Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF)

23.06.2022 - Speech

It is truly a great honour for me to be holding this speech here today to mark ZIF’s twentieth anniversary.

Today we have also celebrated the Day of the Peacekeeper and presented awards to three civilian peacekeepers on behalf of all of their colleagues around the world. The three of them have made it clear once again what ZIF’s work is.

When I asked one of the award recipients, Ms Arnold, why she had given up her top job as a lawyer in Hamburg to work in South Sudan, she answered quite modestly: “Because I want to make the world a little bit better.”

And I believe that is the foundation of ZIF. If you do not believe in good in the world, despite all of the crises, despite all of the setbacks, then you really cannot do this work that you have been doing for twenty years. And we all know that it is no ordinary work.

Rather – and this is the second thing that I took away from one of your colleagues this morning – it is a job for idealists. But it is also a job that gives a lot back. Because even if, twenty years ago, some people still found the idea somewhat risible – what could be called “soft power” – it is a fact that the people doing this job not only make the world a little better every day, but save human lives on a daily basis.

Of course not all human lives, nobody can do that. But the drive to save human lives – that is what holds this world together. And we saw and lived through examples of the sort of dramatic decisions that this entails in Ukraine, in the days before 24 February. Some people were already warning that Russia was preparing to begin this war of aggression.

As Germany’s Foreign Minister, I wrestled daily with the question of whether the German Embassy should stay or go. And I decided it should stay. I decided this in part after numerous phone calls with Helga Schmid. After all, the OSCE mission was our eyes and ears on the contact line.

These are decisions where a lot of people could say after the fact: “If only you had done things differently.” These are decisions, like in Afghanistan, where people are now saying: “If only you had done things differently!” These are decisions where we don’t know ahead of time what exactly is the right thing to do. And yet it remains important to accept this responsibility.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks for the work of the OSCE, and above all of the observers on the ground. Some people are here with us in this room who until just recently were there on the ground and went through the terrible experience of a colleague losing her life – on the ground as she worked for peace, as she worked for Ukraine.

Thank you for being there and, above all, thank you very much for going back. I am delighted that Antje Grawe is here with us, too. She is the first German woman to lead an OSCE mission – the observer mission in Ukraine. And despite these challenging conditions, she will be continuing her work on the ground. I wish you all the best and I am very grateful that this work is being continued.

What you are achieving there, what many of you are achieving around the world, is not just the work itself: observing elections, providing public prosecutors, delivering humanitarian assistance. What is also important for so many people in Ukraine is that they can tell that they are being seen. They can tell that we are there and that we are not forgetting them. That we are not looking away because it is the easier option for us.

The work of the OSCE, not to mention the return of our Embassy and the return of many civilian forces, is thus also an expression of solidarity. And, above all, it is a sign that we are still looking their way.

Because this Russian war of aggression has changed the lives of the people of Ukraine, but it has also changed the world. On 24 February we woke up in a different world. We must defend our security quite differently. And so we have taken decisions such as the decision to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons, in order to ensure that the people on the ground can defend themselves.

But not only did we take the decision to supply heavy weapons, we also made it clear that we are still there with them. With a physical presence as well as with vital infrastructure and in order to investigate Russian war crimes on the ground, to collect evidence.

Because this is crucially important for the victims. For the mother of the young man shot dead on his bicycle to know that, some day, the perpetrators will be held accountable. For survivors of rape to know that they are not speaking out in vain, that charges will be brought.

And that is why the question of military support and civilian assistance is not an either/or. The two belong together – and that is what ZIF has stood for over the last 20 years, too. Peace and freedom are more than the absence of war. The current situation in Ukraine is dramatic evidence of this fact, but we have seen it in other parts of the world, too.

And living in peace long-term is different to creating peace short-term. All those among you who work to help achieve the signing of peace treaties know this. And we regularly see the sparks of hope in the world that we play a part in – with a great deal of perseverance.

With these peace treaties, it’s then important to ensure that they hold up over time, that there are guarantees that talks will continue, that the rule of law can prevail once again and that humanitarian assistance can be provided. This is the idea of networked security, which sounds obvious to everyone here in this room but certainly cannot be taken for granted, including in the business of politics.

It is another thing that ZIF stands for, and it was the idea behind the founding of this Center for International Peace Operations 20 years ago. Back then, in 2002, as many of you will know better than I do, the wounds of the 1990s Balkan wars were still very raw.

The peace in the region was fragile.

The German Government wanted to secure this peace and realised that it was not enough to simply send military forces. There was also a need for police officers, lawyers and engineers to support the OSCE’s peace mission. And then the big question was: Where will all of these experts come from?

One of you told me that there was a joke going around the Federal Foreign Office back then – that we’ll just have everyone ask their relatives if any of them speak English.

You mentioned this earlier, too, Ms Wieland-Karimi. English was the main criterion back then – that and a desire to go abroad.

