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Diplomacy between ­crises and conflicts

Germany’s membership of the United Nations Security Council – an appraisal.

© UN Photo/Mark Garten

At the turn of the year 2012/2013 Germany will leave the Se­curity Council of the United Nations (UN) after completing its two-year term as a non-permanent member. The Federal Republic has thus been represented on this body for the fifth time since 1977/1978. While day-to-day business was overshadowed by the Iraq War during its membership in 2003/2004, its latest term was influenced above all by developments in the Arab world.

Initially, attention was drawn by its un­expected abstention in the vote on the authorization of military measures in Libya on 17 March 2011. As a result, Germany found itself on the same side as Russia 
and China. The Federal Government’s decision irritated various partner countries. Attempts by Berlin to mobilize the Se­curity Council to prevent further suffering in Syria have been all the more vigorous. However, the blockade by Russia and China appears practically insurmountable which was sharply criticized by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle when he addressed the General Assembly in New York in September 2012. Indeed the Syria crisis reminds us once again that the Se­curity Council is a political body whose 
decisions are primarily dependent on the interests of the five permanent members – USA, UK, France, Russia and China (P5). The accusation of selectivity in the way conflicts are handled may therefore be justified, but alternative mechanisms are not available.

Currently the Security Council is focusing on over forty regional crises and conflicts; the instruments range from prevention and mediation to peacekeeping and peacebuilding to sanctions and military co­ercion. One permanent topic is the nuclear conflicts with Iran and North Korea. From the outset the problems of disarmament and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction were given priority in the planning for Germany’s current membership term on the Council. After all, Germany is one of the main negotiating partners alongside the USA, Russia, China, the UK and France (E3+3) in the nuclear dispute with Iran.

Despite chronic work overload, every year new crises and conflicts are added to the agenda of the Security Council. In October 2011, for example, for the first time a resol­ution on the situation in Yemen was adopted in which the local authorities were called upon to observe international humanitarian law and human rights. According to statements by Peter Wittig, Germany’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ger­many played a crucial part in the adoption of this resolution.

The work processes on the Security Council require every member to fulfil certain functions. Germany’s tasks included handling the Afghanistan dossier and coordinating the extension of the mandates for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Additionally, the German Permanent Representative was entrusted with the Chair of the Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee. During this period, the Security Council decided to separate both sanctions regimes, which means sanctions can be used against the Taliban in an even more targeted way to advance the political process in Afghanistan.

German diplomats were also deployed in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. The task of this Working Group consists of identifying conflict parties that recruit child soldiers and commit other serious crimes against children. Under the auspices of the Federal Government, a resolution was adopted that proscribes attacks on schools and hospitals.

The day-to-day business of the Security Council offers non-permanent members very few opportunities to present their views to a broader public. Most delegations choose to promote certain thematic issues during the months in which they hold the Presidency. Germany’s turn was in July 2011 and in September 2012. In 
this role, Germany focused on the nexus between climate change and international security with regard to the situation of 
the small island states that are especially affected by rising sea levels. Sustainability and environmental problems are traditionally dealt with in other UN bodies. Many emerging and developing countries are afraid that the Security Council might also gain increasing influence in these fields. The Federal Government, however, pursues a rather broad and inclusive ­approach to crisis prevention. From the German perspective, therefore, it was something of a success that, following arduous negotiations, this subject was dealt with in a Presidential Statement in July 2011.

In September 2012, during its second term of Presidency, Germany initiated a debate at the level of foreign ministers on how cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States could be strengthened with regard to conflict prevention and conflict resolution. Against the background of the Syria crisis, the Middle East conflict, the Iranian nuclear dispute and the danger of an escalation in the region, there is an 
urgent need for the debate initiated by the Federal Government.

How Germany’s performance on the Se­curity Council is judged depends on the respective expectations. There was sometimes criticism that Germany lacked an overall strategy. However, this criticism 
ignores the fact that the freedom of movement for non-permanent members of the Security Council is extremely limited. Day-to-day business absorbs most of the avail­able energy. Furthermore, the Security Council has to be constantly on the alert. Its main task consists of responding to acute threats to peace and security. Long-term planning and strategic ideas frequently have to take a back seat.

The structural deficits of the Security Council are generally known: a lack of representativeness and the preeminence of the five veto members cast shadows over the legitimacy of this body. A special situation arose in the year 2011 when four heavyweights were temporarily represented on the United Nations Security Council – Brazil, India, Nigeria and South Africa – that each lay claim to a regional leadership role and are striving for a permanent seat on the Council. Nonetheless, it was not possible to achieve substantial progress on reform. Although there is certainly no lack of ideas, differences of opinion and rivalries among the supporters of reform have continued to stand in the way of agreement on a viable model. ▪

Dr. Christian Schaller is Deputy Head of the Global Issues Research Division at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) – German Institute for International and Security Affairs.