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Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to the German Bundestag on the extension of the mandate for Operation Sea Guardian

17.02.2022 - Speech

Security in the southern Mediterranean is of huge importance for Germany and Europe. The region suffers from violence and conflicts that can destabilise entire countries. In the past few years, we have seen this in Libya in particular, where the political camps are currently drifting apart dangerously once again. This is fatal for the people in the region. Instability of this kind creates safe havens for terrorists and criminals right at the southern border of the European Union and NATO, in a maritime region through which a third of global trade in goods and a quarter of all global oil transport passes. That is why we are taking steps with our partners and allies to bring about stability and peace in this region.

NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian is part of our engagement in the region. The vessels and aircraft involved in it provide situational awareness and monitor the sea. Operation Sea Guardian also has special authorisation to stop and inspect suspicious ships. It thus has a strong and primarily preventive impact against arms smugglers, criminal networks and terrorists.

My parliamentary group and I have always supported this impact in the past. As in the case of the Iraq mandate, I am sure that an objection will now be raised, pointing out that I voted against the mandate in the past. That is correct. My parliamentary group and I myself voted against the mandate, not however because we didn’t agree with the operation’s objectives ‒ and yes, I think it’s important to explain something like this very precisely and transparently ‒ but rather because our crucial responsibility as members of parliament is to mandate Bundeswehr missions with a fundamental view to their aims, with a view to the reason for and the purpose of these mandates, but equally with a view to their legal basis; above all, it is our responsibility to ensure that mandates are always clear, precise and, most importantly, narrowly defined. This is how we evaluate them.

What is new in the case of this Federal Government is that we evaluate all mandates in this way, completely irrespectively of how the coalition parties voted in the past. We did this in the case of the Iraq mandate and we are now doing the same thing with the Sea Guardian mandate. Ladies and gentlemen, this demonstrates responsibility for foreign and security policy.

In this spirit, the Federal Government has revised the mandate. Firstly, the new mandate is clearly delineated in terms of its area of operations. It now only covers the Mediterranean, but not the territorial seas. That is important because it means that if an operation is to be conducted in the territorial seas of a non-NATO-member country, not only will the North Atlantic Council and the country concerned have to agree to it in the future, so too will the German Bundestag. That truly changes this mandate. Secondly, we have now fine-tuned the mandate in terms of the capacity-building in coastal states previously included in it. We have deleted this element from the new mandate because what it actually meant and what was being done on this basis had been left entirely open. That is why this part of the mandate is now clearly defined. Thirdly, we have adapted the mandate to the reality of the operation. This means we have reduced the personnel ceiling to 550 soldiers. Allow me to take this occasion to thank them warmly.

As I said earlier, this does not mean the end of our task. Instead, we will constantly re-evaluate these mandates. That, too, is responsibility for foreign and security policy. If the situation changes on the ground, if the parameters are no longer right, then we must be able to say self-critically that we need to revise our mandate.

Furthermore ‒ and I am grateful to my fellow member Markus Koob from the CDU for spelling this out in the earlier debate on South Sudan ‒ there can never be a solely military response. Security is always complex, and that is why our responses must also be complex and politically comprehensive. That holds particularly true for North Africa and the Middle East.

This is why we are working on diplomatic solutions to the conflicts in the region. The Federal Government remains engaged in the political process in Libya ‒ I would like to state that very clearly here ‒ and there have been positive developments in the past two years. It is now our responsibility to ensure that these positive developments are not scaled back.

We must prevent conflicts from arising in the first place or from further escalating. That, too, is part of a responsible foreign policy, but also of a responsible security policy. In this context ‒ and yes, this is also new ‒ we have a particular responsibility in climate foreign policy, as it is also security policy. The fight for water will pose one of the key threats to the region in the coming decades.

In view of this, we are strengthening the work of civil society, as well as of the governments tackling this global challenge to humankind. One example of this is our Ta’ziz partnerships, through which we are promoting the rule of law and democracy in Tunisia and Lebanon. We are standing up resolutely for human rights and women’s rights. I would also like to say that very explicitly to our members on the right here in this House. We had some interesting debates on International Women’s Day here today. Women’s rights are human rights. They are a benchmark for the state of democracies and perhaps also for that of political parties. In this context, I spelt out the importance of respect for human rights, the rule of law and women’s rights for cooperation between countries, not only here in the Bundestag today, but also during my visit to Egypt.

And it is in this spirit that we will continue our reliable engagement in the Mediterranean region as a NATO partner in Operation Sea Guardian, as part of the multilateral cooperation aimed at strengthening peace and stability for the people in the region. I ask you to support this mandate.

Thank you very much.

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