Last summer I was invited by an Eastern German party organisation to speak about the development in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the German preparations for the participation in the EUFOR Congo Mission. I was convinced that we should help because I had recently been to Kinshasa where I had the possibility to get an idea of the dramatic situation. But then I was suddenly confronted with an almost hostile audience: I was asked why the hell we spent money on such a mission. This was a very typical reaction.
More than ever, Germany's participation in international peacekeeping missions is the subject of domestic discussion.
The discussion was intensified with the EUFOR operation in Congo, but also with our participation in the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon, with which Germany in many ways has entered new territory against its traditional reluctance to get involved with missions in Africa and the Middle East.
The German engagement in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, in Sudan and elsewhere makes clear what it means to assume responsibility for peace and security in the world.
With approximately 8,000 Bundeswehr soldiers and police officers Germany is among the largest troop contributors to international peacekeeping missions.
But we often forget that Germany's commitment to Bundeswehr operations abroad is a relatively recent development, and many Germans are still not comfortable with it, particularly in view of our history.
The legal prerequisites for Bundeswehr deployments must therefore be seen in this light: Although the decision to send German troops abroad lies with the Federal Government, the Bundeswehr, as a "parliamentary army", is subject to the control of the German Bundestag, since the Basic Law states that, as a matter of principle, parliamentary approval is required prior to armed operations by German troops.
It was not until 1994 that the Federal Constitutional Court clarified the issue by ruling that German armed forces could not only be deployed for national and Alliance defence but also for international ("out of area") operations. This applies in any case within the framework of and according to the rules of systems of mutual collective security.
Engagement as part of collective security structures – this is an important principle for German deployments abroad.
The security challenges facing us can best be tackled by our integration in multilateral and cooperative structures. For that reason, particularly with regard to crisis management, Germany is pursuing a policy of effective multilateralism.
Germany's engagement for peace and security therefore rests on four pillars: The European Union, the NATO, the OSCE and of course the United Nations.
The EU has become a significant player in the field of international crisis management. The European Security Strategy of 2003 describes the EU's role and tasks in the new security environment. That is the fundamental political basis for the EU-peace mission engagement.
The European Security and Defence Policy is clearly committed to effective multilateralism centred on the UN. Military force is designed to be used only as a last resort and only on the basis of the UN Charter and Security Council decisions.
The EU's increasing importance as a player with global responsibility is also shown by its international peacekeeping missions, for example the civilian ESDP missions in Aceh (Timor Leste) and Rafah (Palestinian territories). One milestone for the ESDP was certainly the EU's assumption of military responsibility in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Germany has contributed some 900 soldiers to Operation Althea. It is very interesting that 12 out of 16 missions within the framework of the ESDP have been civilian missions.
The EU commitment in Congo is another example of the EU's growing responsibility for global security. In this case the EU, at the UN's request, launched the military Operation EUFOR RD Congo, thus contributing greatly to the peaceful handling of the country's first free elections for over 40 years. Germany provided up to 780 soldiers as well as the Operation HQ in Potsdam. The EU, with its civilian EUSEC and EUPOL missions, is continuing to support the Congolese government in reforming its security sector.
The EU is currently studying the lessons learned from its Congo operation to ensure that EU military operations continue to be a success. These lessons are also of value to the EU Battlegroups, an important new instrument which has been available since the beginning of the year, and which can support above all the UN in crisis management.
Alongside European integration, transatlantic relations represent an immovable pillar of Germany's foreign and security policy.
This also applies to German participation in peacekeeping operations. For us NATO is the key transatlantic consultation forum, as well as the obvious choice for complex military operations, for example in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
NATO has over the last few years faced up to the new threats and has defined new tasks, ranging from crisis management through long-term engagement in peace-supporting measures to the fight against terrorism. With the NATO Response Force the Alliance has developed rapid-reaction military capabilities to which Germany is making a substantial contribution.
The OSCE and its predecessor, the CSCE, also played a decisive role in the integration of Europe. The OSCE still has an essential part to play in promoting security, stability and the rule of law. Its electoral observer missions and field missions in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Western Balkans are a major civilian crisis-management instrument.
Germany is, after the USA, the second-largest contributor to the OSCE and, with its European partners, provides constantly-increasing support – in political, personnel and financial terms.
The UN is and remains the sole global forum of collective security. The Security Council has the central role in preserving peace and security.
Security Council Resolutions also guarantee legitimacy for international peacekeeping missions, both the classic blue-helmet missions and those mandated by the SC and carried out by regional organizations and alliances.
Collective security must be seen in a holistic sense. The 2005 World Summit made it clear that security needs both peace and development. Crisis management must therefore also be seen in a comprehensive way – as a continuum reaching from conflict prevention to peacebuilding.
Above all in failed states peacekeeping missions can only make a limited, albeit important contribution towards crisis management. They must be integrated in a broad spectrum of political, diplomatic, economic and development-policy instruments.
