'Foreign Policy Suicide': Berlin's Hesitancy in the UN and the World

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A despot terrorizing his people in Libya. A civilian massacre taking shape in the Ivory Coast. Not so long ago, the United Nations Security Council would have looked the other way -- but not any more. Germany, though, seems determined to torpedo the international community's newfound resolve. 

Photo Gallery: Germany and the UN Photos
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The façade of the United Nations headquarters building on First Avenue in New York is ripped open, so from a distance the broad skyscraper on the East River looks as though shells have been launched into a section between the 20th and 30th floors. But the holes are only the result of a long-overdue renovation.

A visitor hoping to find the Security Council meeting hall, which has moved because of the construction into a basement under the General Assembly's auditorium, now has to walk through labyrinthine catacombs, many steel doors, hallways with cables dangling from the ceiling, underground parking garages and past plywood walls to reach a lobby filled with the reassuring sky-blue of the UN.

Light-colored doors open into the Security Council's temporary home, where history has been made rapidly in recent weeks. A visitor stands a good chance of witnessing the start of a new world order. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sometimes even sounds like a hawk when he mentions "immediate action" and the overriding need to "protect the civilian population." He says an epoch of "more robust" UN policy is unfolding, a time in which the globally interconnected world is no longer willing to merely look on as dictators attack their own people.

Many signs were pointing in this direction in March and, on the evening of March 17, many old certainties came to an end.

The Libya Surprise

The main item on the agenda that Thursday was Resolution 1973, an update of Resolution 1970, adopted only three weeks before. The meeting concerned Libya, its leader Moammar Gadhafi, and most likely the effort to prevent a bloodbath in Libya's second-largest city, the rebel stronghold Benghazi, with a population of 700,000. When the 15 ambassadors at the council's horseshoe-shaped conference table had raised their hands to approve the resolution, many things were suddenly very different.

The Russians did not use their veto, though the resolution included authorization to intervene militarily. The Chinese did not block the resolution, though it involved a deep intervention into Libya's internal affairs. The Americans voted for the resolution, though the International Criminal Court in The Hague, of which they disapprove, remained in play. The Lebanese voted in favor, though it meant paving the way for attacks on a fellow Arab country. The South Africans and the Nigerians voted yes, even though their vote was a violation of African solidarity. And the Germans? They abstained. They had concerns -- not to mention state elections.

Of course, the real action at the UN and the Security Council always takes place outside the meetings -- in office towers and hotels west of the headquarters building, between First and Park Avenues, in the suites of embassies and consulates scattered throughout Midtown. Year in and year out, the world's biggest diplomatic circus unfolds in back rooms, restaurants and entire office floors in the wider vicinity of UN headquarters. These are the places anyone seeking to describe the genesis of that important second Libya resolution has to visit.

Based on leaks from UN diplomats and on assessments by delegation members from within the narrow circle of the Security Council, we can conclude that the importance of the March 17 session and its prologue can hardly be overestimated -- because it demonstrated that the United Nations, so often decried as toothless, is embarking on new and unfamiliar paths.

A Sea Change in New York?

The UN may no longer be willing to look on while civilians are victimized, and -- following the traumatic experiences in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur -- it may be willing to counter violence with military force, when necessary. No one makes these decisions lightly. On the contrary, they're difficult decisions, particularly when faced by an organization that was built on the ruins of World War II. Since then, as one UN ambassador says, the world body has felt "culturally, almost genetically" committed to peace.

During a debate on intervention, pro and con arguments are equally important. A country can be seen as guilty for getting involved as much as for standing on the sidelines, as Germany did on March 17, when it opted not to participate in the Libyan action. There were respectable reasons for Germany's decision in this particular case, but anyone who examines the course of events can also see that Germany had chosen to follow a special path -- as if it had failed to read the future.

Indeed, everything seems to indicate that the UN no longer intends to rule out embarking on its own and engaging in active military missions when -- and only when -- it comes to protecting innocent people and saving the lives of uninvolved civilians. This change of policy will inevitably lead to images of UN soldiers firing weapons. It will also present Germany with delicate decisions, again and again.

A categorical "no" to the use of armed force is not an option for the largest economic power in Europe. Germany pays the third-largest contribution to the UN, and it has long asserted that it should be given a permanent seat on the Security Council. If this ambition was not already a mirage, it was possibly "kicked into the can once and for all" on March 17, as former German Forein Minister Joschka Fischer argued in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Even more serious than a possible end to the dream of "permanent" membership, though, is the impression that Germany abdicated responsibility at a historic moment -- instead of participating in the attempt to stop a lunatic dictator. (Some European UN ambassadors have uttered this opinion under the cloak of anonymity.)

On the day the second Libya resolution passed, rebels in Benghazi had reported that the city could only be held for another 12 hours. Gadhafi's troops were advancing; in the event that government forces captured it, the city could very well face a massacre -- the "slaughter" the dictator had promised when he shouted on TV that he would "cleanse" the country, from "house to house," of the "rats" of the opposition.

