Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer: "Shame for the failure of our government"

Published: March 22, 2011 at 11:08pm

Guido Westerwelle

Der Spiegel (Spiegel online), today:

‘Shame for the Failure of Our Government’

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has been widely criticized for the decision to abstain from the UN Security Council vote authorizing force against Libya.

Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has blasted his country’s government for abstaining from last week’s Security Council resolution authorizing military force in Libya. With the move, he says, Germany can forget playing a major role on the global stage.

The notice is still in place on the German Foreign Ministry website. “The reform of the United Nations Security Council remains a major goal for the German government. … The German government’s willingness to shoulder more responsibility within the framework of such reform is unchanged.”

“UN reform” is diplo-speak for Berlin’s desire to assume a permanent seat on the Security Council, a goal that Chancellor Angela Merkel has long been striving for. An alternative to that target would be a permanent European Union seat.

But following Germany’s abstention from the Council resolution passed last Friday, which authorized military operations to thwart attacks by forces loyal to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi on civilians, an increasing number of foreign policy heavyweights in Germany are saying that the goal is now unachievable.

“Germany has lost its credibility in the United Nations and in the Middle East,” wrote former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in a contribution to the Tuesday edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “German hopes for a permanent seat on the Security Council have been permanently dashed and one is now fearful of Europe’s future.”

Klaus Naumann, formerly the general inspector of the Bundeswehr — the highest ranking position in the German military — was, if anything, even harsher in his assessment. “Germany’s hopes for a permanent Security Council seat can be buried. Even the idea of an EU seat is damaged,” he wrote in a piece for the business daily Handelsblatt. “Germany has turned the idea of a unified European Union foreign policy into a farce.”

‘We Calculated the Risk’

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has done his best to defend his country’s abstention on resolution 1971. Initially, he said that the non-vote stemmed from fears in Berlin of becoming involved in the conflict.

More recently, he has pointed to a debate within the Arab League about the Western military force currently being brought to bear in Libya.

“We calculated the risk,” Westerwelle told reporters in Brussels on Monday ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers. “If we see that three days after this intervention began, the Arab League already criticizes it, I think we had good reasons.”

Critics of Westerwelle’s position have found neither explanation to be particularly convincing. On the one had, a vote in favor of military action in Libya would not have made German involvement obligatory. On the other, prior to the vote, the Arab League had been among those calling for a no-fly zone in Libya.

Many have said that, with crucial state votes looming on Sunday in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, domestic political concerns are to blame for Berlin’s unwillingness to support the resolution.

Germany’s abstention made it the only Western country on the Security Council not to approve military action against Libya — all the more surprising given Westerwelle’s repeated assertions prior to (and also subsequent to) the vote that Gadhafi had to go. Also abstaining were China, Russia, Brazil and India.

In his essay, Fischer argued the abstentions by China and Russia, because they possess permanent vetoes, were essentially “yes” votes — whereas that from Germany, as a leading member of both NATO and the European Union, was akin to a “no” vote.

“I don’t know what the German foreign minister was thinking,” he wrote. “But (the abstention) doesn’t have much in common with a values-driven foreign policy nor with German and European Union interests.”

Images of the Warsaw Ghetto

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a long-time member of the Green Party and now a member of the European Parliament, is likewise concerned about Germany’s apparent reluctance to vigorously defend Western values.

“Why is it so difficult for us in Germany to realize that we have to help the rebels in Libya, primarily because a bloodbath is looming in Benghazi?” Cohn-Bendit, who is a dual citizen of France and Germany and currently holds a French seat in the parliament, said in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE.

“Everyone has seen pictures of the Warsaw ghetto. Everyone knows what happens when an army takes over a city. That’s why all parties in France, including on the left, were in favor of a military intervention in Libya. In Germany, that didn’t happen.”

Of particular concern for many critics is the fact that Westerwelle has largely isolated his country from its closest allies. Ever since World War II, Germany has sought to surround itself with allies, preferring to be a member of a larger club than to going it alone. Indeed, it has been this foreign policy philosophy which has made Germany a leading proponent of European integration and a driver behind the goal of a unified EU foreign policy.


“The opposition to our closest partner France is a break with all constants of German foreign policy since 1949,” Naumann wrote. “It is the legacy of Adenauer and Kohl — all of Germany’s chancellors in fact — that Germany can never again be isolated. And now it is supposed to be in Germany’s interest to throw that all over board and risk going it alone because of the vague risk of becoming involved in a war in Africa?”

