Stepping up the political pressure on Gaddafi’s regime“

17.03.2011 - Interview

Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in an interview with Deutschlandfunk on the current situation in Libya (17 March 2011)


On the phone we have Guido Westerwelle, the Federal Foreign Minister and FDP leader.

Good morning!

Good morning, Mr Heinemann.

Mr Westerwelle, Gaddafi has commended Germany for its restraint.How embarrassing will it be when he expressly thanks the German Government for its hesitation after he’s regained control of Benghazi?

I don’t want to comment on the muddled pronouncements of the Libyan dictator. I prefer to talk about the matter in hand. We oppose the Gaddafi regime and we’re convinced that we have to take rigorous action against him and the ruling family, including targeted sanctions. Indeed, we have to take the matter to the International Criminal Court. However, the question is whether we should take Germany into a war in Libya, even one in which the international community has decided to intervene, and I spoke out against that. I don’t want German soldiers to be drawn into a Libyan war and I won’t play any part in getting German soldiers involved in a war in Libya. We should have learned from recent history that this isn’t the solution. First and foremost, the countries in the region, the Arab states, the neighbouring states in the Arab League, have to shoulder responsibility here.

Mr Westerwelle, I’d like to play to you the first two sentences of the latest report by our Middle East correspondent, Uwe Lueb:

Uwe Lueb: Libya’s ruler Gaddafi is possibly planning air strikes against positions in Benghazi in north-east Libya.Inhabitants of the city have been told to leave the rebels’ positions and their weapons arsenals by midnight local time.

That could have been prevented with a no-fly zone; you, among others, could have done something.

A no-fly zone constitutes military intervention, for a no-fly zone is not like putting up a traffic sign. Rather it’s a military intervention – it involves disabling ground troops, anti-aircraft sites – and I don’t see the German air force dropping bombs on Libyan anti-aircraft sites. I feel we as Germans are right to increase the political pressure on Gaddafi’s regime. I’m convinced this has to be done in cooperation with our partners in the United Nations. That’s our aim in these discussions. It’s also important that countries in the region, the Arab states, which, after all, have their own armies, live up to their responsibility. However, calling for military intervention now is a knee-jerk reaction, a rash impulse. But I don’t believe we should give in these calls. We have to act intelligently, and cautiously. I can’t see any German soldiers going into Libya and I want to protect our country by making sure it doesn’t happen.

But a madman’s not interested in political pressure.

But what if a no-fly zone, in other words military intervention from the air, isn’t successful, if the ground troops continue to advance? Will we then send ground troops to Libya, as happened in Iraq? I want to protect Germany from starting down this slippery slope.

Gaddafi will massacre his opponents if he gets hold of them.I think we can say that in all certainty.So the message for these courageous people is that anyone who relies on the German Government is lost.

I don’t think it’s right to make such an accusation. I believe we should first of all take a serious look at the initiatives put forward by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He, too, has called for a ceasefire and is working towards this goal. That’s why the United Nations is convening at present. But I want to ask a question: are you suggesting to me that German soldiers intervene in Libya? – I don’t want that! Nor will I support it. I don’t want to play any part in a military intervention by German troops in Libya, and that’s why I’m speaking out against it. The countries in the Arab region have a responsibility here. Libya has many neighbours and the Arab League must live up to its responsibility. I don’t want Germany to become involved in a war in Libya, a protracted civil war. We Germans also have to remember that we can’t send our soldiers to wherever wrongs are being committed, although, of course, we are willing to play a role in coordinated international efforts to address these wrongs.

There are other opinions in Europe.If we’d taken military action last week to neutralize some runways and a few dozen of Gaddafi’s aircraft, then perhaps the tide wouldn’t have turned against the opposition in Libya.That’s in the past.France wants to intervene but many of its partners were much more hesitant.That’s what your French counterpart Alain Juppé said.Let’s listen to the French Foreign Minister:

[Recording of Alain Juppé]

Do you think this criticism was directed at you?

No, for of course we spoke about this and you rightly said when introducing the remarks by my French opposite number – whom I’ll be meeting in Berlin this afternoon – “perhaps”, and this “perhaps” is crucial. What if the air strikes weren’t successful, and if the ground troops were to continue advancing? Will we then – as in the Iraq war – also send in ground troops? Are we then part of a coalition of the willing? I feel the same way as you do when I see these images. Every feeling individual is shocked and we ask ourselves how we can step up the international pressure. And that’s what we’re working on. The alternative to Germany’s military intervention in Libya is not inaction but, rather, our active involvement in the international community. The alternative is sanctions, the targeted sanctions which we adopted. I don’t want Germany to be drawn into a war and I believe that’s a responsible stance, even though we are naturally concerned and shocked when we see the images of Gaddafi and his troops. On the other hand, I also have to point out that we’re all focusing on Libya at the moment. Which country will be next? Will we also have to send German troops to Yemen? And what about Bahrain? What if the situation in Côte d’Ivoire escalates further? I would ask everyone to always remember at such times when we are concerned, when we see such images, that we Germans cannot intervene all over the world wherever there is oppression.

Let’s talk about Bahrain.Demonstrators are being mown down there by Saudi troops.The West took action when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait.Is Europe guilty of double standards?

In my policy statement to the German Bundestag yesterday, I spelled out the German Government’s stance in clear terms. This also seems to be the stance of the American President, in so far as we learned anything from his talks with the Bahraini royal family. We view the escalation with very great concern. The origin of this conflict is the tension between the Shiite majority and the Sunni ruling family. It’s an internal conflict and it must therefore be resolved internally and not with international troops. All sides should therefore exercise the greatest possible restraint, and that applies in particular to Bahrain’s neighbours.

Mr Westerwelle, I don’t want to imply that you personally are in any way close to the Arab despots. However, isn’t Germany’s foreign policy helping to prolong their rule?

No, for we’re working within the international community to increase the pressure, to ensure targeted sanctions are imposed. I find it absolutely unacceptable that we still hear of money flowing into the Gaddafi system. Something has to be done about that, too. That’s my appeal to those partners who are currently talking about military intervention. Let me say once more that if there were to be a military intervention from the air – and if, as in the case of the Iraq war, that didn’t work – then the next step against the dictator would be to send in troops. I don’t want German troops to become involved in a war in Libya. I won’t play any part in that. This is a difficult, a very difficult, decision but if we intervene in Libya then there are a number of other countries which would present us with the same dilemma. And, moreover, I also have to think of the consequences for the peace and freedom movements throughout North Africa. What I mean is that I don’t want these movements to fail. I don’t want a weakened democracy movement from Morocco to Egypt to ultimately be all that remains of a democracy movement which we want to strengthen.


Interview: Christoph Heinemann.Reproduced with the kind permission of Deutschlandfunk

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