Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier in the German Bundestag on the participation of German forces in the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon

19.09.2006 - Speech

Debate in the German Bundestag on the motion tabled by the Federal Government on the participation of German armed forces in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on the basis of Resolution 1701 of the United Nations Security Council of 11 August 2006

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I think we can all sense this is not just a normal debate in the German Bundestag. It is unlikely that anyone would, ten years ago, have dreamt of discussing or indeed recommending sending German soldiers to the Middle East shoulder to shoulder with forces from other European countries. Bringing peace – this is a task the Europeans have in the past left to the United States. The historic picture of the handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat was taken in Washington in 1993 and that of Menachem Begin and Anwar al-Sadat in Camp David in 1979.

We can all see that the world has fundamentally changed since then and we have changed with it. Europe is developing from a patchwork of highly heterogeneous national interests to, I believe, a force which is able to act as one. That means we, and here I mean Europe, are now also able to help create and secure peace in the Middle East. I am absolutely convinced that Europe will be a factor for peace, also in the Middle East. This is the real news. That is the new situation of which we must be aware. To my mind, this is not bad news.

Precisely because this is the case and because we know that the silencing of the guns was only possible due to an international presence, due to a promise of international assistance, we could not and cannot stay on the sidelines. We bear a shared responsibility. Speaking for the Federal Government, I say we are determined to shoulder this responsibility.

The Lebanon mission is in fact not about forgetting our principles and breaking foreign-policy taboos which we set ourselves for good reason after the National Socialist era. No, it is about credibility and recognizing the normality which no longer shields us from such demands. It is ultimately also about respecting the fact that not just Lebanon but also Israel expressly asked us to take part in this mission.

Ten years ago, no-one would have imagined that we, as part of the European family, would protect Israel's right to exist while strengthening Lebanon's sovereignty and its Government's authority. This is not something to talk down. In the region, people know – and I am saying this particularly to those who ask time and again if we won't ourselves become a target by being one-sided – that Europeans and Germans played a decisive role in the silencing of the guns. With our German soldiers, with the British, French, Italian, Spanish soldiers and many others, we are ensuring that those who have lost their homes will soon have a roof over their heads again, and that streets and power stations will be repaired. Without this readiness, the ceasefire would not have been possible.

If I may inject some emotion into this debate, which I hope we will conduct responsibly, I would like to tell you that it was a moving moment for me when Kofi Annan asked the assembled European foreign ministers one by one who was prepared to participate in the international assistance to guarantee stability on the Israeli-Lebanese border and the foreign ministers one by one said we're with you.

There can be no doubt that this mission that will hopefully receive a broad majority here in Parliament is new ground for us politically. But I say this mission also follows on from the good tradition of German foreign policy. Whenever the Bundestag approved such a mission, we did so to create peace, to underpin peace agreements or to prevent flight and expulsion. I present this cast-iron principle to all those who expect lists of conditions. This cast-iron principle also applies to this mission and for all eternity.

The Defence Minister will in a moment outline the planned mission in more detail. What does the Federal Government want from the German Bundestag? We want to participate in the United Nations mission in Lebanon with up to 2400 soldiers. The primary task of this international mission will be to prevent the smuggling of weapons along Lebanon's coastal border. As you know, we have a robust mandate. The Bundeswehr soldiers will have the right to monitor sea traffic along the Lebanese coast, to divert, board and search suspect vessels. This is clearly laid down in the United Nations rules of engagement. The Lebanese Government has accepted these rules of engagement. The entire maritime taskforce which includes other European forces will be led by the German Navy.

When talking about the military mission – which is what we have to decide on today – we must be clear that we cannot limit ourselves to that. Germany wants to do more. Lebanon must protect its sovereignty externally and internally. It therefore needs, as I mentioned at the outset, a strong and a capable Government. To make this possible, we are sending not just soldiers, but also border and customs officers to the region to help the Lebanese Government secure borders and Beirut airport and to prevent regulations being breached and more weapons being imported, weapons which end up in the wrong hands. But of course that isn't all we are doing.

