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

10.05.2012 - Speech

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

Seven ships and around 210 sailors are still in the hands of pirates. They fear for their lives and are threatened by death. Pirates are still a threat to freedom of navigation and impede the delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia, which is vital to the survival of millions of starving people. Criminals are still earning millions by capturing ships and taking hostages. In the light of this situation, the German Government does not only consider it its right but also a humanitarian duty to fight piracy robustly and courageously and to protect our own German seafarers.

The concerns you just presented are pretty remarkable given that Atalanta is an EU-led mission. It was launched by the way in 2008. The then Federal Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, presented the first Atalanta mandate in the German Bundestag. Mr Erler, if Mr Steinmeier had been here to listen to your speech, he would have gone out hanging his head in shame.

After all, with all due respect: everyone knows the disputes you had in your parliamentary group. Mr Steinmeier isn’t here because he doesn’t agree with this new decision your parliamentary group has taken. We know that.

It is a story that even made the press.

You maintain this isn’t a signal that the SPD is about to change its strategy on foreign policy. We hope very much you’re right. Time will tell. To my mind, today’s decision has got more to do with election campaigns than with German foreign-policy interests.

Time will tell.

You raised the question of what has changed since the last mandate. That is a legitimate question. We now have a decision by the European Union, what is more a decision by 27 member states, agreed with the Somali Transitional Government and supported by United Nations resolutions. That’s new.

I can recall a debate in which you accused me and the Federal Government of a lack of loyalty to NATO when we decided not to send soldiers to Libya. There is only one thing I learn from you turning your backs on European policy today: Don’t ever remind us again of the need for loyalty, honoured members of the Opposition. Never again!

Vice-President Wolfgang Thierse:

Minister, will you take a question from our colleague Mr Arnold?

Guido Westerwelle:

No. […] – If you’re overcome with grief, then I’ll change my mind. Mr Arnold, your question.

Rainer Arnold (SPD):

Federal Foreign Minister, I’m not actually overcome with grief.

Guido Westerwelle:

Then you don’t need to ask.

Rainer Arnold (SPD):

I want to ask to get clarity and the right information which is very important to me. So thank you for taking this question.

It is striking that, at the end of your speech, you put the focus on international solidarity. Can you still remember that it was this international solidarity that was ignored – and what is more by your party with you as chairman of the parliamentary group – when the decision on Lebanon was being taken, a decision you rejected?

Can you remember that in your new post as Foreign Minister you failed to respect international solidarity in the case of Libya when in the United Nations all was needed was the answer yes, the answer that was simply the right one, also ethically? And finally can you remember that us saying no to your mandate today does not mean there is nothing there. On the contrary, our no today means the previous Atalanta mandate as decided in December will continue. That mandate continues if we vote no today.

Guido Westerwelle:

That is nevertheless a line of argumentation that you are presenting to calm down your own parliamentary group because half of them disagree with you on this question.

That’s not something I need go into.

But I do want to take up one point where you are right. I remember very well that I rejected the UNIFIL mandate as chair of the parliamentary group back then, a mandate concerning a mission off the coast of Lebanon. I also remember the speech I gave because it was a very difficult speech for me. It centred on whether we should be present with German soldiers there, close to Israel, and what it would mean if we as Germans were for example drawn into combat.

There is a difference between us. We rejected it. The then Government took the decision in favour, backed by the vast majority of the then German Bundestag. We were in the minority. When we were then elected to power, it was completely obvious for my parliamentary group and for me as Foreign Minister that the international commitments entered into by the previous Government would be fulfilled and continued by us in a responsible manner. I expect nothing less from you, that is that you respect the international obligations you yourselves entered into in 2008. We expect nothing less from you.

Ladies and gentlemen, the forces are not allowed to engage on the ground. No German, no European Atalanta soldier will set foot on Somali soil. Rescue missions will be allowed as a matter of course.

What sort of horror stories are you telling the public? Surely it is the most obvious thing in the world – we have the axiom of self-defence in every mandate – that we can rescue our soldiers or soldiers of our allies if they have been shot down or had to do an emergency landing. We always do that! That’s what we do everywhere!

And we expect the same from our allies if our German soldiers are in danger. That has absolutely nothing to do with this mandate.

No-one is saying, ladies and gentlemen of the Opposition, that we now have the perfect solution and that piracy has been defeated once and for all. We know – and I’ll come back to this in a minute – that we need to do much more.

But there is one thing we need to mention to our soldiers. They can fight piracy (their weapons and logistics) at sea – there terrorism and violence can be countered – but as soon as the pirates set foot on the beach with their weapons they have to simply watch and are not allowed to do anything. That is absolutely crazy. Making it as difficult as possible for the pirates to resort to the use of arms and violence is the right thing to do.

That’s what it’s all about. And that is what we are doing with our mandate.

