It was a late start under difficult conditions: forty years ago, two German states were admitted to the United Nations (UN) on 18 September 1973. From that day on, both the Federal Republic and the GDR were represented in the UN General Assembly in New York. Although the two delegations of the member states numbers 133 and 134 were separated merely by a narrow gangway, they were nevertheless worlds apart. In the following years of dual membership only one joint initiative ever emerged: the creation of a German translation service.
In his speech to the General Assembly, the Federal Republic’s foreign minister at the time, Walter Scheel, expressly pointed out that the membership of both German states did not indicate recognition of the country’s division. Nevertheless, 17 years passed before Germany was able to speak with one voice in the United Nations. The act of reunification in 1990 made the Federal Republic of Germany one of the strongest economies and one of the largest populations amongst the European states in the UN, and this raised the question of the country’s future role.
Germany is now involved in the United Nations in many different ways, and this work in the organization is a key element in the country’s foreign policy. Germany’s involvement in the UN also includes working towards structural reforms. In 2012, the Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a speech to the General Assembly that Germany is prepared “to take on more responsibility”. In the years 2011 and 2012, the Federal Republic was once again a non-permanent member of the Security Council. The Security Council is the only United Nations body able to make decisions that are binding under international law.
The United Nations is also visible in Germany. Many of the United Nations agencies based in Germany use the UN Campus in Bonn which opened in 2006. There are UN institutions in other cities as well, for instance Hamburg is the seat of the UN Maritime Court. Offices in Berlin include those of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Labour Organization and the World Food Programme. And the World Bank Group has an office in the financial centre of Frankfurt am Main.