The results of the break with France have already become clear. At Monday’s meeting of European Union top diplomats, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe reportedly did not take kindly to Westerwelle’s tacit backing of the Arab League’s criticism of ongoing Western air raids in Libya. When questioned about the tiff, Juppe merely said “I say what I think and so does Westerwelle.”

And so too does Fischer. “I have nothing but shame for the failure of our government,” he wrote.

40 Comments Comment

  1. Harry Purdie says:

    Much of this could be political posturing from the opposition ranks, as an election looms. However, they could have sent a ‘token’ fighter jet to Italy, even if it was left parked. A bit cross-legged now.

    • Andrea says:

      Harry, Mutti Merkel’s Janus-faced decision caused an uproar amongst all political parties in Germany, including her own.

      • Leo Said says:

        @ Andrea

        Exactly. I have remarked accordingly on this site because there seems to be serious misconception of German affairs.

        Hence, even though boring, I wish to refer again to following:

        [Nonetheless, in the context of the present issue, the important point in the article referred to by Daphne, is in my opinion the chapter “Looking for Domestic Gains”.

        At the moment, with imminent statal elections of paramount federal importance, Angela Merkel’s and Guido Westerwelle’s respective parties are not faring well at all. Merkel’s CDU has suffered a devastating defeat in Hamburg. On Sunday, 20 March 2011, Westerwelle’s Free Democrats were ousted from participating in Sachsen-Anhalt’s new parliament. This coming weekend, one will vote for a new parliament in the state of Baden-Württemberg, as yet a Christian Democrat stronghold, where, however, according to pre-election polls, there exists a strong possibility that a red-green coalition might take-over. Furthermore, there are also elections in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, which at the moment is governed by a social-democrat-liberal coalition. Prognosis indicates also here the possibility of a red-green take-over.

        One should therefore strive to understand Merkel’s and Westerwelle’s political plight without necessarily agreeing to/with the actions implemented by the incumbent German federal government.

        Last but not least, one should consider the possibility, if not the probability, of a subconscious post-war trauma psychology/mentality, which, for the native German population, has indeed been aggravated by German experience in Afghanistan.]

      • Harry Purdie says:

        Andrea, I think we are violently agreeing. I completely understand, that as a German national, you are much more ‘au courant’ than I in domestic affairs.

        I was attempting to imply how the German situation is ‘perceived’ from outside. As an example, when talking late last night to Canadian and American friends, their ‘perception’ was that (this is a quote): ‘I think the Germans have changed places with the French–from cheese-eating surrender monkeys to bratwurst-eating surrender monkeys’.

        I know, highly unfair, however, perception counts when situations are highly uncertain and volatile.

      • Andrea says:

        Harry, I think your American and Canadian friends should add a bit of research to their ‘perception’. Perception without basic knowledge can be dangerous. And I am not defending Mutti and her ludicrous lap dog Westerwelle here as you already know how much I disdain them.

      • Harry Purdie says:

        Andrea, I can do nothing but agree with you. I know you have visited both Canada and the US. Therefore, you understand the insular mentality of many Canadian and American citizens (I hasten to add that I have found many more Americans!).

        I have only found one country that exhibits the same mentalty, but to a much more extreme degree. I will let you guess, but give you a hint: it is somewhat smaller than Canada and the US, and, sometimes, disappears from maps.

        I will relay your and Leo’s comments to my friends.

    • Leo Said says:

      @ Mr.Purdie

      You may wish to additionally read following:

      Mar 22, 2011, 11:07 GMT
      Germany to offer 300 airmen to Afghanistan mission, sources say,1518,752521,00.html

      The World from Berlin
      ‘Gadhafi Is Facing a Coalition of the Unwilling’

      • Harry Purdie says:

        Mr. Said, thank you for those links. I was made aware of the additional German assets being sent to Afghanistan earlier. Commendable. However I stand by my original comment. Also, please read my post to Andrea.

      • Leo Said says:

        @ Harry Purdie

        I have of course read your message to Andrea and I wish to quote you as follows:

        “I was attempting to imply how the German situation is ‘perceived’ from outside”.

        That, is indeed what is troubling many in Germany because of the actions/stands taken by their elected federal government.

