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“Successful foreign policy isn’t a show” – Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in conversation with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

11.10.2010 - Interview

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You spoke of a tendency towards renationalization in Europe.What are the driving forces behind this development?

Many people have been rattled by the European financial crisis. It is one of this Government’s accomplishments that we stuck to our chosen course in order to protect our currency – without the support of the Opposition. We were not swayed by our critics who wanted to help Greece straight away, without imposing conditions. If we had given Greece a blank cheque, we would not be seeing the comprehensive structural reforms that are now underway in several EU member states. Nor were we swayed by those who said that such a rescue should never be attempted. They were ignoring the fact that one of a state’s most vital sovereign duties is to protect its currency.

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Wherever you look, it seems as if a rift is growing between the people and their representatives – just consider the Sarrazin debate and Stuttgart 21. What explanation do you have?

We are living in a time of upheaval. People who have always viewed globalization as a purely economic phenomenon are now having to admit that they have addressed the issue in a far too one-dimensional manner. For globalization also has a major impact on values and lifestyles. This causes anxiety. Precisely in times like this, politics – and I don’t just mean governments – cannot afford a lack of leadership. Politics has to keep on explaining difficult concepts, but it also has to take action once a problem has been diagnosed. We must not become a “rien ne va plus” republic.

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Do you feel much constrained by the limits of your office?

Even in Helmut Kohl’s day, it was said that the role of Foreign Minister had become less important. And even at the time, this was refuted by Hans-Dietrich Genscher and the role he played in German reunification. Foreign policy is in my opinion more than what hits the headlines at home. Foreign policy is hard work, above all behind the scenes. For example, persuading Serbia to change its policy on Kosovo was an important success, achieved in cooperation with the British Foreign Secretary. This was reported far too little in the German media, but was nonetheless of great significance for stability and peace in Europe. We must not forget that it is only eleven years since the country was ravaged by war.

But as Foreign Minister you are often caught between two fronts …

if it were only two!

Heads of Government have a tendency to try to hold all the reins in their own hands.Indeed, the Chancellor often steals your show.

Successful foreign policy is not a show. Foreign policy is not about the limelight, but about having a lasting impact. You can be the star of your own show if you turn up in a different crisis region each week, with cameras blazing, instead of talking patiently to all the stakeholders away from the public eye, working out what concrete help is needed, or if you take unilateral action instead of working as part of the international community. That would however be the wrong path for our country.

Tomorrow the UN General Assembly decides whether Germany will be elected to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council once again.You are presumably optimistic about the outcome.Would such a seat help us push UN reform forward, after all this time?

It’s a close race, for both Canada and Portugal are strong contenders. However we’re confident, because we’ve campaigned on our own strengths. Germany is famous around the world for its reliability, its commitment to peace and development, and for its multilateral approach. As the third-largest financial contributor to the United Nations we are ready to assume responsibility. The non-permanent seat must however be considered a separate issue from the fundamental reform of the Security Council. Not long ago, I met in New York with the Foreign Ministers of Brazil, India and Japan, who also consider such a reform to be necessary. It is indeed plain to see that the Security Council does not currently reflect the relevant weights of various regions – continents such as Latin America and Africa are underrepresented. This requires long-term action.

Next week you will attend the NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting, to prepare for the Lisbon Summit in November.What are Germany’s prime interests in the Alliance’s new strategy?And why is the NATO Secretary General’s draft so hush-hush?

It isn’t hush-hush, it’s a first draft. It is normal for security issues to be discussed confidentially at first. We have three main interests. Firstly, we want NATO to consider itself not just a military alliance, but also as a political community with shared values. Secondly, we want strategic cooperation between the Alliance and Russia. And thirdly, we want a clear connection to be made between international security and disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. We want to make sure that the window of opportunity that emerged in the past months remains open. Disarmament is no less vital for humanity than climate protection. The more states there are with nuclear arsenals, the greater the danger that terrorists will be able to get their hands on nuclear weapons.

You talk of “security and disarmament”.Does that mean that in Lisbon Germany will make its participation in the missile defence programme dependent on the adoption of a clear aim of reducing the number of nuclear weapons?

I’m not going to name conditions for our NATO partners in your newspaper! All I will say is that Secretary General Rasmussen’s draft is a good basis for discussion. At international level we’re progressing step by step on disarmament, too.

So you’ve come to terms with the idea of missile defence?

We have come a long way on this issue. Instead of having the US seeking isolated cooperation with individual European partners, which would have offended Russia and created zones of differing security in Europe, we are now talking about a programme that is integrated into NATO’s common security structures and where Russian involvement is explicitly sought. That makes all the difference.

The West has said that 2010 will be a decisive year in Afghanistan.Do you think progress is being made in the Hindu Kush?

There is some good news, but there are still a great many problems. A realistic assessment has to be a nuanced one. That is why, when I had not long been in office, I gave the mission a more honest classification, calling it a non-international armed conflict. We likewise need realistic goals. Our key aims are to safeguard basic human rights standards and to ensure that no terrorist threat emanates from Afghanistan. The Federal Government has for the first time produced a comprehensive Afghanistan strategy that links military security and reconstruction with a political solution and supports reconciliation and reintegration. There can be no military solution in Afghanistan, only a political one. Our aim is to transfer responsibility to Afghan ownership as a pre-condition for any exit strategy. We hope to make a start on this in 2011; by 2014 security responsibility should be entirely in Afghan hands. Of course, our engagement will continue.

Success in Afghanistan is of course dependent in part on developments in Pakistan. Some of the country’s security forces are accused of supporting the Taliban.Following the devastating floods, the West is currently sending millions of euros to Pakistan. Can it force Islamabad to cooperate?

No conditions are attached to the emergency humanitarian assistance for the flood victims. It is an expression of solidarity for fellow human beings. In addition to reconstruction and trade facilitations to help the Pakistan economy get back on its feet, the key issue is internal reform. At the end of the week the Friends of Pakistan group will meet in Brussels. We will assure Pakistan of our support, but will urge it to follow a rigorous course of reform.

The conversation with Guido Westerwelle was conducted by Peter Carstens, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger und Majid Sattar. Printed in the FAZ on 11 October 2010

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