Of course, it wasn’t quite the Wild West. But it became clear that we need something organised, something structured – and so we will create a German centre of excellence for civilian peace missions.

I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Thank you to Ludger Volmer, Winrich Kühne and Winfried Nachtwei, who worked with such enormous dedication to set up this Center. I hope Ludger Volmer and Winrich Kühne will forgive me, but I must address one personal sentence to Winfried Nachtwei. Because if I am now the Foreign Minister and have become so familiar with the importance of ZIF, it is perhaps in part because Winfried Nachtwei was once my boss, when I was a Political Advisor for Foreign and Security Policies in the Green Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag. Something he drummed into me was: Annalena, things aren’t going well in Afghanistan, but what would it be like if we left?

This understanding – what would it be like if we left? – this understanding shapes ZIF, too. It’s so easy to say that things aren’t going well, in Mali or in Afghanistan.

We have now launched a committee of inquiry on Afghanistan in the German Bundestag. It’s right for us to review what went wrong that summer. We have also launched a study commission that will review the entire 20 years of the mission.

But harder than saying that everything is wrong is taking a self-critical approach and saying, OK, what didn’t go well? What will we do differently next time? I do not agree in any way with the assertion that we should not have gone in there 20 years ago.

Plenty of things went wrong. We will work together to review them. But should we now say to 20-year-old girls, 20-year-old men and 60-year old parents: twenty years of your lives, the fact that you or your children attended school for twenty years, that doesn’t actually matter, because we, the international community, have to say at the end of it all that we did a lot wrong?

No, I think responsibility is the complete opposite – understanding that even a year, sometimes even a month, can make a difference.

This morning, as you know, we presented an award to Sabine Arnold, who works in South Sudan. When a woman in South Sudan who was raped two years ago learns that a mobile court in a tent will be coming for two hours to administer justice, then those two hours can change her life, because she believes that in the end justice will win, even if the circumstances are disastrous.

That is why I would like to thank all those who are currently deployed on missions, those whose work might sometimes be disparaged by the German public. What you do, without receiving any recognition in the form of big headlines, sometimes makes all the difference – sometimes twenty years later, sometimes right away. Thank you very much for never giving up.

And the fact that you not only do not give up, but have actively continued to develop ZIF, is clear from the impressive figures. Back when ZIF was founded, it was a pilot project that budgeted for 17 employees. Today it is a flagship of German foreign policy, with 90 members of staff and over 120 experts on international missions.

And of course we have the founders to thank for this success story. But we also have you to thank, Ms Wieland-Karimi.

Since you took over as Executive Director in 2009, you have given the Center a strategic overhaul and continued to professionalise it. For example, you have set up a new analysis department that analyses missions and draws up studies to improve ZIF’s ability to learn from its experiences. To enable it to learn what can be done differently in the future – without falling into the trap of oversimplifying and saying, we’ll take blueprint A from country B and transfer it to country C. That will never work.

And you have recognised that sending senior managers on missions needs the support of parliament. ZIF now maintains an ongoing dialogue with the German Bundestag. This, too, is important for recognition, for parliamentary oversight, but above all for the importance of ZIF and civilian experts.

I already mentioned this earlier and would like to restate it more explicitly here: One of the most moving moments in the last year for me was the hour of remembrance for Afghanistan – not the military tattoo outside the Bundestag, but in parliament, because so many soldiers as well as police officers and civilian staff came together there and spoke to various politicians.

I heard again and again: It’s fantastic that we’re getting this recognition, that we’re in parliament, that we’re being appreciated.

And what I took away from this experience is – why don’t we do this every year? Why did we only do this at the end of the Afghanistan mission?

I had hoped that we would manage it this year, but there was not quite enough time – to celebrate the Day of the Peacekeeper not in a ministry, in a small room with space for just a few people, but in the German Bundestag, on this day every year.

Of course we will need a parliamentary majority for this. But when our colleagues from the Bundestag join us shortly, this will also send out a message that peacekeeping belongs at the heart of democracy: civilian, police and military forces. To say thank you, to pay tribute and to make it clear that this, too, is done on behalf of the German Bundestag.

Because all of these discussions make it clear what a broad range of fields ZIF works in. In Mali with the MINUSMA mission, it was a German analyst who worked with colleagues to develop an early warning system so that UN peacekeepers are better able to protect local people when violence threatens. This system is now a model for UN missions around the world to ensure better protection for local people.

Civilian peace forces are also a crucial factor in improving our ability to react when the climate crisis influences or fuels conflicts.

When I stood in Mali in 40-degree heat, I once again saw very clearly what climate change means for peace missions in the future. Eighty percent of UN peacekeeping staff are deployed in countries that are among those most heavily impacted by climate change.

The climate crisis is particularly affecting regions that are already the poorest or most fragile in the world. This is why climate expertise must be an integral part of pre-deployment preparation for ZIF staff. And we are deploying increasing numbers of climate experts.

One reason for the decision to incorporate climate diplomacy into the Federal Foreign Office was that we had taken a similar decision some years ago at ZIF. This set an example for German foreign policy to follow.

