“Imagine there’s a war...” – Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the German Association for Peace and Conflict Studies

19.03.2015 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Mr Trittmann,
Prof. Schetter,
Ladies and gentlemen,

“Imagine there’s a war...” That is the title of this conference. Well, goodness knows I don’t need to stretch my imagination very much. The world is full of violent conflicts at the moment. Certainly I personally cannot recall a time in the whole of my political career when there were so many different complex crises going on at the same time as there are today. And here’s something we scarcely thought possible after seventy years of peace in Europe: the Ukraine crisis has brought the question of war and peace back to our continent.

So when I look back over the Federal Foreign Office’s Review 2014, one feature stands out particularly clearly: the fact that the strategic review was conducted during a time of acute crises. This Review was certainly not a theory seminar in the park, but a place where theory and reality were at close quarters. Country hotels and casual clothing were not the backdrop for our Review, but rather the Ukraine crisis, the Gaza conflict, Syria, the Ebola epidemic, Iraq and the advance of ISIS. On several occasions in the course of our review work, I had to think of that British Prime Minister who, when asked by a journalist about the biggest difficulty in politics in general, is said to have replied: “Events, dear boy, events...”

We have been happy to take on this challenge! We have played an active part in tackling acute crises. At the same time, however – and this was the aim of the Review – we have used the demand for foreign policy caused by these crises to take systematic stock of our foreign policy. Many people were involved in this process, particularly from the academic community, and indeed some of them are here today. They contributed expert articles, took part in online discussions and participated in over 60 public events across the country. I would like to start by thanking you all very much indeed. Because I think we have succeeded in giving due prominence to the public debate on the value and tools of diplomacy, beyond the current wave of crises and beyond the “usual suspects” who deal with foreign policy day in, day out.

Mr Trittmann, Mr Schetter, you asked me about the outcome of this one-year review process. We have collated all the results of the Review in this glossy brochure, which I would like to read to you in the 45 minutes remaining to me...

Naturally, crises and conflicts play a central role in our conclusions. The crises of 2014 injected momentum into the debate. During the Ebola epidemic, for example, we saw that while we react swiftly and professionally when it comes to saving Germans, the transition from seeing it as a consular to treating it as a foreign policy crisis took a long while. We want to change this. Our crisis response capability must improve as I fear that crises will, for the foreseeable future, no longer be an exception, but increasingly the norm. This is why we will be setting up a new Directorate-General for Crisis Prevention, Stabilisation and Post-conflict Peacebuilding at the Federal Foreign Office, which will pool all of the skills that allow us to deal more intensively with the entire spectrum of crises, and not only acute conflict phases. I intend in particular to strengthen the instruments for precautionary foreign policy – civilian crisis prevention, strengthening fragile states, peace mediation and post-conflict peacebuilding. Ever since the SPD-Green coalition government's 2004 Action Plan, these instruments have come more and more to be regarded as the trademarks of German foreign policy. And there is huge demand for this kind of expertise in the world.

Our new Directorate-General for Stabilisation is intended, as it were, to hold the box of tools ready for the country divisions to make strategic, flexible, tailored use of them for their region, all the way through the “crisis cycle”.

In the first instance, that means not only recognising the situation at an early stage, but initiating an early political response as well. There’s no shortage of information. Generally we know when a crisis is brewing somewhere. But all too often we underestimate the scope of its impact, because we fail even to consider scenarios which do not fit our usual patterns of thinking. In future, therefore, we will be keeping a closer eye on countries and regions where there is an increased risk of escalation. We will be thinking more in terms of scenarios and making sure we don’t simply ignore the unlikely ones. Secondly, we must not miss the point at which early warning needs to be followed by early action.

Of course, strategic capability also requires close inter-ministerial cooperation, both on early crisis detection and on the development of joint instruments.

One key question in the air here at your meeting and during our Review is this: what are the instruments of foreign policy? Building peace – but how? I believe that we achieved many things in the past year. We showed the German public that foreign policy is about more than just two extremes: futile diplomatic talks or Bundeswehr deployments abroad. Diplomacy has far more tools at its disposal than many people think, and we have to make full use of them all.

The instruments of crisis prevention are particularly important in our work – even if they’re not as immediately apparent to the public as the acute trouble spots.

Let me give you a few examples.

Firstly, we are providing help for the development of the rule of law – in Nepal, Sudan and South Sudan, Jordan and Ethiopia.

Secondly, there has to be at least the minimum of security on the ground, and for that you need not primarily the military, but above all a functioning police force. Our expertise in precisely this field is highly valued worldwide. Both demand and demands are increasing. That is why we want to rapidly improve the conditions for seconding German police officers to peace missions.

And, thirdly, we are working to stabilise fragile states. This is a very acute task in Syria’s neighbouring states, which are hardest hit by the refugee drama. With over one third of the population of Jordan or Lebanon consisting of Syrian refugees – and note these proportions in comparison to the number of refugees we are taking in here in Germany – then basic functions of the state like food supply, healthcare or education are, quite simply, in danger of collapsing. So investing in the establishment of functioning state structures in these countries is at the same time a form of preventive security policy.

Hundreds of German civilians are working across the world to fulfil these tasks. Just think of the huge importance of the OSCE observers in Ukraine, whose mission has taken on an even more central role following the agreements reached in Minsk. We want to improve civilian aid workers’ working conditions, from insurance to remuneration and training. We want to raise the profile of the Center for International Peace Operations here in Berlin as a sending organisation and improve its performance.