The Americans had seemed opposed to the idea of a no-fly zone and military strikes until the day of the vote, if only because they were worried about becoming mired in a third war with a Muslim country. They changed their minds, it became apparent last week, in response to the dramatic reports from Benghazi. Only two hours before the actual vote, say diplomats in New York, Washington performed an about-face and joined the supporters of the resolution.

This change of heart was also influenced by a coalition that had formed in the meantime -- after the Arab League, speaking with many voices but one resolution, had called upon the world to take action. The African Union opposed Gadhafi and was joined by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This widespread support for the resolution also persuaded China and Russia not to use their vetoes.

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1.
ioanonimus 04/15/2011
Zitat von sysopA despot terrorizing his people in Libya. A civilian massacre taking shape in Ivory Coast. Not so long ago, the United Nations Security Council would have looked the other way -- but not any more. Germany, though, seems determined to torpedo the*international community's newfound resolve.* http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,756782,00.html
Other despots are terrorizing Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with a lot of Saudi tanks and West help, and everybody is looking the other way. The "reaction" in Libya and Ivory Coast is to replace independent tyrants, with docile ones, which give away ressource control. And 2 civil wars were started for this. The "good" rebels of Libya are leaded by the formers interior and external ministries of Gadhafi. Hardly democrats peoples. Nobody give a token about massacres, what count is power and ressources. Germany should have the same resolve it had with Iraq. If it can. For the moment, Germany is on the right side of history. Completly wrong is the author of the article.
2. Authority based on what?
lol1232 04/16/2011
The article missed one glaring point and that would be who gave the authority to engage in military combat of civilians or to engage period? The United States went to the United Nations by passing our own constitutional processes! Only Congress can declare war and no-one the public appointed to represent them even went to Congress. This is a terrible breach in what the United States constitution stands for. I'm not even sure it is a legal move for the U.N. "Under the United nations charter, the planning and waging of aggressive war is regarded as a major war crime." Where do these countries especially America get the idea that the U.N.has authority to take this military action. Germany is correct in abstaining whether there is an election or not. Maybe they remember the Nuremberg Tribunal (which apparently some have forgotten, or should we say selective ethics). When the U.N takes the military rule of wars then does the IMF and world bank take it's financial cues from the U.N or who pays for this action? The Bancor isn't in effect yet and so each country will pay separately and gain separately until the SDR's can be transferred to Euro's or goes directly to a world currency (maybe even by a new name). The whole affair was based on a false premise that the U.N. has authority over sovereign Countries ...maybe the U.N. need a global military such as NATO? Would they like to pay our service people too...our government almost shut down and obliged our service people to respect their contracts. I have no say into what happens in the Middle East along with my fellow countrymen, but I will say it is very wrong to go to the U.N. and surpass Congress and the U.N.has exceeded it's mandate in my opinion.
3.
BTraven 04/18/2011
It was quite right not to vote for the resolution as the video which is nothing for weak nerves shows, however, had it not meant watching how Gaddafi’s troop had crushed the rebels in Benghazi. By the way I do not trust diplomats accusing him of violating human rights because they had been serving Gaddafi for a long time but had not dared to speak out against his policy. http://www.uruknet.info/?p=76906
4.
BTraven 04/19/2011
Zitat von ioanonimusOther despots are terrorizing Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with a lot of Saudi tanks and West help, and everybody is looking the other way. The "reaction" in Libya and Ivory Coast is to replace independent tyrants, with docile ones, which give away ressource control. And 2 civil wars were started for this. The "good" rebels of Libya are leaded by the formers interior and external ministries of Gadhafi. Hardly democrats peoples. Nobody give a token about massacres, what count is power and ressources. Germany should have the same resolve it had with Iraq. If it can. For the moment, Germany is on the right side of history. Completly wrong is the author of the article.
I couldn’t agree more.
5. Alternate Course
muley63 04/21/2011
Zitat von ioanonimusOther despots are terrorizing Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with a lot of Saudi tanks and West help, and everybody is looking the other way. The "reaction" in Libya and Ivory Coast is to replace independent tyrants, with docile ones, which give away ressource control. And 2 civil wars were started for this. The "good" rebels of Libya are leaded by the formers interior and external ministries of Gadhafi. Hardly democrats peoples. Nobody give a token about massacres, what count is power and ressources. Germany should have the same resolve it had with Iraq. If it can. For the moment, Germany is on the right side of history. Completly wrong is the author of the article.
The rebels are led by a council. Granted that some are ex-Gaddafi officials, but they have the expertise. As you have heard, there is complete resistance led from the ground in Misurata without any ex-Gaddafi officials. I understand Germany's reluctance to join their allies because of historical reasons. However, don't kid yourself, a massacre was averted because of the West's intervention. Just look at what is occurring in Misurata for proof: cluster bombs, indiscriminate shelling, the civilians casualties. I believe in the UN more muscular approach to humanitarian crises. Germany can standby while Rwanda, Srebrenica and Sudan massacres happen and shrug their responsibilities, but the UN will no longer wait.
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