published in the 15 March 2011 edition of the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel
15 March marks the 60th anniversary of the re-establishment of the Federal Foreign Office after the war. In 1951, the Federal Government had a limited scope for action; it was operating within an amended Occupation Statute. Nonetheless, the newly formed Ministry was from the outset unmistakeably the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The Basic Law provided the direction and goals of German foreign policy. It called upon the German people to achieve the unity and freedom of Germany in free self-determination and to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe. It committed all state authority to respect for and protection of human rights, it gave international law primacy over national law, and it banned all preparation for a war of aggression.
The Basic Law thus made a clear break with the ultimately disastrous German past, with the politics of foregoing alliances, with the policy seesawing of a nation-state forever preoccupied with its own sovereignty.
From the very outset, the foreign policy of the young Federal Republic sought security through integration with the West. This firm anchoring in the West created the basis for the new Ostpolitik of the Brandt-Scheel administration. The Ostverträge (eastern treaties) and the regulation of inter-German relations through the Basic Treaty with the GDR made it possible for us to assume full membership in the United Nations and lent further momentum to the policy of détente.
Unlike many others, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher insisted from very early on that Mikhail Gorbachev should be taken at his word. In 1989 the fence on the Austrian-Hungarian border was cut open, and Hans-Dietrich Genscher stood on the balcony of the West German Embassy in Prague to deliver to his fellow Germans from the GDR the message that they were now allowed to travel to the West. The path to ending the division of Germany began to take shape.
Today, after 60 years, we can look back proudly on a major feat of diplomatic rebuilding. It was carried out by multiple generations of German diplomats who devoted themselves to Germany rejoining the civilized international community as a free and democratic state and a reliable partner. Above all, this was a matter of rebuilding trust. Without this trust – the basic currency of diplomacy – German reunification would not have been possible.
We Germans earned the world’s trust not least through our increasing willingness to confront the horrors of our own past – transparently and honestly. “The past as a foreign policy challenge”: this has been and remains an important topic in German diplomacy, and the careful development and expansion of relations with Israel is a part of it. From early on, the Federal Foreign Office helped uncover its own entanglement in the criminal policy of the Nazi regime – for example, through the extensive publication of its files. The controversy surrounding the most recent publication, “The Foreign Office and the Past”, which was commissioned by the Federal Foreign Office and has triggered debate, shall continue and will provide us with a more nuanced view of the past.
Located at the heart of a coalescing Europe, Germany has since its reunification proven itself a guarantor of stability. For the first time in its history, it is surrounded on all sides by friends. Germany has taken on greater political responsibility and, while continuing to hold to our culture of restraint, has also taken on more military responsibility, as seen in Afghanistan and the Balkans.
Strengthening the European Union remains a fundamental principle of German foreign policy. Alongside this – and side by side with our transatlantic partners – our commitment to peace, security and stability provides the basic orientation of our foreign policy. In this context, disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation also play an especially prominent role.
Our goal is a stable international system which offers just and reliable parameters for worldwide cooperation and for the exchange of ideas and goods. The greatest possible freedom, the fair and efficient use of intellectual and material resources and genuine added value for all people are attainable goals. We must, however, also ensure that individual actors do not abuse globalization and do not limit others’ freedom through their newly acquired power. We are committed to the strength of the law as the best way to counter the law of the strongest.
Federal German Foreign Ministers, like Germans on the whole, were initially greeted with caution, and sometimes with mistrust. Today we are a well-regarded partner in Europe and in the world. It thus came as no surprise a few days ago when the results of a worldwide BBC survey showed that Germany had been named the country with the most positive influence on the world for the fourth time in a row. We intend to continue achieving success on the basis of trust, dependability and reliability.