Engagement as part of comprehensive crisis management – this is another important principle for German participation in peacekeeping missions.
Let me use two examples to make this point:
In Afghanistan Germany has been militarily committed since the start of the ISAF operation in December 2001. Currently the third-largest troop provider, we contribute around 2,900 soldiers, mainly in the north of the country.
However, the German Government has from the beginning adopted a holistic approach containing both military and civilian components.
This is also shown by the structure of our Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Kunduz and Feyzabad. The dual civilian-military command, consisting of a diplomat and the military commander, underlines the primarily political character of these institutions.
One major part of the civilian component of Afghan reconstruction is the creation of a police force, for which Germany has acted as key partner nation since early 2002. Moreover, with Tom Koenigs, Germany provides the head of the political UN mission (UNAMA).
In this regard it is clear to all concerned that, while the military ISAF mission alone cannot bring lasting internal peace to Afghanistan, it is essential to its continuing stabilization and reconstruction.
Germany is also committed in military and police terms in the Balkans. I already mentioned our continuing engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Kosovo Germany is the largest troop contributor to NATO's KFOR mission, currently providing about 2,300 out of a total strength of approximately 16,000. The head of the OSCE mission is a German, Ambassador Werner Wnendt, and since 1 September another German, Joachim Rücker, has headed the UNMIK transitional administration. Around 170 German officers form part of its police mission. Preparations for what will be the largest civilian ESDP mission so far to replace UNMIK have top priority during Germany's EU Presidency.
This German military and police engagement in NATO, UN, OSCE and EU peacekeeping missions is flanked by diplomatic and economic efforts. Germany is a member of the Contact Group in which international policy towards the Balkans is coordinated within and outside the UN Security Council. The Stability Pact for South-East Europe provides the framework for promoting human rights and democracy, security and economic reconstruction. It was Germany which proposed the creation of the Stability Pact following the end of the Kosovo war in the summer of 1999, during Germany's EU and G8 Presidency. Its focus on regional cooperation and its integration in a clear European perspective for the countries of South-East Europe makes it a special instrument of civilian crisis prevention.
Also during this year's German EU Presidency the stabilization of the Western Balkans – in particular support and further assistance for the Kosovo status talks – will be particularly important to the German Government.
Let me also particularly emphasize our engagement in Lebanon.
With its participation in the UNIFIL peacekeeping mission Germany has taken a historic decision and embarked on a new policy course: Even as late as last summer the deployment of German armed forces in the Middle East was considered unthinkable.
Germany has now assumed the command of a Maritime Task Force charged with securing the maritime frontier – which by the way is a new chapter in the history of blue-helmet missions.
With this decision Germany, along with a number of European partners, is underlining its special responsibility for achieving a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflicts. The operation became possible above all because both and , as well as their Arab neighbours, saw as a credible partner and wanted us to participate in UNIFIL.
However, the military component alone remains insufficient to resolve the conflict, and for that reason Germany, from the very start, has striven for a comprehensive engagement in Lebanon and has flanked its military efforts politically with several sets of talks by Chancellor Merkel and numerous trips to the region by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier (5 trips since the crisis broke out).
Apart from humanitarian assistance and support for reconstruction I would like to underline Germany's bilateral support for the improvement of Lebanese land and maritime border controls. This involves above all customs and coastguard projects which are aimed at enabling the Lebanese government to protect the country's frontiers against weapons smuggling.
The international community has achieved a great deal since the crisis broke out last July. However, the necessary political process to tackle the political problems which lie behind the conflict remains the central diplomatic challenge. Here impulses on the part of the UN Secretary General could be helpful.
German participation in UNIFIL also represented a new phase in our cooperation with the UN, as for the first time in several years Germany has again provided a sizeable contingent to a blue-helmet mission.
Germany also provides, apart from the UNMIK police officers, medical staff, military observers and police officers in Georgia, Liberia and on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border.
We are now in 18th place on the list of UN troop providers. This better reflects Germany's importance in the UN as the third-largest financial contributor, and also underlines the increasing role we are assuming in this field.
But each new crisis, each new conflict tangibly demonstrates the limits of the UN and its member countries. UN peacekeeping has reached a historic high. Some 90,000 blue helmets and UN civilians are active in 18 missions worldwide, and this figure is unlikely to fall, at least in the medium term, in view of the planned missions in Darfur and Chad.
Targeted cooperation between the regional organizations and the UN within the framework of "Partnership Peacebuilding" gives us the specific opportunity to use the regional organizations' comparative advantages.
This applies on the one hand to the African Union, above all in resolving African conflicts such as in Darfur and in Somalia. Strengthening these organizations' capacities is a major objective of the German Government and of the EU.
But in particular this applies to the EU and NATO, which also help safeguard international peace and security, one of the main aims of the UN Charter.
Germany is willing to continue its engagement within these collective security structures during and after our EU and G8 Presidencies this year.