Respected diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger talks about Germany's decision to abstain from the UN Libyan vote and why despite the success of the NATO intervention, we won't likely see a spate of similar missions soon.
NATO helped the rebel cause, but such missions will likely remain rare
France has dispatched a team of diplomats to Libya's capital to reopen its embassy there. While that country has been a major player in the country's march toward freedom, Germany has not. It abstained during the UN Security Council vote on authorizing NATO intervention in the country, to the surprise of many of its allies.
Deutschlandfunk radio's Jürgen Liminski talked to Wolfgang Ischinger, a former top diplomat and current chairman of the Munich Security Conference, about the role of military intervention and Germany's position after having stood on the sidelines in the conflict.
Jürgen Liminski: Mr. Ischinger, NATO has been successful in Libya, and the Libyan rebels might not have been able to topple the Gadhafi regime without NATO's help. Germany, however, declined to participate. How much damage to its image in the eyes of its allies has Germany suffered?
Wolfgang Ischinger: Joschka Fischer and others who have commented shouldn't get carried away with things. It's not really correct to talk about the worst foreign policy debacle in Germany's post-war period.
You could also take a look at the failure of the Lisbon Treaty and a few other problem areas. But yes, of course, these kinds of developments, or this kind of going it alone, do not exactly build confidence. Trust and predictability are essential elements in foreign policy and they're certainly not secondary virtues. So this is not a time of celebration when it comes to Germany's own foreign policy.
Do you get the sense that German is now considered unpredictable by its NATO partners?
Of course Germany should not become NATO's problem child, by the way, neither with NATO or the European Union. But I don't think we should be seen as unpredictable in this particular case. First of all, we are certainly not the only NATO partner who stayed out of the military intervention in Libya. Second, and it's important to remember this, the concerns Berlin had about whether military action in Libya limited to air strikes and so forth was justified given the circumstances was also a cause for concern for the then American defense secretary, Robert Gates.
The fact that the mission lasted many months, just like the Kosovo mission did, leads to the conclusion that these kinds of military interventions limited to airstrikes should only be pursued in emergency cases. This is not standard procedure.
The Libyan conflict is clearly a case in line with the UN and its protection principle and its push for the primacy of human rights. Has this principle gotten a boost in the wake of NATO's intervention?
One would hope so, or at least I hope so. But that doesn't mean that UN Security Council resolutions like the one regarding Libya will be easier to pass in the future. In Libya's case, states like China, for example, decided to abstain because they saw that the Arab League had pushed hard for the involvement of the international community. But the worries in many capitals, like Moscow, Beijing, in South Africa and other important nations, about a further weakening of the idea of sovereignty were not necessary assuaged by this mission. Therefore, we won't soon see a lot of similar resolutions coming out of the Security Council.
What about Syria? The situation there is fairly identical with Libya - a dictator firing on his own people, who are demanding freedom. Can you imagine that this idea of the primacy of human rights will also carry the day?
I'll say again, we can hope that's the case, but a little bit of realism and skeptical analysis are also in order. First of all, it's hardly imaginable that any kind of action against Syria would be undertaken without a UN mandate. That's not only due to considerations about international law, but also because due to deliberations about how best to carry something out like that.
This has been what has guided our policy on Iran for many years. A UN Security Council resolution with tough sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo and even military action, is something that I think at least right now is very, very unlikely.
Could you imagine a case where the principle of protective action through a so-called coalition of the willing, without a corresponding mandate or resolution, could go ahead?
Once again, I am of the opinion that it is important and correct, regardless of the legal aspects, to make sure that an attempt to topple a dictator through either economic or political and military measures is best served if the entire international community is involved, thereby opening up as few loopholes for the dictator as possible. That is why we have kept up the pressure on Russia, China and others to participate in Iran sanctions. That's also why I am very sceptical about whether (a) it would be politically possible to form such a coalition, and (b) whether such a coalition would be effective.
You say that Syria is not Libya. But perhaps there are some similarities. Are, for example, sanctions possible without Russia and China?
Many things are possible. And I think that there's going to be a lot of serious discussion about sanctions. But once again, if sanctions are not supported by everyone, loopholes appear that greatly decrease the effectiveness of such punitive measures. That bolsters the argument that it's important that we, or the West, or Europe come to agreement among ourselves before we attempt to topple a dictator. That's why this strategy of going to New York and engaging in the difficult debate there, trying to convince the world's skeptics about the importance of protecting vulnerable populations, is the right strategy.
Interviewer: Jürgen Liminski (jam)
Editor: Rob Mudge