Foreign Minister Westerwelle in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag on terrorism, as well as the situation in Afghanistan and Libya

09.05.2011 - Interview

Bild am Sonntag: When and how did you as German Foreign Minister learn that USspecial forces had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan?

Foreign Minister Westerwelle: Just a few minutes after President Obama’s speech to the nation was announced, a friend of mine in the US sent me a text message.

What was your first, spontaneous reaction?

When the news that Osama bin Laden couldn’t continue his bloody deeds was confirmed, I felt relieved. I share this feeling not only with many people in the West, but also in the Muslim world. For al-Qaida has many more people of the Muslim faith on its conscience than it has Christians.

Chancellor Merkel said she was pleased that the world’s most wanted terrorist had been killed and was strongly criticized for that. Was it right to criticize her?

I find the debate in Germanyirritating. One of the most brutal murderers has been stopped from plying his murderous trade and we’re having a discussion on what words can be used to comment on this. The fact that Osama bin Laden cannot continue murdering is good news for all of us.

Is it hypocritical to say it’s not right to be pleased about the death of a mass murderer like bin Laden?

I don’t intend entering into a discussion here about one single word. We now have an opportunity to open a new chapter in relations between religions and cultures. We should seize this opportunity! I’m pleased that the vast majority of young Muslims aren’t looking to yesterday’s terrorists for guidance but, rather, are taking to the streets for freedom and a future.

Winston Churchill once said something to the effect that we occasionally have to do unspeakable things to protect democracy. Is the targeted assassination of a dangerous opponent by agents or special commandos one of these unspeakable things?

Our aim has to be to arrest terrorists and criminals and try them in court, whenever possible, for a conviction following a trial conducted in accordance with due process of law is always preferable. But it’s doubtful it would have been possible to read out bin Laden’s rights to him and then arrest him.

We now read that the USfound Osama thanks to the testimony of detainees in Guantanamoor in secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. Is that a belated justification for brutal interrogation methods?

It’s possible we won’t find out which investigations ultimately led to the discovery of bin Laden’s whereabouts for many years to come when the records are released. It’s clear that torture and similar methods are not acceptable to us. The German Government supports President Obama’s critical stand on the Guantanamo prison camp.

Should the photos of Osama’s corpse be published to prevent myths from being created?

I don’t want a terrorist like bin Laden to become a hero posthumously and, what’s more, we have to respect the dignity of any dead person.

Bin Laden was a symbolic figurehead for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Have they now been weakened?

Only time will tell. But we’re not in Afghanistan because we wanted to find a top terrorist. We’re in Afghanistan because until very recently terrorist attacks, also against us Europeans, were prepared in al-Qaida training camps there.

Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi is a mass murderer, just like bin Laden. Would it be legitimate for NATO to kill him?

The Gaddafi case has been referred to the International Criminal Court by the UN. The prosecutor will make a decision on whether to issue a warrant for arrest soon. That’s the right way forward.

Some of your reservations about the Libyamission have now proved to be right. Nevertheless, no-one on the international stage is admitting that the Germans and their Foreign Minister were right. How much does that grieve you?

What matters is that the suffering in Libya is brought to an end! Colonel Gaddafi is responsible for the violence. The fact that the Chancellor and I have been calling for a political solution doesn’t mean we’re neutral. Rather, we began advocating robust sanctions against Colonel Gaddafi very early on. It took too long to reach the decision on sanctions, including an oil embargo. It’s good that in the case of Syria, the EU has now taken the decision to impose sanctions very much quicker. We urged this course of action.

If there was another Security Council vote today, would you still abstain?

That was the most difficult decision during my term of office to date. I’m still convinced we made the right decision. At the same time, I’ve always regarded the motives of those partners who launched a military intervention as honourable. Irrespective of developments in Libya, I believe the deployment of military force should always be regarded as a last resort. Although we can argue about when the point for this last resort has come in each individual concrete case, I believe the claim that political solutions take longer and are less effective than military operations is wrong. The primacy of politics is of utmost importance. I as Foreign Minister will therefore continue to press for the continuation of the culture of military restraint, even if I’m criticized for it.

Is this focus on peace part of the reason you are renouncing the leadership of your party but remaining in office as Foreign Minister?

I’ve long since been a firm believer in the culture of military restraint, for German foreign policy is peace policy. My second political tenet is my firm commitment to Europe, not least because Europe is guaranteeing our prosperity in the age of globalization. The compass which guides my actions is anchored in the preamble of the Basic Law. There it says that we are determined to promote world peace in a united Europe. Europe and a strong euro are good for Germany and for jobs in our country.


The questions were put by Michael Backhaus, Martin S. Lambeck und Walter Mayer.

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