Germany makes its case to join the P-5; America shrugs
Germany joins a short list of middle powers — including Brazil, India, Nigeria, and South Africa — hoping to leverage their temporary stints on the 15-nation Security Council into permanent membership in the world’s premier security club. Germany touts its status as one of the world’s economic powerhouses, a top contributor to the United Nations ...
Germany joins a short list of middle powers -- including Brazil, India, Nigeria, and South Africa -- hoping to leverage their temporary stints on the 15-nation Security Council into permanent membership in the world's premier security club. Germany touts its status as one of the world's economic powerhouses, a top contributor to the United Nations budget, and a key leader in the European Union.
Germany joins a short list of middle powers — including Brazil, India, Nigeria, and South Africa — hoping to leverage their temporary stints on the 15-nation Security Council into permanent membership in the world’s premier security club. Germany touts its status as one of the world’s economic powerhouses, a top contributor to the United Nations budget, and a key leader in the European Union.
But Germany faces special hurdles. The council’s P-5, as the five veto-wielding council members are known, already includes two European powers. The United States, which openly supported German candidacy for a permanent seat during the Clinton administration, has stopped promoting the German bid, favoring a seat for India and Japan.
In an interview with Turtle Bay, Germany’s U.N. ambassador, Peter Wittig, made his case for his country’s role as a player on the Security Council, citing its economic prowess, its tradition of supplying overseas assistance, and its far-flung diplomatic corps that can supply the council with independent analysis and intelligence on events around the world.
Germany approaches conflict resolution in Africa with "less of a power angle" than other key council powers, Wittig said. "We are a European country, and we would certainly see common ground with other European countries," he continued. "But we want to be playing a constructive balancing role … [to] prevent rather than promote antagonisms on the council."
Part of Wittig’s job is to show that Germany can play a relatively independent role on a range of issues, from the Middle East to African conflict resolution, while at the same time assuring key powers, principally the United States, that it can work productively on the big issues. "We have, like the United States and others, a universal network of missions and embassies abroad," he said, noting that Germany has a presence in most of the trouble spots being addressed by the Security Council. "We don’t have to rely … on other countries [for information], nor on secondary sources. This is a tremendous asset."
The last time Germany served on the council in 2003 and 2004, Germany’s then-ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, played a vigorous role in organizing the 10 elected nonpermanent members of the council, the so-called E-10, against American efforts to secure a resolution authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In fact, Pleuger allowed the council’s lesser powers to meet in his country’s secure room at the German mission to the U.N. so they could be assured that their consultations on Iraq strategy were not being listened to by the United States or anyone else. In the end, the United States and Britain withdrew their war resolution and proceeded with the invasion without it.
In the end, Germany’s refusal to support the U.S.-led invasion was vindicated by revelations that Washington’s key pretext for toppling Saddam Hussein — the need to dismantle Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program — was unfounded. But the Bush administration resented Germany’s position and withheld any support for its bid to secure a permanent seat on the Security Council. The Obama administration — which maintains cordial relations with Germany — has likewise not offered any support for Germany’s bid, though it has not explained why.
Wittig recalled that the U.N. Security Council was "very polarized" during the run-up to the Iraq war. "The E-10 really ganged up together under the able leadership of my predecessor." Wittig said he expected that this time around the E-10 "will probably consult each other on a regular basis, but I don’t expect any ganging up."
Germany will be responsible for managing the council’s schedule and leading the Security Council’s 1267 committee, which enforces sanctions on members of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Wittig said Germany will use its position to promote reconciliation between Hamid Karzai’s government and Taliban insurgents who put down their arms. Germany is hoping to make headway this year in restoring greater responsibility to Afghans and to begin withdrawing German troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011. "Germany will live up to its international responsibilities," Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a recent statement. "But it also stands for a culture of military restraint."
Germany is also planning to promote Security Council debate on peace building and climate change. Former British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett introduced council discussion of global warming as a threat to international security in April 1987, but the council has never issued a formal statement on the matter. "We are very sympathetic with [the British climate initiative]," Wittig said. "Whether it can be turned into a project, we will see. But it has to be handled with care."
Wittig said the struggle to contain the spread of nuclear weapons, particularly in Iran and North Korea, remains "one of the huge challenges of our time" and underscored the increasing importance of cooperation between the United States and China. He said that the council’s imposition of sanctions on Iran succeeded "against some odds" and despite "some skeptics who said we will never get it done. I think the bilateral relationship between the United States and China plays a very important role."
North Korea, he said, "is a different story," citing the council’s failure to confront North Korea following its military attack on the South Korean warship Cheonan and a subsequent artillery attack on a South Korea island. "Some of the actors made clear right from the start of this new crisis that the council should not have a role. And then it did not happen."
Looking ahead, Wittig said he is eager to ensure that the U.N. Security Council remains "the supreme legitimate body" responsible for addressing the world’s security challenges. He noted that other emerging groups, including the Group of 20, may seek to encroach on the council’s turf. "Will there be competing configurations that take away some of the relevance of the Security Council? Those are some of the questions on the horizon," he said. The G-20, he said, "has been evolving very rapidly … and we could well imagine it would not stop issue-wise where it is, but would rather be expanding in the scope of the issues that it touches on."
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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