Interview with Ambassador Peter Wittig, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations, on Germany’s membership of the United Nations Security Council (Deutschlandfunk)

30.12.2010 - Interview

Mr Wittig, it’s not just Germany that’s becoming a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council on 1 January, but also, for example, India. Your Indian colleague has said that he “never wants to leave” the Security Council. Is that your intention too?

No, we are concentrating primarily on the tasks facing us as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. There’s enough to do with that. Of course reform of the Security Council is an important matter, and one to which we are committed, but what we are focusing on now is the two years we will be spending as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

But if you do a good job then obviously it would be a good advert for Germany and a boost for Germany’s hope of obtaining a permanent seat on the Security Council.

Of course it’s true that all eyes will be on us as a non-permanent member – but that’s also true for India, Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa. They are heavyweights on the Security Council and everyone here will be observing them closely. And no doubt particular attention will be paid to us, so that’s why we will be doing our utmost to meet all the expectations.

This year you sought the attention of many UN members, by presenting them with gifts like pens and chocolates. You even visited ambassadors who come from and represent undemocratic states. Was this a case of the end justifying the means?

We campaigned for election to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. It was a tremendous challenge, it wasn’t something we could take for granted. We were very successful and were elected in the very first round of voting with more than a two-thirds majority. This result was a huge demonstration of confidence, and we earned it with our campaign that focused on the important issues. The member states wanted to see us on the Security Council as a strong European country, a major contributor, an opinion-leader on climate and development policy – that’s what did the trick. Within the United Nations we are regarded as a medium-sized power seeking to ensure balance, and that’s why people wanted to see us on the Security Council.

Development policy – an important buzzword. Would it not have been even easier for you to achieve your goal if the Federal Government had increased rather than cut the budget for development cooperation?

In absolute terms Germany is the third-largest contributor to international development policy. That really is a remarkable contribution, and it is appreciated here. We are regarded here as a big contributor, and that’s one of the reasons why we deserved this seat on the Security Council.

The Federal Government would much prefer the European Union to be represented on the Security Council. Can you put this double strategy – one seat for Germany, but also one for the European Union – across in New York?

We are interested in a European perspective in the United Nations, and we are working on it, but a seat on the Security Council for the EU is more of a long-term prospect. It’s not a concrete option right now. It would need an absolutely harmonious and harmonized European common foreign and security policy, and for that you would need all 27 EU member states to be committed to seeking a Security Council seat for the EU, and that’s just not on the agenda at the moment. It’s a long-term prospect, but not a concrete issue today.

Britain and France would certainly have something against it, because they are already permanent members of the Security Council. Is that what you’re getting at?

Britain and France are permanent members of the Security Council with whom we have close relations. We coordinate with them on a daily basis. It’s true that they do have special privileges as permanent members, but then they also have special obligations.

This is Deutschlandfunk, talking to Ambassador Peter Wittig, who will be representing Germany on the UN Security Council from next year. Germany’s membership of the Council is limited to two years. Mr Wittig, how important are Bundeswehr deployments in peacekeeping missions, if Germany is to have a bearing in the world?

It is part of our job even now to make a contribution to ongoing crisis management operations, especially here in New York. Let me say something here about the tasks ahead of us. Here in the Security Council it is a matter of helping to overcome the crises that are on the agenda – and that is virtually every crisis in the world – and of making a German contribution. Above all, it is a matter of using our diplomatic and political influence. The Federal Foreign Office has an excellent global network of missions abroad, so that we can make effective use of our political and diplomatic voice on the spot.

But isn’t the UN Security Council overestimated? Many international political crises are resolved in ad hoc or tried-and-tested working groups – think of Iran or North Korea. These are the fora where the negotiations are really carried out, not so much the UN Security Council.

No, you’re wrong: intense negotiations are carried out in the Security Council. Here there is one focal point – the core of the Security Council’s activity – and that is crisis management. But it is also a matter of the Security Council looking beyond current crises. That too is in our interest; we want a forward-looking Security Council which seeks to prevent conflicts, which doesn’t just wait to react until it gets reports of deaths and injuries. And that is why one of our aims in the next two years is to get overarching security challenges firmly established on the Security Council’s agenda.

Let me name just a few of these challenges: climate change and security, for example, is an important issue for the future. The subject of nuclear non-proliferation, the prevention of the spread of weapons of mass destruction altogether, is a cross-sectoral task which will be a particular focus for us. And I’d like to mention a very important humanitarian issue: children in armed conflicts, child soldiers. This, too, will be a focal point. So we are aiming not merely at conflict management, but at forward-looking crisis prevention. That is our objective on the Security Council.

But for that the United Nations must be efficiently organized, so that it can act rapidly and effectively, so for our last question we return to the issue of reform: could it at some point be too late, and would the UN then lose influence, if reforms are not implemented?

We are interested in reform of the United Nations; we are interested in making the Security Council more representative and more effective; we are not interested in weakening the Security Council. That is why we want all the major regions – Latin America, Africa, Asia – and the major contributors to have their due place on the Security Council. And we are one of those contributors.

The interview was conducted by Gerwald Herter.

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