Deutsche Welle's Washington correspondent says if Germany wants to accomplish anything meaningful during its two-year term on the United Nations Security Council, it must be realistic about what it can achieve.
Germany will not be able to work wonders in the Security Council. That's made impossible by the mere structure of the body. The five veto-wielding powers - the United States, Russia, China, France and Great Britain - literally have the last word. But German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle still has reason to celebrate.
The last time Germany sat on the Security Council, the United States attempted to legitimize the Iraq war under international law. Its efforts failed, in part due to Germany's skepticism and rejection of the idea. The non-permanent members are not completely powerless. After all, resolutions can only be passed with a majority vote of nine of the body's 15 members.
Climate change may become an issue of national security
Germany also has a certain weight in the Security Council, because as a large country it already possesses the infrastructure that is necessary for this kind of task. If one includes the former communist East Germany, Germany has occupied a seat on the Security Council six times. The German diplomats in New York, above all Ambassador Peter Wittig, don't need to learn how policy is made in the UN because they've already been there behind the scenes for quite some time.
As a member of the Security Council, Germany can influence the kind of issues that are discussed. A good opportunity has arisen in climate change, which is a vital issue to many island nations. Germany ran for the seat on that platform, and now it has the chance to raise the issue on the agenda. In a letter to the UN body, several island states have called on the Security Council to treat it as a priority. When the threat of floods or droughts forces people to abandon their home country, climate change will become an issue of national security for many nations.
The year 2012 presents an opportunity for Germans to advance another issue that is particularly close to their foreign minister's heart: disarmament and an end to the conflict in the Middle East. A conference is planned, which is meant to approve the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. That's a tender subject, because the entire world assumes that Israel possesses nuclear weapons without openly acknowledging it, and Israel is one of three states that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
One can only guess where things will go with Iran in the nuclear conflict. In this area, Germany has already been involved in negotiations along with the five veto-wielding powers, so far without success. In any case, Germany can cast a vote on all resolutions for the next two years.
The Security Council's structure makes any reform near impossible
Germany will do well to vote alongside the other European countries on all important decisions. A seat for the European Union, which the coalition agreement between the Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats envisions, is nowhere near becoming a reality. And that's ultimately for the best. In crisis situations, the Security Council must be able to make decisions quickly. And the European Union is certainly not able to send a representative who would be capable of doing that, at least not yet.
It would be a false conclusion to assume that Germany's non-permanent seat brings it closer to a permanent seat. Efforts to reform the Security Council have hit a dead end, since the veto-wielding powers have no interest in reducing their own influence. So over the next two years, Germany should focus on the achievable. And as a non-colonial power, it should advocate for the underrepresented interests of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Then it will have used its seat on the council wisely.
Author: Christina Bergmann, Washington (acb)
Editor: Chuck Penfold