We have contributed more than 27 million euro bilaterally for humanitarian aid and the country's reconstruction. To this we need to add European contributions in which Germany also plays its part.

What is the point of all this? I feel the people in Lebanon should sense that things will soon improve for them and their families. This we should show them so no other flags are hoisted over the repaired bridges, but where possible European ones.

Of course we know that the Bundeswehr mission alone cannot bring lasting peace to the Middle East. But it will, for a start, ensure stability in a region currently wrought with tension. We need this stability – of this I am convinced – so that we can help the people in the region rebuild trust and have the courage to reach out to one another across the graveyards and minefields.

What has always been true of our foreign and security policy is also true here. We will only achieve lasting peace in the Middle East if we have an intelligent mix of steps. Part of this is the military presence. But above all else we have to make political progress and give the people concrete support to help them improve their daily lives.

For me, the Lebanon mission is not the end of a turbulent summer but I see it as the start of the real work which now awaits us. I will certainly do all I can in the coming months to ensure political progress in the Middle East.

The chances seem not bad. But of course I have to admit that after sixty long years of conflict progress is not especially likely. But after the most recent escalation more people on all sides seem to have realized that it is impossible to improve life in the long term without peace and security and that this cannot be achieved by force.

In the process we have before us, we Europeans can bring our experience to bear. We needed the destruction of two World Wars before we understood that there is only one stable foundation for peace, security and prosperity in Europe: the readiness to speak, work and trade with one another instead of shooting at one another.

Let me touch upon a topic here which played a role at the Ambassadors' Conference held in early September. Who would have thought fifty years ago that the French and Germans would today be able to write a joint history book? This history book has recently been published. It will be handed out in the first schools in Germany in just a few days. It is incidentally one of the few books, if not the only one, to be recognized in all the Länder across Germany.

I would hope this will be possible in the Middle East as well in a few decades time. After all, that would be a signal showing that the divisions have been overcome and that the region had changed into a zone of peace, security and stability.

But those harbouring such a vision must do more than just hope. That is why we are speaking to the players in the region every day, promoting the road of understanding and reconciliation. Just ten days ago, I was in Beirut, in Tel Aviv, in Ramallah. As you know, we are in contact with Syria. There are certainly indications that some in Damascus want to halt the spiral of violence.

Hoping precisely this will happen, does not mean we can afford to be naïve about it. After sixty years of terror and violence in the region, I know trust can only grow slowly. That is why I am amongst those who believe we will need a Middle East conference in this process to resolve the open questions once and for all. But we should not misuse and thereby waste this instrument at a point in time when it cannot work. That is why I am very much in favour of reviving the Middle East Quartet made up of the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States. I will rally support for this at the United Nations General Assembly this week. This Quartet should steer the next steps in the Middle East peace process. I can certainly imagine extending its scope, that is not just limiting it to the core conflict between Israel and Palestine but also taking in the regional conflicts with Lebanon and Syria. If through these next steps we manage to create a climate of trust and goodwill, then a Middle East conference can ultimately achieve substantial results.

Ladies and gentlemen, you understand my assessment. I believe the door to peace in the Middle East is open just a crack. If we want to push this door open, all players have to shoulder their responsibility. The Palestinian side has to recognize Israel's right to exist and forego the use of force and Israel has to be aware that it cannot win peace in the long term with military means but rather also has to seek understanding and give-and-take with its neighbours.

We cannot leave sole responsibility in the region. We, as members of the international community, also of course have great responsibility. We have to use our strength in the Middle East until the region itself has the strength to bring about peace. For our discussion today and tomorrow's vote this means in concrete terms: I ask for your consent, I ask for the consent of the German Bundestag for the participation of the Bundeswehr in the mission in Lebanon.

Thank you.

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