Germany is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a member of the United Nations, a partnership often seen as a success. But Germany's image at the UN has suffered in recent years.
Praise came from on high shortly before the 40-year anniversary of Germany's membership to the United Nations. At a celebration in New York on Monday (16.09.2013), Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to the country's role in the international community. Both before and after the country's reunification, Germany was one of the "most active supporters" of the UN, he said, before adding that he trusts the advice and actions of a number of senior German representatives.
It was not until September 18, 1973, almost three decades after the founding of the UN, that both West Germany and East Germany were accepted into the fold as full members. This had been prevented before by West Germany's insistence that it would not recognize the East German government.
"Until just a few years ago, Germany's UN membership was a success story," said Klaus Dieter Wolf, a political scientist with the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF). "Fighting poverty, providing humanitarian aid, the environment, and crisis prevention were all areas where Germany worked with great success."
After the US and Japan, Germany is the third largest contributor to the UN's regular budget - offering some $190 million (140 million euros). On top of that, there are the contributions to international peace missions. Germany is set to give the UN $538 million between July 2013 and June 2014 for these missions, making the country the fourth biggest donor in this field.
"We really do have good influence in the international community," said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the occasion of the anniversary. "We're helped by the fact that we're one of the biggest contributors - we don't just talk, we also actively support the work of the UN."
Flaws in the 'star pupil' image
But the contributions are also obligatory payments, determined by the size and economic power of the country. "There are also voluntary payments, and here Germany is by no means the third-biggest contributor," said Beate Wagner, general secretary of the United Nations Association of Germany. In the voluntary payments for the UN's special organizations, institutions and programs, Germany is often only in 10th place or further down.
On exception is the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), where Germany is second biggest donor; director Achim Steiner is also German. But Germany is thriftier when it comes to many UN peace missions - with just 75 workers, Germany offers barely more than 1 percent of all civilian UN missions.
Only 315 German soldiers and police officers are involved in operations - such as those in Lebanon (UNFIL) and Mali (MINUSMA) - directly led by the UN. That is far fewer than the personnel contributed by countries like Bangladesh, Ethiopia, or Uruguay. On the other hand, well over 6,000 German soldiers and more than 300 police officers take part in UN-mandated operations like those in Kosovo (EULEX and KFOR) and Afghanistan (ISFA).
Wolf has long observed a contradiction in Germany's UN policy. Though Germany often talks up the UN's role, it clearly puts more faith in other international organizations that exclude many countries, like the G8 and the G20. Those, he said, effectively bypass the UN.
In the area of development work, too, Germany is concentrating more on bilateral cooperation. On top of that, a paradox also informs the cooperation between ideas and their practical implementation. Germany worked intensively to develop the concept of the "responsibility to protect," which is meant to justify intervention from the international community to prevent human rights abuses.
But when in spring 2011 it came to a vote on military intervention in Libya, Germany, then a non-permanent member of the Security Council, abstained, as did the two veto powers China and Russia. Germany's Western allies - the US, Britain, and France - were disgruntled, and acted without Germany.
Germany wants influence
As one state among many, Germany's influence at the UN is naturally limited, especially as it does not have a permanent seat on the Security Council. For some time, Berlin has been lobbying for reform in order to be granted one of these spots. Westerwelle recently called on the Security Council to adapt to the geopolitical circumstances. Along with Japan, India and Brazil, Germany has formed a group with the aim to see the enlargement of the Security Council.
But it remains to be seen whether this will ever happen. Until then, German and other diplomats can at least take their places close to the Security Council - right next door in the so-called "Quiet Room," which Germany founded in 1978. Germany's UN ambassador Peter Wittig formally handed over the newly-redesigned room to the UN at the recent anniversary celebration in New York.