When I found out who we’re paying tribute to here today, I recalled a moment at the beginning of this year. On a cold morning in January, I was in Kyiv for the first time as Foreign Minister. And my first visit – and this was a most deliberate choice – was to the headquarters of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.
After all, while we didn’t know what was going to happen in the months to come, it was clear how important this OSCE mission was. All of the reports and accounts that you sent to us in those months had already made it clear what a fragile and dangerous situation our observers were in on the ground.
And I’m most delighted that Mr Hulde is able to attend. And, of course, we focused most intensively on the situation back then. You later had to withdraw, and one of your members of staff lost her life.
Now, 120 days after the war of aggression in Ukraine began, we face a situation in which we have no idea whatsoever when OSCE observers will ever be able to return. This shows in a dramatic way how difficult not only your missions are, but that it means, time and again, weighing up individual cases. How long can the mission remain in the region? When should you withdraw?
We three ministers faced precisely such a situation when we discussed how long our German Embassy on the ground would remain open. What does this mean for the police officers there? And this underlines once again that, in retrospect, everyone always knows how things should have been done. However, when reaching these decisions, the most important thing isn’t that politicians do take decisions, but that we hear what people like you experience on the ground in your day-to-day work.
This is why we’re here not only to pay tribute to you and to thank you, but also to underscore how important, how dangerous and how valuable your work on the ground is. And this means that we want to expand this work. Together with our transatlantic partners, as you know, we’re investing in equipping the Bundeswehr, in our security. However, the situation in Ukraine underlines the fact that providing both military investments and civilian resources is not a contradiction in terms.
We have had a discussion in which people asked whether 100 billion more for the Bundeswehr means 100 billion less for the civilian sector. No, quite the opposite. After all, military engagement and civilian commitment isn’t a question of either/or. It only works in tandem, and one must always complement the other. Yes, Ukraine needs heavy weapons. We have recently delivered self-propelled howitzers and multiple launch rocket systems. But Ukraine also needs food, humanitarian assistance, hospitals and water supplies – in the long term, and especially when, hopefully, the war has finally ended. This is precisely when civilian infrastructure is needed all the more.
And peacekeeping remains our primary goal even at this moment when we’re supplying weapons. But creating peace is not the same as living in peace. We’re witnessing this in a dramatic way right now. After all, living in peace, security and freedom is about more than the absence of war. This is why we cannot accept a victor’s peace in Ukraine. And this is why the many missions in so many places in this world that Nancy Faeser has already mentioned are so important.
Because so many people in the world don’t have the freedom and security as well as the luxury of just going somewhere by bicycle or car and thinking to themselves: what beautiful weather! Be it in Mali, in Afghanistan, in Syria – people there don’t just hop on their bikes and head out. Instead, each and every second, they think: “perhaps I’ll be shot dead?” Or, if they are journalists, teachers or nurses: “perhaps I’ll be kidnapped and locked up in jail?”
No one knows this better than you, esteemed peacekeepers. And this is why we are here today. Mr Hulde, Ms Valier, Ms Arnold – to whom I have the honour of presenting an award in a moment. You know that security for people in crisis regions has many dimensions and that civilian peace missions aren’t fair-weather instruments, but an essential part of hard security policy. Security means that fathers, mothers, children and grandparents can go to work just like that, that they can buy food without being shot dead.
Mr Hulde, you were in the Donbas for many years, right on the frontline between the separatists and the Ukrainian troops. You and your colleagues helped to ensure that people in the region were able to cross the line of contact at all – and that they didn’t have to wait for hours in the freezing cold or in the heat in the summer. Sometimes you got stuck at the dead of night on a road in no-man’s land, between the separatists and Ukrainian troops, and were shot at.
Your work was a small glimmer of hope. Because you, as representatives of the international community, were our eyes and ears on the ground. It was the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to which we owe the fact that, for a period of time, the crossing points on the line of contact could be secured at all. And I know – because we have had many conversations – that you look back on this time with mixed feelings. After all, the Russian war of aggression has destroyed these little successes – and peace seems further away than ever before.
Especially these days, when the going gets tough, or also with a view to Mali and the Afghanistan committee of inquiry, you can quickly arrive at the conclusion that we simply won’t bother in the future, that the OSCE mission has achieved nothing. What was the point of being on the ground for all those years? It’s easy to fall prey to such sarcasm and cynicism.
I think the most important thing is – and you know this better than we do here in Berlin – that we should remind ourselves every day that if we can save a human life, if we can enable young people to go to school at all for over 20 years – then our efforts were not in vain. Rather, we – and you on our behalf, on behalf of the international community, on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany – have made a piece of life, a piece of everyday life, possible for many people. And 20 years, two years, sometimes only two weeks is more than nothing. For that, you have our heartfelt thanks.
Freedom and security – that doesn’t just mean not being shot. It’s about many areas. Ms Valier will be working in one of these areas in the future – and I’m very pleased to hear this. She will return to Kyiv and support the investigations into Russia’s war crimes. With the rule of law and justice, we want to ensure that crimes are brought before the courts. We’re also paying tribute to Sabine Arnold today. You are advising judicial authorities in South Sudan to help investigate crimes against women and girls. In a country – and it’s important to remind ourselves of this fact – where every second woman is married before the age of 18. To be quite clear, these are not women, these are 17-year-old, 16-year-old, sometimes 14-year-old girls. This is not marriage, but rape on a day-to-day basis. And if we help to bring these crimes to justice, we help to give girls and young people some hope that they will be able to live in freedom and security when they are 16, 17, 18 or 21.
The beauty of peacekeeping is its pragmatic approach – ideas that I doubt anyone here would be able to come up with. In Sabine Arnold’s work, for example, a mobile court was created. It travels to people in the north of the country with a staff of 30 – judges, public prosecutors and human rights defenders – in order to be in a position to conduct any sort of trial at all. This clearly shows that, even in the most difficult countries, we don’t look the other way, but try to help to bring about a small piece of justice.
All of these examples remind us of what peacekeeping means. It means creating security in the 21st century in all of its dimensions. Security that is more than the absence of violence. Security that means the rule of law and freedom. But also security to safeguard our livelihoods. After all, we are witnessing how a war can be waged with food. Or that human security is not only threatened by the impacts of the climate crisis, but shaken to its very core.
In order to work on this together, we, as the German Government, will launch a national security strategy. This is being coordinated by the Federal Foreign Office. All of the ministries are contributing to this. The Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community is examining the question as to how we can second more federal police and police officers to missions. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture is examining the question as to how we can secure access to food. And, of course, we are working on the core component of what your work at the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF) has been about for the past 20 years – and we’re also celebrating its anniversary today – namely peacekeeping in the long term.
You stand for more than 2300 German peacekeepers who are deployed around the world. You stand for the fact that, every day, thousands of people are able to get a little closer to the things we take for granted – simply being able to live our lives in freedom. You are the face of German foreign policy – and for that, all of us wish to offer you our heartfelt thanks.