        Harry, please be assured that Merkel’s and Westerwelle’s decisions are extensively, and strongly, criticised in Germany. The criticism comes from all public angles and from all political corners.

      • Harry Purdie says:

        Thank you for that, Leo.

  2. NATO says:

    Germany withdraws Mediterranean assets from NATO command as alliance takes on Libya embargo
    By: The Associated Press
    Posted: 03/22/2011

    • Edward Clemmer says:

      KMB would be proud. Muddled thinking has its consequences not only for EU’s largest member (Germany), but also for EU’s smallest member (Malta).

      If before EU membership Malta risked being on the fringe of Europe, our present “common” (PN-LP) foreign policy has placed us beyond the southern fringe. And Germany, under former East German Merkel, has moved Germany closer to the former Soviet orbit of present-day Russia.

      Neither fish nor fowl, who are we? Isolated from Europe. Initially, I thought Germany’s abstention was due to its Turkish population. But Turkey as a NATO member seems likely to support the coming NATO leadership in the allied enforcement of the EU Libyan resolution. Turkey’s aspirations for membership in the EU may be brightening.

      No wonder Malta’s CNi has raised its ugly head on the current controversy. It has always been anti-EU. And Malta’s (PN) government seems to have bought the Mintoffian neutrality blackmail. Muddled thinking has come forth to bite us all on the butt.

      I think Germany and Malta both need to do a rethink on their foreign policies before we descend into potential isolationism from the reactions of our northern international brethen. No wonder we appear to be slightly more south. The long-tern consequencies of our “neutrality” is not risk free, and it seems unlikely to make us safer. Quite the contrary, our medium and long-term security may be placed in jeopardy. And with Germany’s position, there are risks to the EU project, let alone its international position.

      Sant may yet get his Switzerland-in-the-Med, as far as Malta’s foreign policy is concerned. It seems that EFA’s perspective on the Libyan situation is more akin to his leadership and victory to get Malta into the EU, where the majority of Maltese put their votes. Dr. Gonzi’s position on neutrality regarding Libya seems to be backtracking on the EU. Germany’s position has been interpreted similarly, it seems.

    • Leo Said says:

      @ NATO

      It seems that Germany is willing to provide ca. 300 soldiers to serve on AWACS in the Afghanistan area.

      According to following chart (sources: Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, BBC, Deutsche Welle), AWACS are based in Malta.

      A proficient NATO Command could have tried to persuade Germany to deploy its AWACS soldiers to Malta.

      Please excuse my cynicism.

  3. H.P. Baxxter says:

    Merkel is probably rueing the day she instructed her ambassador to abstain. In the aftermath Germany did more than many ‘Yes’ countries to help the war effort. Bases on German territory, including German personnel are being used. An overlooked but not unimportant point is that NATO-registered (i.e. not nationally registered) AWACS aircraft are taking part in the operation. Now they wouldn’t have flown without an explicit approval from the NATO council, which includes Germany. And the fleet is based in Germany.

    Compare this to Turkey’s stance, for instance: ‘Yes we support the resolution but we do not want military action.’ Germany’s position is more like: ‘We abstain because the resolution is unclear but we will go along with the rest.’

    A word about Westerwelle. He is the resident peacenik in the Bundestag, originator of endless debates about the Afghan mission and hair-splitting on the definition of ‘peacekeeping’.

    I risk repeating myself here, but notice this:”Klaus Naumann, formerly the general inspector of the Bundeswehr — the highest ranking position in the German military.”

    That’s because the German military has no position commander-in-chief, since it is completely integrated into NATO. Yes. Technically, Germany has no army of its own.

    People are rightly calling for a fresh policy, and I agree. But we you cannot have new policies with old constitutions. Time for an overhaul of Germany’s post-war status as vanquished-in-chief. And the ball, quite frankly, is in the USA’s court.

  4. Albert Farrugia says:

    Well, the least one should worry about is the CFSP. There is no such thing, and this is not something new.

    How about Britain’s stance towards the so-called CFSP?

    France and Germany (whose Foreign Minister at the time was Fischer) stood solidly by each other in opposition to Bush’s war on Iraq. But this should not mean that wherever France leads, Germany must follow. Just because now France’s president has developed an appetite for war.

    Germany has been asserting itself in the last months quite forcefully. We have all but forgotten the financial and economic crises, during which Germany resisted, and has shown it will not accept, to be the paymaster of Europe, covering for all Eurozone members’ largesse.

