Speech by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in the German Bundestag on the occasion of the submission of the Federal Government’s application for “continuation of the involvement of German armed forces in the EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali)”

30.03.2017 - Speech

Madam President,

Fellow members of this House,

Not always in the Bundestag are subsequent agenda items also connected in terms of substance – but in this case they are. We have just had a parliamentary debate on the intention of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, that is, on Brexit.

One could ask: what is the connection between Brexit and the Bundeswehr’s activities in Mali? I believe there is a twofold connection.

First, developments in Mali since the crisis began in 2012 and 2013 have shown that we Europeans are increasingly feeling the direct effects of crises and wars all over the world. We can no longer withdraw into a cocoon. We can therefore also no longer afford the luxury of focusing exclusively on internal institutional issues in Europe. Let me recall one aspect of the previous debate: as significant as Brexit may be, it must not lead to a discussion that focuses only on internal affairs. So many things around us are changing that we need to take action on them, as well.

Europe is called more than ever before to step up to the plate and assume responsibility as a global player – despite the fact that the European Union was not originally designed for such a global, proactive role. That is not what its founders had in mind. Nevertheless, we cannot turn a blind eye to the conflicts that surround us.

This brings me to my second point. Our engagement in Mali shows that, wherever Europe is willing to enter into a shared commitment, we can achieve something worthwhile. The work that the servicemen and women of the German Bundeswehr are doing in connection with the EU Training Mission in Mali is part of this. And not only that – it is part of a comprehensive approach. For our strength as Europe lies precisely in the fact that we approach crises with a large toolbox – with diplomatic, civilian, police and, yes, also with military means.

The European Union in particular is in a position to make all of these instruments available. This is a unique aspect of Europe’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, one that we must maintain and expand, and one – I will say quite frankly – that we must not reduce in response to the debate initiated by the United States that pares down security to military expenditure alone. The United States is increasing its military expenditure and at the same time cutting funding for civilian crisis prevention programmes at the State Department. Europe is pursuing exactly the opposite approach – and that is a good thing.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our engagement in Mali is all the more important precisely because stabilising the country is key to promoting security and development in the entire region. Because cross‑border terrorism and organised crime are a threat to security in neighbouring countries, as well as, by extension, to security in Europe.

Mali is important in that it is a country of transit and origin for irregular and forced migration.

It is one the poorest countries in the world, and as such it faces not only tremendous political challenges. It must also fight poverty and hunger in order to be able to offer its people viable prospects for the future.

Now, with regard to your question:

If you will permit, I would like to respond to both points, that is, to your argument that military operations always entail negative consequences, as well as to the specific case you mention.

We Germans, after all, have experienced – though I want to lay it on too thick – how, ultimately, the only way that violence and terror among our own people, such as that perpetrated by the Nazis, could be stopped was for others to come to our aid with military force. Auschwitz did not liberate itself. Rather, it was the Red Army that liberated Auschwitz. If American parents had not sent their sons and in some cases also their daughters into battle in the Second World War, we would today be living under Hitler or Stalin.

This shows that, sometimes, and as a last resort, the only way to protect human life is to use military force. If the international community had not stood by and done nothing for so long, millions of people in Rwanda might not have fallen victim to genocide.

I, too, wish we lived in a world in which this were not necessary. But make no mistake ‑ you can do wrong by employing military means – but you can also do wrong by refusing to employ military means.

You always have to fully understand the situation and your actions.

Now let me address the case you’ve mentioned. To my knowledge, the mission of the Tornado aircraft is not responsible for what is happening in Syria. There has been a briefing on these activities in the Defence Committee. I can therefore only say that, according to what I know, and what the Federal Government knows, the connection that you are making does not exist.

My intention here is to explain the rationale behind the Mali mission, because its aim is precisely to limit the spread of terrorism and murder. However, since I see you don’t agree, I’ll make my point even clearer: what do you think would happen if, in the case of Mali, Europe or the international community were to say, “We’re pulling out”? This is a possible stance. But you must then also be willing to say that yes, I’m also willing to assume responsibility for Boko Haram gaining ground again, for the Tuareg not joining a civilian peace process and for more people continuing to suffer as a result of terror, violence, murder and rape. You simply must be fully aware of the consequences of your actions in either case. You should also be aware that, when you assist military operations, one possible result is that innocent people may die.

