“We put our money on isolating Gaddafi internationally” (interview)

23.08.2011 - Interview

Foreign Minister Westerwelle talks to Deutschlandfunk about Germany’s role in Libya. Broadcast on 23 August 2011

Minister, British Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that his country could be proud to have played their part in bringing about Gaddafi’s downfall. Would you like to be able to say the same?

Well we have done our bit in the way we chose, namely through political measures, to help smooth Libya’s road towards democracy. We in Germany did not take part in the war by sending troops to Libya – which was the right decision. We put our money instead on isolating the regime internationally, on imposing political and economic sanctions, and that policy seems to have been successful. It has not only isolated the Gaddafi regime, but has also cut off its supplies.

Minister, what brings you to the conclusion that the decisive blow in bringing down Gaddafi was the sanctions policy rather than the military action?

You and I have both been seeing how the news has been swinging first one way and then the other throughout the last few months, and indeed throughout the day today, so I would recommend that we keep a sensible distance. As I said yesterday, we need to realize that what has been happening in Libya isn’t over yet. Our goal, after all, is for democracy to take root in Libya, and when the National Transitional Council declared its support for democracy, freedom and the development of a multifaceted civil society, that’s when we declared our support for the NTC and recognized it as a partner for dialogue. Representatives of the NTC and of Germany signed an agreement in Benghazi yesterday in which we make available a 100-million-euro loan for humanitarian and civilian purposes. After all, what is important is that humanitarian and civilian work can carry on effectively.

But if I may return to my question, Minister, the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper today describes the German Government as surfing on the wave of a victory that others have brought about. Does that smart?

Certainly not.

Why not?

... because, like the majority of EU members and indeed the majority of NATO member states, I am convinced that there are many different ways of supporting democracy and the development of greater freedom – and the majority of EU member states, like the majority of NATO member states and indeed ourselves, did not take part in the military operation in Libya. From the very beginning, we had our money on solving things politically, and let’s not forget that Germany was very early, earlier than many other countries, to declare its opposition to Gaddafi’s totalitarian regime. What we need to do now is to look forwards; our absolute priority is to support the people in the process of reconstruction. After all, Germany stands out on the world stage particularly for our expertise in economic development, and Libya’s economic reconstruction will need to get underway quickly. That will be a crucial factor in establishing lasting democratic structures. We have set up transformation partnerships in the region with the countries which are heading towards democracy, with Tunisia and Egypt, and if things keep moving in the right direction in Libya, then Libya will of course also get support from Germany.

Nonetheless, now that the Gaddafi regime is nearing the end, is it already possible to quantify what collateral damage may have been done to our position within NATO by Germany’s refusal to get involved militarily?

I don’t see any such damage at all. Germany is very committedly involved in NATO: more than 5000 of our soldiers are deployed in the international mission in Afghanistan, and German troops are doing their bit in many other places in the world as well, where they really undertake courageous missions. Germany doesn’t need to take part in every single war to make it acceptable to the rest of NATO.

Minister, you said earlier that what was happening in Libya wasn’t yet over. What danger is there, in your opinion, of Libya descending into something like tribal anarchy?

That is one of the really important questions which need attention. It is disconcerting that Saif Al Islam was able to show himself at large on the streets last night. After all, he is wanted by the International Criminal Court, and we are counting on him, and the dictator Gaddafi himself, being handed over to it. That is important in part because Libya’s future will only be a positive one if all parts of Libyan society are integrated. Libya is a tribal society, a fact which is often overlooked here. It is a huge country with a society made up of many tribes, around 140 of them throughout Libya including 30 which could be described as significant and politically highly relevant. They are very different from one another, as I myself saw again during the talks I held in Benghazi. That is why it is important to integrate everyone; it is important to construct Libya’s future in such a way as to make everyone a part of the society as it moves towards a future in democracy and peace in Libya.

Since, as you say, developments in Libya will continue to unfold, might it become necessary to send German troops into post-Gaddafi Libya?

I think, first off, that it’s a little early to talk about that sort of thing. I also have my doubts about the whole idea, as the issue now is not whether we will decide to station troops in Libya, from whatever country. The issue now is that the people of Libya need to decide their own future. After all, it will be a triumph primarily for the Libyan people if everything turns out the way we all hope it will. If the whole of Libya’s society has its part in forming the country’s future, if all the tribes, all the diverse elements, have their part – only then can this victory be really stable and lasting and prevent the country descending into terrorist conflict. That means Libya will need reconciliation and reintegration, and that is what we have tied our colours to. We want to support Libya. That means political support in, for example, developing a party system and an independent judiciary and enabling free and fair elections. It also means economic support, as it is time that Libya – which is a very rich country – actually enjoyed the advantages of its own wealth. And it means humanitarian support: let us not forget the many, many people, unbelievable numbers of people, who have been killed or injured in the course of this military conflict.

What would you do, what would the German Government do, if the United Nations requested German troops to be deployed to Libya?

I shan’t speculate on that. I had a telephone conference with my fellow Foreign Ministers yesterday, with Hillary Clinton and our opposite numbers in France, the UK, Italy and other states which are particularly involved in the Contact Group on Libya – and we have clear priorities. The priority is that the Libyan people need first off to decide their own future. And then, as we really should bear in mind, what is needed here is above all the United Nations. There is a lot of talk of troops as well as a lot of talk about NATO, a Western military alliance – and we are ourselves part of NATO and consider it an extremely important alliance. However, the political organizations – especially the UN – are in a position of particular responsibility here, a position we acknowledge. That is why I welcome Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling a first summit for this week already – because the United Nations have legitimate authority, not just in the West but also in the countries of the region which are part of the Arab League and the African Union, and we are talking, after all, about an African country south of the Mediterranean.

Minister, you just highlighted Germany’s willingness to assist reconstruction in Libya. Since Germany wasn’t involved in the military operation, do we need to assume that Germany will be expected to do especially much now? Are we going to be footing a substantial bill?

No. Remember that Libya is a very rich country. Even just the accounts that were frozen in Germany as part of our successful sanctions policy come to 7.3 billion euro, and it is my aim, shared by the Foreign Ministers I spoke to in yesterday’s telephone conference, that these frozen billions – frozen internationally by sanctions which were right and successful – be used to benefit the Libyan people as swiftly as possible. To be honest, I don’t think funding is the major issue. The short-term goal has to be for the National Transitional Council to be able to perform its humanitarian and civilian function. That is why we yesterday signed the loan agreement that I had discussed with the NTC in Benghazi some time before. Now though, the main thing is to free up the frozen assets to give the Libyan people an economically sound future – since they need to be able to live normal lives again after these long months of war.

I have been speaking to Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle this morning, on Deutschlandfunk. Minister, thank you very much for joining us, and good-bye.

Thank you! Good-bye.

The interviewer was Peter Kapern. Reproduced by kind permission of Deutschlandfunk

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