Germany's two-year stint as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council ends Dec. 31. Despite the turbulence over Iraq, German officials say the term's been constructive.
For two years Germany was at the heart of UN decision-making
Germany's entry into the powerful UN Security Council on Jan. 1, 2003, as a two-year non-permanent member came at a time when the UN's top decision-making body was engulfed in crisis.
US President Bush had hinted that America would consider bypassing the international body in its resolve to remove the threat posed by Iraq through its alleged weapons of mass destruction.
Saying the United Nations would "be irrelevant" if it didn't "move deliberately and decisively to hold Iraq to account," Bush sought to move against Saddam Hussein, whom he described as a “grave and gathering danger.”
A fine balancing act
Under the delicate diplomatic circumstances, Germany's representatives to the UN were under additional pressure given that Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was one of the most vocal opponents of the US-led military campaign against Iraq.
Caught between American and British insistence on a preemptive strike against Iraq on the one hand and a pacifist German foreign policy on the other, Germany's UN diplomats, who also took over the Security Council presidency during the crucial weeks before the invasion, had their job cut out.
German Ambassador to the UN Gunter Pleuger
No one knows that better than Günter Pleuger, Germany's ambassador to the UN, who steps down at the end of 2004 as Germany's two-year stint as non-permanent member of the Security Council draws to a close. In a recent interview with German public broadcaster NDR, Pleuger admitted that the Iraq issue had undoubtedly dominated Germany's two-year term.
"That was a discussion that was conducted with great verve but also with great seriousness," Pleuger said. "That's because all members were aware of the fact that we were dealing with war and peace, that it was the credibility of the United Nations and the Security Council that was at stake."
Leading the anti-war camp
At the time, Pleuger, a trained lawyer and political scientist who has represented Germany at the UN since 2002, was credited with mobilizing the ten non-permanent members of the Security Council and war opponents and urging them to speak with a single voice on the issue of Iraq much to the displeasure of the Americans.
"It was just the simple idea that the ten elected members should also feel needed," Pleuger said. "Especially when it comes to taking a decision (in the Security Council) because for that, nine out of those 15 voices are needed."
The 15-member Security Council has five permanent members with veto rights: China, France, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom. The remaining ten are elected as non-permanent members for periods of two years.
Pleuger's efforts to create an anti-war lobby resulted in a new self-confidence among the non-permanent members in the Security Council. It also prevented the resolution authorizing war against Iraq from getting a majority.
Violence continues in Iraq long after the US invaded the country
At the same time, though, Germany's efforts failed to prevent war. A deeply-divided Security Council was left to grapple with other hotspots around the world in Africa and Afghanistan.
UN still intact: Pleuger
Pleuger, however, stressed that the UN had lost none of its authority and significance. "We heard two years ago that the UN could possibly become irrelevant. But the exact opposite is true," he said.
"Where would we be today in the whole world -- in Africa, in crisis regions in the Middle East, in the Balkans -- without the United Nations."
Pleuger also took positive stock of Germany's two-year stint as a non-permanent member, its fourth since the council came into existence. "I believe that in these two years, Germany tried to represent focused and constructive politics," he said.
He pointed to German efforts to draw international attention to Sudan and Darfur. "They were forgotten conflicts for a long time," Pleuger said. "We tried during our presidency in the Security Council in April to bring the topics on the agenda."
Last week government sources in Berlin underlined Germany's positive image in New York during its Security Council rotation. "We were sometimes treated like one of the five permanent members," a German government official told reporters.
That might sound like wishful thinking, but Pleuger is convinced that the painstaking legwork of the past two years at the UN will eventually secure Germany a permanent seat at the Security Council.
German sights trained on UN seat
For months, the country has been vigorously lobbying around the world in an effort to win over two-thirds of the 191 UN members to gain a seat at the decision-making table.
Joschka Fischer, Foreign Minister of Germany, at the UN Security Council in New York.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has tirelessly pointed out that Germany already shoulders ten percent of the Security Council budget and has proved, through its participation in several military and civil UN missions, its readiness to take on responsibility.
"Naturally, there are many possibilities and procedural tricks to block reform in the United Nations," Pleuger said referring to well-known Italian reservations to Germany getting a permanent seat and simmering US discontent at Germany's war opposition. "But we know the tricks too." the seasoned UN hand said.