But still we face the key question: “Where do you stand on the military?” There are cases where stabilisation is impossible without the use of military force.

What we have seen with the advance of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is nothing less than the return of barbarity: mass executions, beheadings, starvation, girls and women being sold into slavery. We support the military fight against this barbarity! We have opened a training centre in Erbil where Bundeswehr soldiers provide training for Iraqi troops. And – despite all the risks, which were clear to us, and with which we and you struggled openly and at length – we have delivered several tranches of weapons to the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil, weapons they need to survive in the fight against ISIS.

But my main reason for mentioning this example is because it shows that even if military means are sometimes necessary, they are never the sole solution! That is why Germany is so engaged in the field of humanitarian assistance. In Iraq alone, over five million people are currently dependent on humanitarian support, and by making available several hundred million euros, we are helping to relieve at least the worst of the suffering.

The biggest question, however, is: what happens after ISIS has been militarily removed from an area? Just yesterday, I opened the constituent meeting of the Stabilisation Working Group of the Counter-ISIL Coalition at the Federal Foreign Office. In the areas from which ISIS has been removed, we are endeavouring to improve the supply situation as quickly as possible, to re-establish the water supply, to rebuild schools and hospitals and to create viable administrative structures. There are many people in these areas who, disappointed in the policies of the old government or angered by the systematic discrimination against their ethnic group, placed their hopes in the self-styled “Caliphate”. These people need to regain trust in their state, in their community. Above all, the old religious divides must not be allowed to reopen.

A fourth instrument which I would like to mention is mediation and mediation support for local mediation processes. Here, too, we are working with the academic community (just at the end of last year we held a very successful conference on peace mediation at the Federal Foreign Office) and with specialised organisations like the Berghof Foundation, for instance in Yemen, Sudan or Georgia, or Sant’ Egidio, with which we have been working for many years in a large number of African states.

And finally, making my way through the “crisis cycle”, we get to post-conflict peacebuilding. We Germans, with our own historical experiences of reconciliation and reckoning with the past, are particularly called on to pass on our expertise in this area. Let me tell you about two exciting examples from my last two trips. In mid-February I was in Colombia. President Santos asked us Germans to support a process of national reconciliation intended to bring together a society worn down by decades of brutal conflict between the state and terrorist groups. The first projects with our civil-society partners are already getting going. Second example: at the end of February I was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Martin Kobler introduced me to the new stability initiative of the UN peace mission MONUSCO, which focuses on reconciliation and dialogue in local communities.

All this shows that there are many different instruments available to foreign policy, and I hope that you in the academic community will continue to support us as we try to make even more varied and efficient use of them. Opening up the Federal Foreign Office to the academic community and civil society is not going to stop once the Review is over; rather, this openness is to be a fixture.

Perhaps in the end there’s still one question to ask. Is it really just a coincidence that there are so many wars, crises and conflicts going on just now? Or is it a systematic eruption of forces and tensions in a world in which structures of order are increasingly losing influence, a world which is growing ever more interconnected but whose contrasts are colliding ever more sharply? We need to realise that this paradoxical interplay of forces is taking place not despite but because of globalisation. And we must note that economic, technological and digital globalisation alone does not yet guarantee political rapprochement, and certainly not a sound order.

Germany is more interconnected in and with the world that almost any other country. More than any other state, we depend on a rules-based international order. That is why we Germans must make active use of our voice and our clout in order to strengthen the existing international order – especially in Europe and the United Nations – and to create new building blocks where they are necessary and possible, for instance in the digital sphere.

The second structural reform at the Federal Foreign Office will help us in this cause. We will merge two directorates-general that, to my mind, are better together than the sum of their parts: the Directorate-General for Disarmament and the Directorate-General for the United Nations. Together, they will form a new Directorate-General for International Order. We are thus creating a place where we can apply what has for decades been our most important principle for international order, namely multilateralism. If we can combine the expertise and wisdom of our staff who have worked with disarmament and arms control treaties for years with the experiences of the UN experts, we will be able to create a kind of multilateralism laboratory. The ideas for this do not grow on trees and are not quick-fix solutions. So you could say, then, that this will be the Directorate-General for Complex Answers! But I’d also like to say, and this brings me nicely back to the topic for this conference, it will be the Directorate-General for the Peace Order. That’s what it’s all about after all, in the end, when we push the idea of a multilateral, laws-based order: it’s about the rules of the game which will allow states to live together in peace. It is about peace, with the world committed to the strength of the law as opposed to the law of the strongest.

However, this hope for peace is also not abstract, but is being put to a difficult test in reality. In the Ukraine conflict, two diametrically opposite conceptions of order emerged from the outset: the peaceful order which has been painstakingly developed by Europe, based on international law and self-determination on the one hand and the logic of power politics and spheres of influences which is prepared to flout the rules through the use of force on the other. The EU and NATO, have been resolute and united in their response to this dangerous trajectory of annexing Crimea and the conflict, militarily underpinned by Russia, in eastern Ukraine. We cannot talk about the importance of peaceful structures of order without defending them where they are flagrantly infringed.

So you see, this Review process took place against the backdrop of acute crises and the long-term tectonic shifts in global politics. Such a process cannot then come up with a sort of instruction sheet for German foreign policy. Responsibility is always concrete. The responsibility question arises in situations that are never just black or white, and when taking decisions that are never just right or wrong.

When I visited my counterpart in India last year, she said to me: “Frank-Walter, there are no full stops in the grammar of foreign policy – only commas and question marks.” She’s right – but I hope that with the Review we have updated our dictionary of foreign policy as best we can.

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