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Interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in the Austrian political magazine “profil”

09.08.2010 - Interview

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As Foreign Minister you are currently confronted with a tricky problem as regards the targeted killing of high-ranking Taliban in Afghanistan. It seems you hold the view that this way of going about things is legal.

That is not correct. I decided to re-evaluate the Federal Government’s legal position with regard to the Afghanistan mission in a policy statement at the start of the year, in which I emphasized that this is a non-international armed conflict as defined by international law. This has substantial implications, in that Taliban aggressors may be deliberately targeted. That is the reality. It is no good acting as though our mission in Afghanistan were only about drilling wells or building hospitals.

Targeting individuals using armed combat means killing then?

Targeted combat means targeted combat. I would caution against denying reality. The Bundeswehr has been given a clear task: to capture Taliban insurgents and hand them over to the Afghan authorities. But when fighting sometimes involves the use of artillery, it would be wrong to give the impression that people don’t die.

Isn’t the difference between “targeted armed combat” and “killing” simply a matter of semantics?

No. There is a legal difference. One could interpret a targeted killing thus: our troops have captured someone whom they could hand over to the Afghan government authorities, but instead they kill him. That would be against the law. But the fact that we use weapons to fight Taliban fighters who threaten us is part of the reality I am describing.

However, Germany is confronted with the problem in Afghanistan that US special units have been charged with the targeted killing of insurgents, and German troops are cooperating with these units by helping to draw up lists of appropriate targets.

I have given you my evaluation and told you what the German position is. This is also in line with our political strategy. We want to hand over responsibility more and more to the Afghans. If the conditions are right, we will begin doing this on a regional basis in 2011. Our aim is to hand over responsibility for security to the Afghans in 2014. However, that does not mean a complete withdrawal, as we will continue to be there on the ground. And I fear we will experience many setbacks before we reach that point.

Are the two deadlines of 2011 and 2014 still realistic?

We are on course as regards the training up of Afghan security forces and we have even partly exceeded our original goals.

Do you wish other countries would increase their support?

I believe everybody in the international community understands how important success in Afghanistan is, and everyone should make a contribution. When countries reconsider their input and decide they can do more, then that is most welcome.

There has been a paradigm shift in policy towards Afghanistan. The reason behind this is the perception that the war cannot be won, and so people are relying more on negotiations with the Taliban. How successful has this proved so far?

As German Foreign Minister, I have introduced a change in strategy in the Bundestag that focuses on a political solution to the conflict. The conflict in Afghanistan is not to be won solely by military means. Nor is it to be won simply by supporting the economy, infrastructure projects or education. We need a political solution, and that is why we have decided on a change in strategy that favours reintegration and reconciliation.

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In 2005 the European Council decided that the western EU should increase development aid expenditure to 0.5% by 2010. Austria will miss this target by a long way. That is a matter for the whole of Europe.

That Germany is once more doing well after two years of recession gives us hope that we can keep to our development goals. This is a success, but what the international community has achieved so far can hardly be called a glorious chapter.

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Do you think it possible that Turkey will join the EU?

We Europeans are very keen to see Turkey moving in a European direction. The EU and Turkey have – with the approval of the German Government – agreed to begin open-ended negotiations. No German Foreign Minister is in a position to make any grandiose promises to Turkey, but every German foreign minister should ensure that Turkey is not snubbed, nor the door slammed shut prematurely.

What do you think of the idea of holding a referendum once the negotiations are completed?

I see this debate as a virtual rather than a real one, because the whole issue won’t be on the agenda for years. We have 35 chapters to address, of which only 13 so far are open. In view of this, the debate on a referendum must be seen as motivated by an internal political agenda.

Weren’t the negotiations opened with the clearly articulated aim of accession?

There is no automaticity in any direction. Turkey expects nothing else than to be treated fairly.

If the conditions are fulfilled, then that surely means Turkey will accede.

We will cross that bridge when we come to it, and questions will be answered as they arise and not simply when they are posed. I don’t want this domestic debate to spill over into Turkey and encourage the forces that are disinclined towards Europe. I have just recently been to Turkey and was pleased with the positive resonance I found there.

Did you have to come to the defence of Angela Merkel, who has spoken out clearly in favour of a privileged partnership?

I don’t experience difficulties with regard to our policy towards Turkey, because we agreed precisely what I have just outlined to you in the Coalition Agreement.

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