of security and freedom are becoming ever smaller in this world. The number of countries in which tensions, violence, war and displacement are part and parcel of daily life, on the other hand, is rising. If we not only want to face up to these realities but to ensure that Germany assumes responsibility for bringing about changes, then we need to be clear how we want to do this. Since the term of office of my predecessor – the current Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier – we’ve been asking ourselves what Germany’s approach should be and, above all, which tools Germany, the German Government, should employ to help contain violence and displacement. Of course, we know that we shouldn’t overestimate our capabilities. Nor, however, should we underestimate what a country like Germany can achieve, especially when it comes to cooperation in Europe.

It has to be said that peace policy sometimes requires the deployment of military means. There have to be operations, especially United Nations operations, in which under certain circumstances excessive violence is stopped and further violence prevented also by military means. That, for example, is the lesson we learned from our experiences in Rwanda a few years ago when the world stood by because it lacked the will to intervene. Hundreds of thousands or even millions of people paid for this with their lives or health.

However, another lesson we’ve learned during the last few decades – and it’s mainly military personnel who tell us this – is that military interventions from the outside, even if they are performed with the best of intentions, do not necessarily bring about lasting peace. Our efforts to foster peace must therefore be marked by a clear commitment to the primacy of politics, to non-military, civilian intervention, especially where unavoidable military conflicts have to be followed by civilian efforts. This is not only because our Basic Law provides that our foreign policy should rely on diplomacy, conciliation and civilian engagement rather than military force, but also quite simply based on what our soldiers have experienced during difficult missions. They tell us that only with this combination, with such missions, can stability and durable peace be attained. In the light of the complex crises of our time, the prime task therefore is to do prevention work but also to provide rapid support and to work effectively and in an interconnected manner.

Ladies and gentlemen, with these guidelines we’re thus putting forward a compass for modern peace diplomacy. It’s especially important to me that we – first of all – based our conceptional work, on the one hand, on a critical assessment and, on the other, as I’ve already said, on a dialogue with civil society, with academia, associations and business.

Many members of this House have got involved, too. I believe that this process of debate has not only ensured that we now have produced a convincing document. Above all, it has shown how strong and vibrant – let me put it this way – the peace community is in our country; it, too, deserves our thanks. Naturally, we’re indebted to those taking part in operations – soldiers, development workers, etc. – but it is also the community in our country which wants to see Germany remain a strong force for peace which we need to thank. I believe that’s a good message at a time when all over the world we tend to talk more about rearmament and conflicts.

Secondly, these guidelines are based on the realisation that intelligent political strategies are needed, as are efficient and effective instruments, and above all realistic goals. We mustn’t expect crisis zones to become stable democracies overnight. And despite all our optimism and determination, we have to realise that achieving peace isn’t an exact science. Dealing with setbacks is as much a part of this as the readiness to take calculated risks, especially if new ideas are used to tackle this task, as we intend to do on the basis of the guidelines. It’s important that we don’t allow ourselves to be discouraged by setbacks. Rather, they should spur us on to explore – systematically and with circumspection – how Germany can make a long-term contribution towards more peace and security.

Allow me to also comment on the very difficult issue of arms exports. During the last few years, I’ve had to learn one thing in particular: the assumption that either supplying arms or not supplying arms is the right thing to do is always a mistake. Either course of action can make one culpable: supplying arms or not supplying them. This is illustrated by the Yazidis, who, as it were, would have been left to be exterminated. That’s why I believe it’s always wise to make decisions on a case-by-case basis, not to become internationally isolated and, above all, not to send the message that by taking one or other course of action one has done what is morally right. I believe we always have to be aware of the responsibility resulting from whatever decision we make, and that we have to be conscious of the risk that either decision may be wrong.

That, I feel, needs to be part of a frank and open debate.

Ladies and gentlemen, now let me turn to the third point. The guidelines identify scope for action.

They show us how and with which methods we can use this scope for our work to promote peace. This includes fostering the rule of law. What’s more, it includes the work done by our police officers, also that of those who offer advisory services on judicial matters. For of course the work of police officers should help ensure that rule-of-law instruments can be developed in countries where conditions are difficult and that a police force can be established in these countries which, as it were, can make the development of these rule-of-law tools their objective. I’ve visited a few police projects of this kind, for example in Mali, and, ladies and gentlemen, I think we can be truly proud of what these police officers have achieved due to their great efforts to promote the rule of law and a code of conduct in compliance with the rule of law.

Finally, the German Government has committed itself in quite concrete terms to further expanding its own conflict management capabilities. To this end, we want to intensify our partnerships with our European friends, the United Nations, as well as with regional organisations such as the African Union. For one thing is clear: no matter how hard we Germans try, we will only achieve something lasting if we cooperate with others.

Ladies and gentlemen, we intend to use these guidelines as a compass for modern German peace diplomacy. Everyone in this House knows that a compass alone is not enough, but that we also need hardware, as it were, instruments, ultimately always money, too.

That is why I say very openly that during the last weeks and months I, just like all of you, have been taking part in the debate about reaching a target of spending two percent of GDP on defence in NATO countries. I don’t want to say anything about the details. However, I believe that two points have been completely left out of this discussion.

Firstly, when the whole world is talking about rearmament, Germany and Europe have to talk again about disarmament and arms control.

It cannot be that this no longer is an issue. In the last few days, we’ve been organising the memorial ceremonies for Helmut Kohl. Not without reason, Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl are mentioned time and again in connection with the NATO Double-Track Decision. Back then, defence capabilities on the one hand and disarmament offers on the other existed side by side. A few days ago, I was in Iceland for a conference attended by a number of European states. I had an opportunity to visit Höfði House in Reykjavik where Gorbachev and Reagan drafted a treaty from which we still benefit today: the INF Treaty, which did away with land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles. This very treaty is now jeopardised, firstly due to the concerns about what the Russians are doing, and secondly because the Americans are saying: we cannot accept what’s happening over there for ever.

We have to return to a discussion in which we say: yes, we need a defence capability, but it has to be coupled with proactive offers on arms control, on disarmament, especially from us Germans and especially in Europe, ladies and gentlemen. That needs to be part of the deal.

In all of this, funding mechanisms are of course also important. In this context, I find the two percent debate a bit odd because we should actually start by asking why we need something. As long as this cannot be specified, it’s difficult to say how much is required, especially when we know that European defence expenditure amounts to 45 percent of that of the US but that, in comparison, European military assets only achieve 15 percent of the efficiency. Another important point is not to fall into the disastrous trap of raising military spending while reducing spending on development aid and crisis prevention. On the contrary, for every euro spent on defence capabilities, we should actually be channelling 1.50 euros into development aid and crisis prevention.

Thank you for your attention.

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