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Ban Ki-moon in Berlin

January 30, 2014

At a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said that Germany's "responsibility is continuing to grow." Yet the foreign minister said this did not extend to military missions.

Ban Ki Moon and Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

At the start of his visit to the country on Thursday, Ban Ki-moon urged Germany to take on more international responsibility, albeit adding that decisions on military involvement must remain with the government.

"Global security is dependent on there being a sustainable development," Ban said at a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The South Korean also recommended housing more UN facilities at the seat of the former West German government in Bonn, which Ban will visit on Friday.

The Social Democrat Steinmeier, returning to the Foreign Ministry after four years in opposition, said that though Germany would take on a greater international role, this would not necessarily take the shape of military involvement abroad.

"I support a political system favoring military restraint and consider it the right approach. But what I would also say is that this cannot be turned into a broader principle of reservation," Steinmeier said, before pointing to some 6,000 German Bundeswehr troops currently stationed on UN peacekeeping missons abroad.

Mixed military messages

Germany has a largely pacifist constitution, a legacy of the first and second World Wars, and tends to participate only in peacekeeping military missions abroad. Although Bundeswehr troops are serving in Afghanistan, Germany did not deploy soldiers to Iraq and also abstained in the UN Security Council vote authorizing NATO airstrikes over Libya. Some NATO partners have called for this policy to be reappraised.

At a military ceremony earlier this month marking his switch from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry, Thomas de Maiziere said that the German government "does not need a lecture from anybody in Europe" on the issue of military engagement.

This stood in contrast, however, to later comments from De Maiziere's successor in the Defense Ministry, Ursula von der Leyen. She told parliamentarians in the Bundestag this Wednesday that conflict in Africa was an area where the government "must take action."

Unlike the Social Democrat Steinmeier, both De Maiziere and von der Leyen are members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Berlin, Bonn, then Munich for Ban

Ban Ki-moon was scheduled to meet Merkel and German President Joachim Gauck later on Thursday in Berlin, before moving on to the UN offices in Bonn on Friday.

On Saturday, he will deliver a speech at the 50th annual Munich Security Conference, which opens on Friday.

Germany, which was granted full UN membership under Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1973, is currently seeking the chair of the Human Rights Council. The government also hopes for a temporary spot on the UN Security Council in 2019 and 2020 - after years of faltering attempts to join the five current permanent members: China, Russia, England, France and the US.

msh/mkg (dpa, Reuters)