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Germany

New guidelines for 'fragile' states

The German government has agreed new guidelines for dealing with troubled states. The new policy will coordinate the work of three ministries and show greater sensitivity to local conditions.

Somalia, Congo, Sudan, Chad, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, Iraq - the list of so-called fragile states is growing. A country is considered fragile if its state institutions function only rudimentarily and if security, welfare and rule of law are no longer guaranteed. The consequences are political tension, poverty and violent conflict.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks of "a dangerous weakening of states that threatens collapse." Such a state of affairs, he said in Berlin on Wednesday (19.09.2012), has significant implications not only for the countries themselves and their regions, but also for international security. "If, for example, terrorism, crime or piracy arises from this, it is no longer a distant academic foreign policy issue, but an issue that also affects us directly in Germany."

More troubled regions worldwide

About half the countries to which the German government provides development assistance are considered fragile or affected by conflict, according to Minister for Economic Cooperation Dirk Niebel. And the number is increasing. Niebel said he is most concerned about a "belt of fragility" from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa across the Sahel to Somalia in East Africa. This belt is spreading farther south and provides fertile ground for terrorists and extremists.

Niebel, de Maiziere and Westerwelle at the press conference Photo: Adam Berry/dapd

The three ministries will work more closely together in future

In an attempt to stop the trend, the German government has developed a new policy which crosses ministry boundaries and which has resulted in new guidelines, which were approved by the cabinet on Wednesday. The foreign ministry, the defense ministry and the ministry for economic cooperation will work together more closely in the future.

Only a combination of different political competencies will work if crises are to be prevented and countries to be stabilized in the long term, Westerwelle said. Cross-ministry task forces have long existed for Afghanistan and Somalia. Now they have also been established for Syria, Sudan and the Sahel.

Modesty and realism required

It's well-known that neither military force, classical diplomacy or development assistance is sufficient by itself to prevent conflict. Development policy has been the most effective weapon against extremism, said Niebel, as it offers the best opportunity to take away the environment in which extremists thrive, but "even with all this money, we cannot create security." To be able to work at all, development workers need a framework secured by the military.

The German policy towards fragile states should also change, Westerwelle said. Rather than reorient German foreign and security policy, it should be supplemented with a "practical action tool," he said. Conflict areas require realistic and pragmatic action, and more attention must be paid to local sensitivities. "We cannot provide stability in fragile states if we only look at the situation from our own perspective," Westerwelle said.

Expectations too high in Afghanistan

German soldiers patrol with Afghan soldiers in Kunduz Photo: Maurizio Gambarini dpa

Afghanistan is not the best example of how to do it.

"We always do well when we take account of a region's cultural, political and historical understanding of itself," Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. But there are limits: "Although it's not about the export of our system of democracy, we must insist on fundamental respect for universal human rights." For too long, the stability of states had been confused with the stability of governments.

With this new concept, the German government is also drawing conclusions from the decade-long mission in Afghanistan. "In my view, the mission in Afghanistan was not a mistake, but the expectations were too high," de Maiziere said. Niebel is even more direct: "Afghanistan is an example of how it can go wrong, and not the best model of networked security."

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