When we, for example, provided the Peshmerga with weapons, we did so knowing full well that these weapons may, in inter‑Iraqi fighting at a later time, be used for the wrong reasons. Even though he knew this, the pacifist Rupert Neudeck, who died much too soon, said that we must provide weapons to the Peshmerga, because otherwise the entire Yazidi population would be exterminated. And I re‑emphasise: he was a pacifist.

I just want to say that this is, I believe, one of the most difficult decisions that a democratic politician can be asked to make. One must always be fully aware that one bears responsibility not only by taking such a decision, but also by refusing to take a decision.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s clear that Mali is not able to face all these complex challenges single-handedly, and not only just with Germany’s help. Our engagement in Mali is therefore anchored in the framework of the United Nations and the European Union. That, incidentally, is also important. We once expressed our conviction that military engagement is possible if the United Nations calls for it. You can’t say: “We want to move away from unilateral military operations and towards a mandate for the United Nations”, but then, when the United Nations says that it can only save human lives by deploying military means and many other tools, suddenly declare: “We don’t care about the United Nations now.” That, too, is a crucial point for us. Europe is making a great contribution in this area.

In the context of the European Training Mission in Mali, military units from various EU member states, currently including 140 soldiers from Germany, have trained more than 9000 Malian soldiers since 2013. The mission is now focusing more closely on training the trainers, because we can’t train each Malian soldier individually. But we can build structures. As far as the security situation allows, EUTM Mali will conduct this training on the ground in the locations where the Malian forces are stationed.

In addition, EUTM’s parallel civilian mission, EUCAP SAHEL Mali, is training the police force, the Garde Nationale and the Gendarmerie. Here, too, Germany is contributing police officers and civilian experts, and we are also providing the head of the mission.

Last but not least, we are supporting the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, as you know. Alongside its political task of supporting the implementation of the peace agreement, the peace mission is working in the north and the centre of the country to safeguard security. With more than 800 soldiers as well as helicopters and reconnaissance drones, Germany is playing a crucial role in this mission.

I specifically want to thank the soldiers there, and also their families, who of course are concerned about their loved ones, even though as I speak no one has come under threat, been injured or killed there. I particularly want to express my great respect for the commitment of the soldiers and for the burden their families also have to bear.

We are supporting the peace process. We are tackling the causes of the conflict by helping to overcome the divisions in Malian society, incidentally also by promoting decentralisation, so that all population groups can take a more active role in assuming responsibility. And we are supporting projects that are leading to tangible improvements in the population’s living conditions and the state’s capability to act.

Since 2010 we have invested a total of more than 50 million euros from the Federal Foreign Office budget in civilian measures in Mali. For 2017 we have earmarked a further 23 million euros and more, 6 million euros of which are to be used for humanitarian assistance.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not interested in drawing comparisons, but I do believe the example of Mali shows how important it is to base our activities on a comprehensive definition of security. That is what I meant by the difference compared to the current debate in the United States.

Of course, we need to ask ourselves what results we have achieved in Mali so far, and objectively consider our position. The security situation in the north and increasingly also in the centre of the country remains tense. Attacks on the civilian population are unfortunately still par for the course for many people in Mali. The peace process is fragile, and the tempo of political reforms slower than we would like.

Yet at the same time we are seeing important progress:

In November it was possible for municipal elections to be held, after a two‑year delay, also in large areas of the north.

Transitional administrations have been established in Gao, Ménaka and Kidal through mediation by the United Nations peace mission. For a long time this was a bone of fierce contention between the conflict parties.

Despite a devastating attack in January, the first joint patrols comprising government troops, government-backed militias and formerly separatist Tuareg groups have been formed in Gao.

These are not items of news that make our front pages, but they are important, albeit small steps. However, it is clear that post‑conflict peacebuilding is arduous, slow and far from linear.

But I feel it is a positive sign that the conflict parties remain committed to the peace process despite all attempts to disrupt it, in the face of enduring distrust and problems with implementation.

I plan to travel to Mali soon, one of my aims being to encourage the Government to continue to resolutely move the peace process forward and set in motion the reforms necessary to achieve this. Of course, I also want to gain a first‑hand impression of what our German civilian helpers and soldiers are doing there, often, as I said, in dangerous circumstances.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The EU Training Mission is an important part of our engagement for peace and security in Mali. At the same time, it is one component of a common European foreign policy. Be that as it may, my hope is that we in Europe will move even closer together particularly in the area of foreign and security policy. I therefore ask for your approval for the continuation of our involvement in the EU Training Mission EUTM Mali.

Thank you for listening.

Related content


Top of page