Global Security Policy: We are required to deliver

16. Juli 2018   ·   Christoph Heusgen

The guiding principle during our two-year term on the Security Council will be a rules-based international order. Germany will take a holistic view on security, prioritize prevention and the promotion of peace, and strengthen UN peace missions. More than ever, it is important to take a clear position on current crises.

With a large majority of 184 of 190 possible votes, Germany was elected by the UN General Assembly for a two-year term on the Security Council on 8 June 2018. From January 2019 to December 2020, we will have a seat at the heart of the international security architecture. As one of 15 members, Germany will have much more influence to shape foreign policy than in the past and will play an overall larger role within the United Nations. How will we use these new possibilities and to what end?

Take a clear position and defend the rules-based international order

The first thing to note is that the Security Council’s agenda is largely predetermined by current crises and conflicts, recurring debates on mandates for peace missions and other topics. It is therefore important that we will not only be able to speak about all 69 agenda items, which the Security Council deals with regularly. We must also take a clear position on them. We are aware that we will certainly face difficult decisions on the Council. Despite its shortcomings, the Security Council remains the preeminent international body for matters of peace and security. We have a great interest in contributing to a positive dynamic on the Council, overcoming impasses and finding solutions to the key crises of our time. We wish to work closely with all members of the Security Council.

The guiding principle for our action in the United Nations, including our two-year term on the Security Council, will be standing up for and defending a rules-based international order. The withdrawal of the United States from multilateral formats like the Paris Climate Accord, UNESCO and negotiations for a Global Migration Compact, but also Washington’s increasingly unilateral approach, for example the transfer of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, have created noticeable uncertainty in the UN system. The U.S. seems less willing today to fulfill the role of a leading Western power and key state of the multilateral post-war order.

The vacuum caused by the withdrawal of the U.S. is filled by Russia and China

But vacuums have a tendency to fill quickly, not only in physics. Russia and China, assertive since the beginning because of their status as permanent members, have become even more assertive within the UN system as a result of U.S. disengagement. Their goal is to turn back progress on the rules-based order we have developed over decades or steer it in a different direction. They strongly oppose intervention in internal affairs and promote a state-centered worldview, whereas we and our western partners focus on protecting the individual, his or her rights, freedoms and opportunities. Both countries are trying to assert interests and norms within the United Nations, which often do not align with Western ideas or completely oppose them. This is especially apparent regarding human rights. China seeks to diminish the importance of individual, political rights and instead prioritizes economic and social rights. In recent years, Russia has issued numerous vetoes, which have impeded progress in resolving the Syrian conflict, all with the goal of protecting the Assad regime. Furthermore, Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine constitutes a serious violation of international norms.

Prioritize prevention and strengthen the Peacebuilding Commission

We believe it is important to take a holistic view on security. Peace and stability are more than just the absence of armed conflict. We believe, contrary to arguments made by proponents of a narrower definition of security, the Security Council should not wait until a conflict has escalated before addressing it. We do not want to stand on the sidelines while the next armed conflict ramps up. Instead, we want to address crisis developments at an early stage through preventative measures.

Developing farsighted, preventative crisis policy and focusing on prevention are also priorities for UN Secretary-General António Guterres. We will strongly support him in these efforts, including outside of the Security Council. Just last year, the UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund supported projects to promote peace and prevent conflicts in 31 countries. Germany more than tripled its budget for crisis prevention, stabilization and humanitarian aid in 2017 to 2.5 billion euro. We were also the second largest donor to the Peacebuilding Fund last year. As current Vice-Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, an intergovernmental advisory board for prevention and peacebuilding, we believe the Commission is still underutilized by the Security Council.

As an advocate for prevention and peacebuilding, Germany will argue for strengthening the role of the Peacebuilding Commission on the Security Council, especially in the difficult transition from peace mission to peacebuilding. We also support closer cooperation between the Security Council, General Assembly, Peacebuilding Commission and Human Rights Council. The Secretary-General’s peace and security reforms, for example the restructuring of the Secretariat, will enable the United Nations to fulfill its duties more effectively. The expertise of these bodies must be considered more by the Security Council than it has been the case in the past.

Germany must continue to be visibly active in UN peace missions

UN peace missions are rightly one of the UN’s signature activities. As a Security Council member, we will make important decisions on peace mandates over the next two years. We are aware that peace missions are a key instrument in addressing conflicts. However, they cannot replace political solutions. We will advocate for close cooperation with regional organizations such as the European Union and African Union. Blue helmet missions have come under pressure in recent years because of both internal and external circumstances. Peacekeepers are often the targets of lethal attacks and sexual assaults in certain missions have resulted in a loss of trust. The pressure to cut costs by the U.S. government adds additional strain. 

With his new initiative “Action for Peacekeeping,” Secretary-General Guterres wishes to fundamentally reform and modernize blue helmet missions and adapt them to the changing requirements of conflicts. Germany supports these efforts emphatically. As the fourth largest contributor to the peacekeeping budget, Germany is already shouldering a large share of the burden. In recent years, the German government has additionally increased German personnel in UN missions, for example in MINSUMA in Mali and UNIFIL off the coast of Lebanon. We cannot let up on these efforts. As a member of the Security Council, Germany must continue to be visibly active in UN peace missions, including by deploying soldiers and providing military capabilities.

The protection of human rights belongs to the “hard” core of security

Some topics dismissed as “soft” by proponents of a strict definition of security are also part of a comprehensive definition. The systematic violation of human rights, for example, is not only the result of conflict but often its cause. This is why the protection of human rights belongs to the “hard” core of our security definition. During our term, we will place more focus on the connection between human rights and security and not solely rely on the Human Rights Council in Geneva regarding human rights issues. Instead, we will promote closer exchange between both Councils. Theequal participation of women is a key element of sustainable peacebuilding and must be part of the solution for resolving acute crises and preventing new ones. And the consequences of global climate change, especially the question of how to manage scarce water resources, have a clear security dimension. The Security Council cannot afford to ignore the security implications. Under our presidency in July 2011 during our previous term on the Security Council, we reached a consensus for a presidential statement on the security dimension of climate change. We will continue pushing this issue forward.

An important lesson from the seven years of conflict in Syria is that those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity will not change their conduct as long as their deeds go unpunished. Impunity keeps the price for committing crimes low and often leads to further atrocities. The absence of an independent mechanism to determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons is particularly problematic and we will advocate for creating such a mechanism again. The taboo surrounding the use of chemical weapons cannot be diminished. We will also promote accountability in other ways, for example by referring more cases to the International Criminal Court and applying sanctions regimes. In the case of Syria, Germany supports the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), which collects and documents evidence for later prosecutions.

Put an end to the two-class society in the Security Council

Beyond advancing a comprehensive definition of security, we will focus on another key issue. Traditionally, the permanent members have served as penholders for most country dossiers. It is still the exception for non-permanent members to have penholderships. This division of responsibilities results in “second-class” Security Council members, and we believe it is outdated. We will seek to open penholderships on the Security Council to non-permanent members, especially for topics with which they have extensive experience. But Germany will not be able to change much on its own. We therefore intend to unite the EU members represented on the Security Council and work closely with our French partners.