Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the German Bundestag during the 1st reading of the motion on the ESDP “Atalanta” mission, 17 December 2008

17.12.2008 - Speech

Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on the German Bundestag to approve Bundeswehr participation in the fight against piracy in the Horn of Africa. He said there was a good reason why the “Atalanta” mission should have a robust mandate. At the same time, the international community would have to endeavour to bring stability to Somalia so that the piracy would stop.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

I never thought, and nor I am sure did you, that we would ever, here in the German Bundestag, be conducting a very serious debate about pirates. The matter at hand today is, as you are aware, no mere fiction from an adventure story.

Pirates are attacking ships in the Horn of Africa – over 200 ships this year alone. The pirates are violent and ruthless. They aim shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons at tankers, freighters and cruise ships. They currently have 17 ships and around 200 people in their clutches. These criminal acts are undermining the last vestiges of order on which the people of Somalia depend. I believe we cannot simply stand back and allow this to happen. That's what the global community says, and we must say so too, and with conviction.

The European Union, including Germany, has resolved to act. The “Atalanta” mission is intended to protect the transportation of humanitarian aid to Somalia and to safeguard civilian shipping in the region. Somalia is, as you know, one of the world's largest humanitarian crisis areas. Almost a million people are fleeing within the country. More than three million are dependent on outside help – and will be the more so, the further the piracy spreads through the region. In the past few months we have been forced to realize that the main reason for the difficulties in getting supplies through to Somalia is that 90% of the humanitarian assistance provided by the World Food Programme arrives by sea. And the ships bearing this aid are particular targets for the pirates. Shipowners are now refusing to charter ships to the World Food Programme unless military protection is guaranteed for them when they are nearing the ports.

Ladies and gentlemen, “Atalanta” also aims to improve security for civilian shipping in the region. We Germans have an interest in that too. For as you know, the main channel for trade between Europe and Asia runs through the Gulf of Aden – 20,000 ships a year with this destination. Many of these ships belong to German shipowners or are carrying freight from or to Germany.

The mission we are discussing here today is no pleasure cruise for the Bundeswehr. We therefore have good reason to propose a robust mandate. The German Navy and all other forces involved in the mission must be allowed to take any measures necessary to deter pirates and to prevent or end attacks. This specifically includes the use of force. Our Navy may challenge, detain and transfer pirates or suspects. It may confiscate pirates' ships and weapons. All this is allowed within the scope of the European mandate.

There is one thing I would like to state quite clearly for the record about the resolution adopted by the Security Council last night extending the mission again: this does nothing to alter the mandate or scope of the ESDP mission and therefore does not change the mandate before the German Bundestag. Let me say this: the Bundeswehr will have a solid mandate which, I believe, gives it the necessary room for manoeuvre against the pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Everyone knows that the causes of piracy cannot be countered at sea. For that, one needs functioning state structures on land. And those are just what are lacking in Somalia. What counts there is the language of violence and the law of might. The ransoms paid to the pirates have indeed exacerbated the situation. Criminal groups there are often better equipped than the representatives of the state. In response to a request from the Somali Government, the UN Security Council called upon all states to help Somalia not only in fighting piracy but also in institution-building. The EU mission makes an important, if indirect, contribution towards this aim. Because if ships are not captured, no ransom money will be paid which can be used to further strengthen criminal structures and thus further undermine the Somali Government.

That is why we must join the international community in endeavouring to secure the long-term stabilization of Somalia. And precisely because this is difficult and dangerous, we will have to continue to provide humanitarian assistance. Let me assure you that we will support every effort leading to political understanding in Somalia. But in the first instance this is up to the Somalis themselves. However, I would also say this: since the new UN chief mediator, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, assumed responsibility, I have become a bit more confident, and I have the impression that the dialogue which in the past could never be established among the tribes and entities in Somalia may be more of a possibility in the future.

These efforts have our support. We support it in the International Contact Group on Somalia, in which we endeavour again and again to contribute to intrastate reconciliation because we know that it will only really be possible to stop the piracy once governance has been reestablished in Somalia. I believe the task facing us is a huge one. The aim is to end a civil war, to bring about reconciliation, and to build up judicial and police institutions.

So it is clear, it must be clear to us: it will be a long journey in a country where those wielding power regard their responsibility for their community in a very different way. However, we also know that we cannot simply abandon regions like Somalia to their fate. Otherwise it would be even easier for them to turn into breeding-grounds for organized crime and terrorism. In a world which is growing ever closer, this affects each and every one of us, like it or not.

Let me conclude. I have stated the reasons why the Federal Government asks the Bundestag to approve Bundeswehr participation in the EU-led “Atalanta” mission. Germany and the European Union are thus issuing an important signal for the people in Somalia, for security in the region and for international solidarity.

Thank you for your attention.

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