Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to the German Bundestag on the extension of German involvement in Operation ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina

10.11.2011 - Speech

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

Germany’s interest in stabilizing Bosnia and Herzegovina is unabated. Our goal remains a peaceful, democratic Bosnia and Herzegovina based on the rule of law and capable of successfully and independently pursuing the path towards integration in the EU.

While wanting to give a cautious and restrained assessment, we can today say that the operation is at present fulfilling its mandate in ensuring military security. The security situation is stable. That shows how much we have achieved. Bearing in mind that our debates in this House are very often controversial – witness the passion and almost breathless excitement of the speakers just now – it is important to point out that this House has for many, many years been very much in agreement here. I think I speak for everyone here today when I thank the men and women of the Bundeswehr who are doing such a responsible job in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But the European Union’s military engagement is still necessary. In particular, even more will have to be done to further enhance the skills and professionalism of the Bosnian armed forces. The EU External Relations Council therefore decided on 10 October that Operation ALTHEA, whose mandate is our concern today, should in future focus on training. Our Bundeswehr is participating in this training and provides personnel at Headquarters in Sarajevo. Apart from that, there are no other German soldiers still on operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Which means we have succeeded in doing what I said we hoped to do when I last introduced the mandate a year ago.

Last year, we cut the personnel ceiling from 2400 to 900 soldiers. Now we can reduce it again, from 900 to 800. Measured against the number of soldiers actually on the ground, the ceiling remains high, because a battalion is currently in reserve for the operation. Germany is providing the majority of this battalion, which can be deployed at very short notice if the situation worsens. Regrettably, events in Kosovo have shown just how important such a precaution is; even if developments are generally very gratifying, we are nonetheless well aware that the imponderables are far from overcome. So we must continue cautiously and responsibly along this route.

The Bundeswehr also has a large number of personnel at the ready who can be seconded to the operation to provide temporary logistical or technical support. These two factors explain the mandate ceiling; both are an expression of our continuing engagement and of our solidarity with our partners.

On behalf of the Federal Government I ask for your approval for the continuation of the participation of German armed forces in the EU led Operation ALTHEA to further stabilize the peace process in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The basis for the deployment of German armed forces in Operation ALTHEA is provided by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1575 dating from 2004 and its follow up resolutions; it therefore has a clear foundation in international law.

I think there are many people who no longer remember why the operation was launched, why the engagement was necessary at all. Anyone who can remember the 1990s, who can remember what happened in our immediate vicinity, will conclude that there have also been very successful peacekeeping missions by the men and women of the Bundeswehr. Even if one always has to look at everything critically – that is the prime civic duty in a democracy – then one can, I think, nevertheless say this: it is certainly a very impressive success story. The fact that we Germans helped to bring about peace and stability brings honour to our country.

Let me conclude. The stable security situation is one thing; but the domestic situation remains risky. The elections were held almost a year ago, but still there is no new government at all state level. I cannot ignore this, because that too is of course one aspect of a comprehensive consideration of the situation.

This paralysis in the country is preventing the start of the reforms the country urgently needs as it makes its way towards Europe. This political stagnation definitely has to be ended.

The Federal Government makes this clear over and over again in all its talks with those responsible. We are offering a prospect of Europe. We know that the process of moving closer to the European Union can unleash positive energies in the country. But we expect the necessary steps to be taken there.

The reforms needed to bring Bosnia and Herzegovina closer to the EU must be the absolute priority. Individual ethnic interests must take a back seat.

The EU should be the central player in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So it is good that the function of the High Representative has been separated from that of the EU Special Representative. The assumption of office of the new independent EU Special Representative is an expression of the international community’s new set up in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This too shows that we have made some progress.

It remains the Federal Government’s aim in the medium term to develop ALTHEA into a non executive advisory and support mission. To this end we need even more coordination with our partners. Until we reach that stage, we remain committed to this mandate: we are loyal to our partners, we are reliable, and we are aware of our responsibility to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On behalf of the Federal Government, I therefore request your approval of this mandate.

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