Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to the German Bundestag

26.11.2009 - Speech

Mr President, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen from Afghanistan, who are also following this debate today! We are delighted – as you will have gathered from the welcoming applause – that you can be present as democratic representatives at today’s debate.

When I was in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif last week, I was able to see for myself again just how difficult and dangerous the mission in Afghanistan is. I came home with enormous respect for the work that our women and men are doing there. And so I would like to begin by thanking in particular everyone who is serving our country in Afghanistan, whether in uniform or as a civilian.

I would like to add: this mission is a difficult one, as everyone here knows. It is also a difficult mission in political terms, since obviously any deployment of German forces abroad requires the support of Parliament and society – which means Parliament and society have to have confidence in what German forces are there to achieve. For this reason I cannot emphasize strongly enough that openness, transparency and honesty must be the pillars upon which that confidence rests. And Parliament should expect nothing less from Government. I want to make this absolutely clear.

Whilst our engagement in Afghanistan is also humanitarian, we are there first and foremost because it is in the vital interests of Germany's national security. Afghanistan and the Afghan-Pakistan border region must not be allowed once again to become a safe haven for terrorists. After all the deployment is also there so that we may live in freedom and security in this country.

Therefore I would like to start by making it absolutely clear. Yes, we want civilian reconstruction. We want to pave the way for Afghanistan to be able to reconstruct its own civilian and security structures. Yes, we want to offer humanitarian assistance; but humanitarian assistance depends on security, and without the women and men of our Federal Armed forces, the security required for civilian reconstruction just does not exist. We cannot deny that the one depends upon the other.

This is why I would like to take up the words of my predecessor in the office of Foreign Minister – words he repeated many times: that it would be reckless and irresponsible to end the international mission in Afghanistan prematurely. It would create an unprecedented level of instability in that volatile region, situated next door to Iran and the nuclear powers Pakistan and India. That is something we cannot allow to happen. Our own security is at stake here. This is another reason why we are committed to this deployment.

The key word here is security. Without security in Afghanistan there can be no economic development, no progress in building democratic institutions, no freedom and no equality. Without security neither wells, hospitals nor schools – let alone schools for girls – can be built. I say again: the key word for our mission is security. This is where we are concentrating our efforts: on protecting Germany and Europe and ensuring their security, on improving security for people in Afghanistan, as well as ensuring the greatest possible security for German civilian personnel and our troops on the ground. Above all they must be provided with the right equipment, and the Government will also work to meet those requirements.

Last week I had the honour of laying the foundation stone for a branch of the Police Academy in Mazar-e-Sharif. This is a very tangible example of our strategy. Improving security in Afghanistan means putting more Afghan police officers on the ground. Germany’s contribution to police training is considerable and is greatly appreciated not only by Afghanistan but also by the international community. We must act quickly to expand our efforts in this area. The goal is for Afghanistan to take charge of its own security in order that a responsible handover may follow. We want to make sufficient progress in this direction so that withdrawal can become a realistic prospect. Nobody wants this engagement to go on for ever, and because we recognize this we also recognize that Afghanistan must take charge of its own security. That is the focus of our political efforts.

In other words, developing the local police force is of paramount importance. It is expected that crucial decisions on this point will be taken as early as January, in consultation with our international partners at the International Conference on Afghanistan. I would like to emphasize here that over 40 countries are involved in the mission mandated by the UN Security Council.

Germany will make a contribution commensurate with its economic and political standing – and it is imperative that it should do so. Since this discussion is taking place, I would like to make it absolutely clear: we are continuing our mandate in Afghanistan – with the present numbers. We know that there is a discussion taking place among our international allies as to objectives and strategies. However, that is the right order in which to go about things. First we define the objectives, then we agree a strategy with our partners in the alliance, and only then can we address the practical question of what that actually means for the operation on the ground. When people call for more troops to be deployed before the alliance has worked out its joint strategy, then that is doing things in the wrong order. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough.

The most important partners in this operation remain the Afghans themselves. It is not for the international community to decide on the future of Afghanistan; rather it is our responsibility to help Afghans to decide with their fellow Afghans on the future of their country. That also means that any notion – still entertained, occasionally, by some – that we could create an Afghanistan in our own western image is simply not realistic. This also is what being honest means.

Looking ahead to the forthcoming Conference on Afghanistan and our future engagement, I would like to set out our objectives in brief, as follows:

Firstly, we must urge the Afghans to assume more responsibility for their future. For this reason we intend to work together with the elected President, Hamid Karzai. At the same time we have stated explicitly what we expect of President Karzai and his Government, notably in terms of action on corruption and good governance. All alliance partners, including myself, made it crystal clear when we were there.

That President Karzai chose the right words for his inaugural speech I acknowledge wholeheartedly. But right words must now be followed by right action. The more the Afghans achieve for themselves, the more the international community can achieve for Afghanistan. Good governance and a commitment to eradicate corruption are vital for success.

Secondly, it is important that more Afghans oppose the insurgents. Anyone who is prepared to lay down his weapon and who meets certain minimum criteria should be given the opportunity to reintegrate into Afghan society. That is the only way to isolate the hard-core Taliban.

Thirdly, we must work for a regional solution. The threat of instability emanating from the region can be reduced only by involving Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries in our efforts.

President Norbert Lammert:Mr Minister, will you take a question from our colleague, Bundestag member Beck?

Dr Guido Westerwelle, Federal Foreign Minister:Go ahead, Mr Beck.

President Norbert Lammert:Please go ahead.

Volker Beck (Cologne) (Alliance 90/The Greens): Foreign Minister, before you finish your speech I would like to know – since you have addressed the question of honesty: in the light of the report published in the Bild newspaper, according to which information on civilian casualties was available from the outset, what is your assessment of the Ministry of Defence’s information policy during Mr Jung’s time of office? This House has not been informed by the Federal government on this issue to date.

Dr Guido Westerwelle, Federal Foreign Minister:I would like to point out that other speakers will address this issue in the course of the debate, and so I would ask you to respect this.

Frankly, I feel when I, as Foreign Minister, am introducing a mandate of this import for the first time, this is the time to do justice to the debate. The same applies to questions whose only purpose is to score points. This is wholly inappropriate.

You know that there have been consequences. It is not my place to address them here.

(Renate Künast (Alliance 90/The Greens): are you Foreign Minister or are you not? We demand to know the truth!)

- Ms Künast, you are shouting and interrupting. I feel compelled to ask you: do you really know what we are talking about here?

(Renate Künast (Alliance 90/The Greens): yes, in contrast to you!)

We are talking about women and men who are risking their lives. You sit in the front row and read the newspaper. What you are doing is completely unacceptable and unseemly.

I ask you in the name of the Federal Government to lend your support to the extension of the ISAF mandate, so that Germany can act according to its own rightly understood security interests, so that our country continues to be a responsible and reliable partner in the fight against international terrorism, so that the efforts to stabilize Afghanistan meet with success and so that we can pave the way for a responsible handover.

I would like the ladies and gentlemen of the Opposition to be mindful in this hour of the responsibility they bear in this House, just as we were always mindful of our responsibility regarding this issue when we were in opposition.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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