    Germany is the driving force behind the harmonisation efforts of the Member States’ economic policies.

    Germany is simply showing that it is gaining autonomy as regards foreign and defence policy. That, just like Britan, France, and all others, it has a right to decide on the best policy to protect its national interest, something from which it used to shy away in the past.

    Time will show that Germany’s stance will have been the right one. NATO members are now squabbling over who gets to control the Libya war effort. The Arabs are refusing to participate in the war. So much for unity.

    There is one lesson which Germany has learnt very well at a great and tragic expense: that problems are not necessarily solved by armies and bombs.

  5. El Topo says:

    These permits for building something in your own home are a real pain.

  6. Tim Ripard says:

    Piefke Schwuler

  7. Anthony says:

    The German government has behaved like a child in this critical situation.

    Once it became evident that Sarkozy and Cameron had stolen the limelight and were forging ahead, in tandem, to successfully pull a great diplomatic coup, the Germans spoilt the game.

    The only word the Germans understand in European politics is ” hegemony”. This is, historically, in their very nature.

  8. John Sammut says:

    It seems that Mr. Joschka Fischer has forgotten his and his mentor’s (Cancellor Gerhard Schröder) overtures to Mr Putin, thereby securing his dictatorial position in post communist Russia. Meanwhile his mentor is supervising the new gasline from Russia to Germany and he has one of the best lecturing posts in the USA.

  9. Joseph A Borg says:

    A green party MEP accusing the FM of forgetting history whilst advocating for military intervention is the biggest indictment of German foreign policy in this article.

  10. LIBYA says:

    Libya’s constitution before Gaddafi.

  11. Ragunament bazwi - the bigoted xenophobe edition says:

    pat camilleri
    These lybians are living in flats in Sliema,5 to a room, in blocks of horrible buildings which have replaced period houses.They watch TV all day waiting for news in their country.The sound of the television is turned up so high, that their neighbours cannot sleep.Some also live in so called up market flats in tower road and quisi sana….doing more or less the same thing.Have they been given maltese citizenship, I wonder?Are they considered asylum seekers perhaps?Time will tell

  12. H.P. Baxxter says:

    Here’s what you do when your government orders you to sit around, twiddling your thumbs and manning the occasional roadblock:

  13. Corinne Vella says:

    There has been much talk of anti-social behaviour by anti-Gaddafi protestors who do not appreciate the peaceful, civilised manner of protest that is traditional here.

    In the interest of educating Libyans, a group of Maltese people have put together this training video:

  14. .Angus Black says:

    The key word in the title is “former”.

    Joschka Fischer has the luxury of not having to make decisions and is not privy to the reason his government decided to limit its participation to mere condemnation of the Gaddafi regime.

    The opposite extreme here, comes in the voice of Dr. Zero, and we all know how credible KMB is. KMB is also a ‘former’ and how thankful we all are referring to him in the past tense.

  15. I had to share this comment that was left on my blog with you. No is No he says. Very well socialized by the Mintoff era I suppose.

    “Franco Farrugia
    No, Malta cannot be used as a military base and it must not be used as one, It seems that we are all going crazy in this country. We have to realise our limited resources and our difficult geographical positions. We are a tiny island, and we cannot stand up like the rest of the world in certain things. The situation is already cloudy, with no single european country or group wanting to take over the leadership of this ‘war’ from the US. There’s nothing ‘top secret going on’ and if there was, there is no way that YOU for one should know about it. With what authority do you come writing in this manner, with all due respect? Just because you have a blog, does it give you some right to write in this manner? You have as much right as I do.
    Why should Malta serve as a military base? We have one national airport, and one harbour. If heaven forbid, anyone had to come and bomb us, would you, for one, wave your wand and reverse the clock?
    No, no and no. The harbours will not be opened to allow military vessels. The PM said it.”

  16. J Abela says:

    Actually the first think that came to my mind when Germany abstained is exactly what Fischer is saying. Now, Germany can forget its aspiration of having a permanent seat on the UN security council. The US, Britain and France won’t allow it after this. And it’s a pity because this could have been a chance for Germany to be more relevant on the world stage. I’m also a bit disappointed with Brazil and India but maybe their time hasn’t come yet. Needless to say how disappointed I am with Malta’s stand.

  17. TROY says:

    FF and KMB – a pair of weirdos.

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