“The culture of military restraint is now more relevant than ever”

30.03.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks about the conflict over the Iranian nuclear programme and the risks of military approaches to conflict resolution, and discusses German engagement in Afghanistan. This interview appeared in the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung on 30 March 2012.


Mr Westerwelle, how concerned are you that the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme will escalate?

I’m deeply concerned that the Iranian nuclear programme could lead to military escalation. And the seriousness of my concern makes our efforts all the greater when it comes to preventing war and making a political, diplomatic solution possible.

But hasn’t diplomacy had its chance? Hasn’t it been having a go for years?

In hindsight the sanctions policy should have started significantly earlier and more decisively. But now we’ve strengthened the sanctions and they’re starting to have an effect. Negotiations will resume in April.

It is the creed of the German Government that Israel’s security is one of our fundamental principles as a state.Does this extend to standing beside Israelmilitarily when circumstances demand it?

This statement is so clear and unambiguous that there is no need to interpret it.

I’ll ask you again: if necessary will we also act militarily?

As long as I’m the foreign minister the top priority of German foreign policy is clear: preventing war and making political and diplomatic solutions possible. In the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme we’re focusing on the combination of sanctions and willingness to engage in substantive negotiations.

But the “culture of restraint” is an old-fashioned idea from the time of Foreign Minister Genscher.Haven’t we become somewhat more assertive since then?

The culture of military restraint is now more relevant than ever. What troubles me is this new bellicose stance which gives the impression that military intervention is quicker and more effective, and can be carried off “surgically”, that is, without civilian casualties.

Do you think this new bellicosity is present in Germanytoo?

There is a strain of new bellicosity in the German debate. I would have found some of the current commentary on the responsibility to protect civilians unimaginable just five years ago – however well intentioned these comments may be.

The Bundeswehr has now been in Afghanistanfor ten years.How would you evaluate our achievements?

Our expectations were too high for too long. To put it in a nutshell: we can’t wait until Afghanistan has turned into some sort of Central Asian Switzerland to bring our troops home. The drawdown of combat forces from Afghanistan was started during my time in office. There will be no military solution in Afghanistan, only a political one. In Afghanistan too it would have been better to shift our focus to political solutions earlier.

President Karzai has now said he wants the occupiers gone sooner rather than later.Will we have left by 2014?

President Karzai was speaking above all of the need to transfer responsibility for security to the Afghans faster in rural areas. I agree with him. I anticipate that by the end of this spring we’ll see more than half of Afghanistan’s territory in the jurisdiction of the Afghan security services.

Interviewer: Winfried Dolderer. Reproduced by kind permission of the WAZ.

Related content


Top of page