International conflicts are often dominated by the military. But civilian experts are more sought after than ever. Four years ago, Germany's federal government wanted to expand their role. What is the situation now?
What makes a civilian expert happy? When nothing more is heard of a conflict that he or she helped bring to an end. The almost silent work conducted by international peace missions has never been in the limelight of German foreign policy, and still is not today.
"Peace work just isn't that sexy," says Green party politician Franziska Brantner. She speaks from experience: Brantner chairs a subcommittee on the niche topic in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag.
Whereas every foreign deployment of Germany's army, the Bundeswehr, is discussed at length, deployments of civilian advisors go almost unnoticed. Yet such advisors do their most demanding work in war zones and conflict areas, emphasizes Brantner. They ensure that stable social and economic circumstances can be reestablished.
"That is our greatest challenge, and unfortunately, one which we often fail to master."
'Assume more responsibility'
Shortly after taking power, the current German coalition government of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats (CDU and SPD) announced that Germany would take on more international responsibility – also in the areas of diplomacy and civilian conflict management, that is, in the deployment of mediators, political advisors and election observers.
Four years later, there has been progress. Progress that is largely due to the dogged work of the responsible Bundestag committee: The number of civilian experts deployed and the legal parameters for their deployment have been greatly improved.
One organization that plays a major role is the Berlin-based Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF), which recruits, trains and supervises experts.
"The occupational profile 'civilian expert' has actually been established over the last 15 to 20 years," says Almut Wieland-Karimi.
She heads the ZIF, which was established in 2002 by the Bundestag and the ruling SPD and Green coalition. The ZIF personnel pool now consists of some 1,500 experts, among them, election observers, lawyers, engineers and administrative specialists.
'Room for improvement'
Currently, Germany has some 150 civilian experts deployed around the world, mainly in peacekeeping missions sponsored by the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
That is not an impressively large number considering Germany's international importance. Political specialists in the Bundestag agree there must be more. Especially in light of the fact that German experts enjoy a good reputation wherever they go.
"No matter where we travel, people always say: please send us more," says Franziska Brantner.
According to the vice-president of the Bundestag, Edelgard Bulmahn, Germany currently spends about 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) on civilian crisis management. If you compare expenditures for civilian and military conflict management, then one sees that there is "a very great imbalance," complains the SPD politician.
She is calling for a gradual increase of the budget for civilian conflict management, and is aiming for a final sum of 10 billion euros a year.
Germany must recognize "that this type of commitment is in our national interest, and that it costs money," adds CDU foreign policy politician Norbert Röttgen. But he says he can only envision a budget increase if the Bundeswehr's budget is also raised. He says that would be an "accompanying measure that would lead to the acceptance of higher military budgets."
The opposition sees things differently. "We want to strengthen peace work independently of the military," says Franziska Brantner, who adds that the best-case scenario would be to do so in concert with other European partners.
She finds it unacceptable that well-functioning reconciliation projects, such as that in Mali, are forced to end due to a lack of funding. "It is absurd, especially if you know that a military mission is doomed to long-term failure."
The Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF) itself, which will soon celebrate its 15th birthday, puts emphasis on progress: An amendment that will go into effect on July 1 will give the institution more importance by upgrading it to a civilian expert employer.
To date, experts have signed contracts with the Federal Foreign Office, now they will sign them directly with ZIF.
That means experts will have much better protection should anything happen to them in the field. "We are very happy about that," says director Wieland-Karimi.
Funding for ZIF will be increased as well. While similar organizations in other countries, such as the Pearson Peacekeeping Center in Canada, have been forced to close for lack of funds, ZIF has grown. And ZIF, with its 50 employees, has become a "model for other countries."