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German direction

July 1, 2011

Germany has taken over the rotating chairmanship of the UN Security Council. After abstaining from the March vote on military action in Libya, Berlin denies the abstention has weakened Germany's position in the UN.

Overhead view of Security Council roundtable
Germany is a temporary member of the Security CouncilImage: AP

Last time Germany chaired the UN Security Council was in February 2003, during the Iraq war. In a series of dramatic sessions, the then-Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer voiced reservations about a military attack on Iraq. Now in July 2011 as Germany chairs the sessions once more, there is another political crisis which will determine the UN's agenda, albeit in a less politically charged atmosphere.

The agenda for July includes establishing the independent state of South Sudan on July 9, the continuing unrest in the Arab world and the situation in Afghanistan. This is just a small number of the topics on discussion according to German UN ambassador Peter Wittig, who will lead most of the sessions.

Protecting children in conflict

Only a small portion of time will actually be dedicated to the issues specifically put forward by Germany. For example, the government wants to focus on the issue of children involved in armed conflicts.

Germany's Ambassador to the UN Peter Wittig
Ambassador Peter Wittig will lead most of the July sessionsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"We want to make progress in protecting children's rights, with another resolution in the Security Council," said Wittig. The diplomat said this would coincide with a visit from Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on 12 and 13 July.

The German government has suggested further sanctions should be imposed on those who fail to protect children in conflict zones.

The UN Security Council has meetings almost every day, sometimes several meetings a day. Some of these sessions are public, for example if a resolution is to be adopted, but at other times the members meet behind closed doors. The five permanent members and ten temporary members – of which Germany is one – take it in monthly turns to chair the sessions, in alphabetical order.

Setback after Libya abstention

Despite its short duration, the presidency of the UN Security Council is more than a mere formality.

"It serves an important political and diplomatic function," said Beate Wagner, the general secretary of the German Society for the United Nations. "The presidency serves an intermediary function. They can find out the opinions of the Security Council."

Discussion of the Libyan situation in the Security Council
Germany lost respect of allies after abstaining on the vote for military action in LibyaImage: picture alliance/dpa

Diplomatic skills and the good reputation of Germany within the United Nations should help in the month-long presidency. However that reputation has suffered a recent setback, when Germany unexpectedly decided to abstain from the vote on taking military action in Libya. This decision upset many of Berlin's allies.

"In these big questions, Germany should be a reliable and predictable partner," said Wagner. "Many deemed this decision out of line," she added.

The German government denies that the abstention has weakened the German position in the Security Council. They are now working on making a resolution on the situation in Syria, however have not yet found broad support. Otherwise, the focus is on South Sudan. In mid-July, on behalf of the Security Council, Foreign Minister Westerwelle will welcome South Sudan as the 193rd member of the United Nations.

Chosen theme: Climate change

Every presidency holds an 'open debate,' and Germany has selected climate change as the topic of their debate. It will be about the security implications of climate change, said Ambassador Wittig.

"Key points of the debate will be about the rise of sea levels and the disappearance of entire states," said Wittig. "From the United Nations 192 states, for the first time several states could completely disappear," he added.

The issue is not exactly new, but fits in with Germany's profile within the United Nations as a pioneer of environmental and climate protection.

Author: Nina Werkhäuser / cb
Editor: Andreas Illmer