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Germany’s Missed Opportunity at the UN Security Council

At the start of August, the most influential month of German foreign policy for years ended. In the previous months, Germany chaired the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the second time during its two-year temporary membership in the highest decision-making body of the UN.

Germany’s Big Month on the World Stage

It was a month that already started intensely; after all, the Security Council agreed on day one and approved a corona resolution. Members had argued about it for months — a milestone in two ways. On the one hand, the resolution could be passed directly. On the other hand, it was agreed to follow a ceasefire so that the international community could concentrate on combating COVID-19.

The other task last month was less than satisfactory. The reason:

The resolution, which ensures that humanitarian aid for millions of Syrians is extended, was only passed after tough negotiations. Everything is even more complicated because Russia, as an ally of Syria’s ruler Bashar Assad, dictated the conditions. It was only at the last second that it became clear that in the future, this aid would only run through one — instead of two border crossings. Once again, an optimal solution could not be found. The good news, however, is that the aid has been secured for at least another year.

Trying to Find Peace in Libya

On the subject of Libya, too, the Security Council brought the Berlin conference participants back together in the most powerful way. Germany was able to set an example here last month. Germany made it clear that they want a Security Council that works and that the answer to today’s questions is not isolationism but multi-lateralism.

Germany is particularly interested in issues that do not revolve around current sources of fire. Moreover, they called on staff: Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer warned that human rights should be respected when the peacekeeping forces deployed. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas appealed for a more substantial fight against sexual violence in conflicts.

Germany’s Desire to Tackle Climate Change

And then there is climate change. Here, too, Germany is playing a pioneering role. Many see the topic as perhaps the most pressing issue for the world. Moreover, the aspect of “the impact of climate change on security” is one that Germany wants to tackle in the Security Council.

The resolution for a climate early warning system remained in the German drawer. The US blocked the proposal. Still, the idea is not off the table. The issues will not be forgotten just because Germany is no longer on the Security Council. These issues are now set as priorities on the agenda going forward — at least that is what Berlin hopes.

Moreover, something else will remain: for the first time since the corona pandemic, the first meetings were held under the German chairmanship at which the members were present.

What will also remain is that German foreign policy depends on conditions that can significantly diminish or ultimately stifle their impact. It is tied to internationally legitimized institutions and the principle of collective cooperation.

Heiko’s Big Move

At a time when the recklessness and arrogance of important actors are growing, the latter leads to a loss of influence and creative power. Foreign Minister Maas tried to organize a counter-movement to the autocrats: an alliance of multi-lateralists. However, even such an initiative needs a sense of community and leadership to counter the determination of the ruthless with an equal and opposite force.

Unfortunately, Germany has yet to get over its reluctance to lead. What is needed from Berlin is the confidence and the self-awareness worthy of a country that has economic leverage and the nobility of having been an example of courage, strength, and support for so many other nations.

The latter should have been a bigger part of Germany’s time as chair in the UNSC. It was not.