It has resulted in many innovative projects. And it is also important to me to make it clear that peace efforts do not just mean fixing things – they also mean working with the latest techniques and methods. This is why we continue to need experts, engineers, artificial intelligence, all of the possibilities that are available to us. We must incorporate these into our missions.

As we did with the OSCE mission in Tajikistan. One of our environmental advisors worked with small farmers there to develop a method for distributing water more efficiently. This is what it means to understand the securing of peace as a preventive measure and improve our ability to prevent conflicts around distribution, particularly in the age of the climate crisis.

ZIF also has a central role – indeed, a pioneering role – in accounting for women’s perspectives in conflict situations. This is a question not just of better protecting women but of recognising that women’s rights are a yardstick for the state of societies.

We can see around the world that the rights of women, of minorities in society, are the first to be restricted, with women’s rights trampled underfoot and homosexuals locked up.

This is why it is so important to me that we embed this issue – which we have called feminist foreign policy, a provocative term, but sometimes provocative terms attract a lot of attention – that we embed this issue in our work just as ZIF does, so that at some point it becomes a matter of course.

We have a little catching-up to do at the Federal Foreign Office in this respect. We can’t yet say, “When multiple candidates are equally qualified, it’s fine if we sometimes decide to hire one of the men” – as you have just said, Ms Wieland-Karimi. The sad fact is that only 24 percent of our leading roles are held by women.

We are working hard to firmly embed gender mainstreaming, which is already a part of national policy, in foreign policy too.

The difference that this makes is tangible to all women who are deployed around the world. It is tangible to me as Germany’s Foreign Minister. It makes a difference whether we say, yes, I am standing here as a 40-year-old woman and Foreign Minister, as a 55-year-old woman and election observer. Yes, we are doing this because it is quite clearly the right thing to do.

And we can see how much further other countries have come. That is something else that I would like to mention. African countries in particular, where the percentage of women in parliament is much higher.

Ms Arnold gave us a wonderful example this morning when she talked about travelling with her tent to ensure that justice is done. She was kind enough to bring a staff back for me. This is a staff that local people use when they are pronouncing or enforcing legal rulings, for example. The staff is a symbol of power. But Ms Arnold had to fight for this staff. She went into a shop and said that she would like to buy this staff and the salesman said to her, we don’t sell it to women, because it’s a staff of power. She argued and negotiated for so long that he eventually said, OK, powerful women can have this staff, too.

I believe she didn’t mention that it was a German Foreign Minister whom this staff was intended for, just that she herself is a public prosecutor who is currently travelling around the country.

But this is a sign that a huge amount of work takes place not just where civilian peace forces are deployed, in courtrooms or outside polling booths. But everywhere you go, on the ground, everywhere that you come into contact with people.

It’s possible to achieve a great many small changes in day-to-day life. This, too, is what ZIF’s work stands for – and has done for 20 years.

All of these examples make it clear that we cannot think only in military terms when it comes to security, to peace, to freedom. We must consider all of the facets of crises and conflicts.

Because security also means people being able to live freely and without fear of violence.

Being able to live freely because the resources on which they depend are not destroyed and because conflicts do not shatter whole regions if we fail to recognise them early enough.

This networked approach between the military, police forces and civilian forces in multilateral teams, this networked approach will also be the foundation of our National Security Strategy.

We are coordinating the Strategy at the Federal Foreign Office on behalf of the whole German Government.

And, yes, it is also shaped by the context of this brutal Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Some things will change. We are now sending more soldiers to NATO’s eastern flank.

But the foundations of foreign policy, of security, the foundations of our democracy, the fact that we can only truly live in freedom through joint efforts to strengthen democracy, the rule of law and civilian security – these will also be the foundations of our National Security Strategy.

Because peace does not automatically emerge as soon as the weapons fall silent. And I believe this is something that many of you take away from your deployments abroad: gratitude for the fact that for over 70 years we have been able to live in peace, and in West Germany in a democracy, that for over 30 years we have been able to live in a reunited Germany in the heart of Europe. This is not something that can be taken for granted, that simply falls from the sky. Your work makes it clear to you on a daily basis that it is not something that can be taken for granted. And so it is also important to me, if we are going to create a National Security Strategy, that we talk about what it is that really holds our country together.

We want to make it possible for more young people to work for this peace. This also means continuing ZIF in the coming years, in the next twenty years, to continue making it possible for more people to go abroad, for more people to work for peace in the world. But also for them to reflect back to Germany what a great gift it really is to live here in freedom and security.

You symbolise these ideas. You know that this is arduous work. But you have also experienced what it feels like when you have been on a mission and can say, yes, I have made this world a little bit better, even if it takes years, even if tomorrow might bring another setback.

Not only would I like to thank you for this, I would like to tell you all to be proud of yourselves. Because this is what shapes our German foreign policy. And you carry out this foreign policy each and every day. Thank you very much!


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