Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in the German Bundestag on the extension of the Atalanta mission off the coast of Somalia

23.11.2011 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, Members of this House,

Atalanta’s fight against piracy off the Horn of Africa has not only been broadly supported in this House, it has also been successful.

Since Atalanta began nearly three years ago, we have been able to protect over 120 World Food Programme shipments and those ships were able to reach their destinations in Somalia safely. More than 700,000 tonnes of food and other important aid supplies have been brought to Somalia this way. According to the United Nations, a total of four million people are dependent on this aid. This makes the situation in Somalia one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises.

Almost all of the humanitarian aid provided through the World Food Programme and other relief organizations is brought in by ship. That this aid really reaches the people is an enormous success for Atalanta. I would therefore first and foremost like to sincerely thank the men and women of the Bundeswehr and the other non-uniformed German citizens involved in this project. I think that anyone who has seen the images and knows a little about the situation there, can see that this is truly a humanitarian task. Our common humanity requires that we protect aid shipments from pirates. Truly, if they consider the matter and follow their hearts, all Members of this House will approve this mandate.

Atalanta is successful. But I want to add that the fight against piracy off the Horn of Africa has certainly not achieved its ultimate goal. Ten ships and around 240 people are still in the hands of pirates. World Food Programme ships and trading vessels are still threatened by pirates. As a result of more robust action within the framework of Atalanta and the implementation of self-protection measures in civilian shipping, more and more attacks can indeed be repelled. However, the number of pirate attacks on ships remains high. The threat posed by pirates in Somali and neighbouring waters has not yet been eliminated.

We all know about the difficult situation in Somalia. We all know about the people’s suffering. But to simply conclude that this excuses or explains piracy is a grave mistake in my opinion. We should not ignore the aspect of organized crime behind this piracy and we certainly should not trivialize it.

We agree that many things must be done there at the same time, because the situation remains extremely fragile and continues to be jeopardized by organized crime. Somalia is far from being able to assume responsibility for effectively combating piracy off its coast. This will undoubtedly have to remain the task of the international community for the time being.

On behalf of the Federal Government I thus ask you to approve the extension of German participation in EU led Operation Atalanta. Atalanta acts on behalf of the United Nations and at the request of the Somali Transitional Government. On 7 December 2010 the Council of the European Union decided to extend Atalanta until 12 December 2012. That means what we are doing is not only covered by international law, but also embedded in European and international contexts.

The freedom of the seas and security of sea routes are of particular importance strategically. It would be a mistake to ignore that. It would also stand international law on its head. Ladies and gentlemen, Europe profits more than any other continent from the free flow of global trade: the most important trading route between Europe, the Arabian peninsula, and Asia runs through the area off Somalia, above all through the Gulf of Aden. Keeping this route open is an important international security task and is in Germany’s inherent interest. I cannot see anything bad about protecting the ships of the international community, or our own ships. That is our right. I even believe it is our duty to protect our ships and their crews.

Within Atalanta, Germany is among the leading contributors and currently provides the commander of the forces in the theatre of operation. That fulfils our responsibilities to our partners, also those in the European Union.

Of course, we are supporting the anti-piracy measures at sea by fighting the causes of piracy on land and by assisting in rebuilding the Somali state. We provide humanitarian aid to ease the suffering experienced directly by millions of people.

We are helping create a secure environment by participating in the European Training Mission Somalia, which to date has trained around 2000 soldiers of the Somali Transitional Government. We support training for African police officers, who are subsequently deployed as instructors and advisers to the Somali police force. We are participating in European Union efforts to build up regional coast guards together with African partners. Their tasks will also include protection of water and fishing. We have made available considerable funds to help finance the African Union Mission in Somalia. We are supporting the constitutional process in Somalia through legal consulting provided by the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law. We are helping the United Nations expand rule of law capacities in the countries of the region. Atalanta is one of a number of measures with the common goal of stabilizing the fragile Horn of Africa region. The aim is to create conditions necessary to improve the lives of ordinary people and to make sustainable development possible in Somalia. You can see, then, that we are seriously and energetically tackling both the civil and development policy aspects of the stabilization process. At the moment, however, military protection is also necessary. Taken together, it all makes sense. It is a convincing course of action.

I ask the Bundestag, as it has previously done, to support this mandate in large numbers.

Today we unfortunately learned that two more soldiers have been injured in Afghanistan. We should never cease to show our thanks to those we have all personally visited, who are risking their bodies and souls, their entire person, so that we can live in security here and help others who would otherwise suffer a horrible fate.

Thank you very much.

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