Vice-President Wolfgang Thierse:

Minister, will you take another question, this time from Mr Ströbele?

Guido Westerwelle:

Mr Ströbele, I very much look forward to your question. Go ahead.

Hans-Christian Ströbele (Alliance 90/The Greens):

Foreign Minister, you raised the question yourself by citing the example that rescue operations are necessary and right if a Bundeswehr helicopter is shot down or has to make an emergency landing and Bundeswehr soldiers are as a result in the coastal strip or if that happens to allies.

Have you also thought of the scenario where allies enter the coastal strip with troops? I am thinking of the scenario that they engage in military action there and try to gain control of the strip and drive out for example al-Shabab militia. Will the Bundeswehr then also intervene if allies thereby end up in a critical situation?

You know that other nations are not restricted to action to rescue persons who are in need through no fault of their own. Are you aware that particularly the al-Shabab militia have recently discovered piracy off the coast of Somalia as a new source of income and are active in no small number? If the Bundeswehr is flying over in helicopters will it turn around and fly back saying “that’s not our job”?

Will the Bundeswehr – and this is the last bit of my question – also not intervene if the militia have a fuelling base in the coastal strip and men, women and children are nearby? Will our navy helicopters then turn on their tail and go back to ship?

Can you answer this question? What I fear is that we will soon see pictures here in Germany of so-called collateral damage at the hands of the Bundeswehr involving people at the coast of Somalia.

Guido Westerwelle:

First of all, a heartfelt appeal to Mr Trittin as chair of the Greens parliamentary group here present: Please make the debates easier for all of us by letting Mr Ströbele take the floor every now and then so that he doesn’t have to disguise his speeches as questions!

Mr Ströbele, I just have to tell you that these invasion scenarios that you dress up as questions are simply absurd.

You are in all seriousness accusing our allies who are endeavouring to combat piracy of having intentions akin to invasion. It’s hard enough hearing it from Die Linke (The Left); but hearing it from you too bears witness, to be frank, to your completely distorted view of our alliance.

That has absolutely nothing to do with reality. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

But I want to tell you something else. I have spoken to you often about this in the Committee on Foreign Affairs. I’m happy to repeat it now. We have argued and debated this often in this the German Bundestag: there is an undertone which you constantly inject into this debate, which I simply don’t get, as if piracy had resulted from poor people who no longer had waters in which to fish,

(Hans-Christian Ströbele (Alliance 90/The Greens): Exactly!)

and as if people had to become pirates in order to survive. But let me tell you straight: You are completely underestimating this huge network of organized crime. Romanticizing piracy to the detriment of our trade routes with threats being issued to our fellow Germans and our sea routes being endangered is somewhere between the naïve and the absurd, Mr Ströbele.

As far as the plan of operations is concerned, you are a member of the German Bundestag. You were in the Committee. Minister of State Link explained everything in detail. It has been discussed. The point is you know that the German Bundestag meets publicly and that military considerations are on the agenda. The EU definition of “beach” that you’ve been mocking is laid down in the plan of operations.As a Member of the German Bundestag, you can consult and read this plan of operations anytime. Then you would know that what you’re saying is wrong. What you want is for me to violate the principle of confidentiality. But I’m not going to. We are in an alliance and I’m sticking to the rules agreed in the alliance even if you think it is just tomfoolery.

I want to turn now to another very important point. Atalanta is part of a comprehensive policy to support Somalia. With our humanitarian aid, we are alleviating the suffering of millions of people. We are supporting the process of drawing up a constitution and helping build structures based on the rule of law in Somalia. We are supporting the creation of a secure environment through our involvement in the EU Training Mission Somalia and by training African police officers as instructors and advisers to the Somali police force. We have made available considerable funds to help finance the African Union Mission in Somalia. We are involved in efforts by the EU and our African partners to set up regional coastguards. We are increasingly focusing efforts on the pirates’ money and stopping cash flows. We have set up an international working group to help uncover the pirates’ finances. As it is not the focus of the debate, let me add: When combating piracy we have to stop the pirates from using force, but we also have to tackle the causes and ensure that their revenue from ransoms dries up.

We are doing much more than simply sending our forces. This is something we are proud of, and we are also proud of what our soldiers are doing.

This is a mission to secure the transport of food supplies. It is important this mission continues. I deeply regret that you are not with us on combating piracy for reasons relating only to domestic policy.

I hope this does not signal a change of direction in the foreign policy of the Opposition. I hope you will see the error of your ways. The Federal Government and the coalition parliamentary groups certainly stand firm in the belief that we must not sit back in the face of piracy. We are the most important and largest trading nation in Europe. That is why it would be irresponsible to leave the protection of our sailors and trade routes to everyone else, but not ourselves be prepared to do anything.

Thank you for your attention.

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