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Feature: Joschka Fischer On Germany’s Military

Feature: Germany’s Joschka Fischer On Its Military Abroad

Interview given by Federal Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to the "Handelsblatt" newspaper on 29 August 2003 on inter alia criteria for the deployment of German troops abroad and the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq

NATO Secretary General Robertson said recently that Germany should get used to the idea that in future it will have 10,000 to 15,000 troops continuously serving with missions abroad. Is that how you, too, see Germany's future? Is that in our interest?

I warn against viewing this issue from a solely national perspective. Germany is the largest economy and one of the three biggest countries in the European Union. If the EU in the 21st century is to have a role in the maintenance of our security and international stability, we will have to talk about European contributions. And that means the big countries above all will have to contribute - us included. Issues of scope and scale can be left to the future to decide. But already at this stage it is clear we have assumed long-term commitments both in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. And it is also clear that these deployments abroad are not going to be one-off events in the world of the 21st century.

But even today the German troops are deployed in nine countries across three continents. Are there limits to our engagement?

Of course there are. The limits are set by the assets and capabilities at our disposal as well as by what is politically necessary and desirable. But it is hardly possible to predict where future deployments will be required. Two and half years ago I would have stared in disbelief, had you told me we would one day have over 2000 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, or that in the year 2003 the EU would have a mission of its own in the Congo.

There are criteria for such deployments. Firstly, Europe will in future have to take responsibility for its own security and ensure that also in Europe's peripheral regions we can get by without military assistance from our transatlantic partner, the United States. Secondly, we must make a major contribution to the security of Europe's strategic neighbours. That requires an engagement in conflict zones extending from the Near and Middle East right across to Central Asia – and including Africa as well. If that continent begins to export its conflicts, we as Europeans will be directly affected. Obviously our contribution cannot be of a purely military nature, we need economic cooperation for example, too. And thirdly, we must - within the limits of our available resources - meet our commitments towards the UN system and our alliances. So, when we talk about interests, we will not get very far if we define them from a national standpoint.

Not solely but nevertheless also from that standpoint - troop deployments after all are decided at national level...

Our core national interest is Europe. That is why I strongly advise that we eschew from the start any attempt to define our interests in national terms. Even if it sounds like a paradox: it is in our own interest to define our interests in European terms.

But do France and Britain not take a different line?

That is true up to a point. But not only for historical reasons Germany's situation is different. Even today the attitude of our partners towards us is still ambivalent. On the one hand they want us to pull our weight. On the other hand, we have to exercise restraint in order - especially as regards the smaller countries - not to create a false impression that would generate resistance. Nor should we undervalue all we have gained from the multilateral approach we have pursued since 1945. With their different traditions, France and Britain certainly tend to think in more national terms. But in my five years as foreign minister I have found that they, too, are becoming more European in outlook. Why is perhaps best explained by reference to company management: even the big EU partners simply no longer have the optimal operating size for the world of the 21st century, even they are too small.

So these countries define the European interest - and we follow their lead, as in the Congo?

Wrong. The EU mission in the Congo is not a French but a European initiative. Obviously Germany cannot be a bystander when Britain and France participate in an EU mission. The debate would have gone very differently, had a "coalition of the willing" been involved. But the moment a majority of our EU partners is ready to back a European mission, we as the biggest EU member state must do our share. That is in our own interest.

Is a contribution to a NATO mission possible, but to an EU mission imperative?

NATO is an alliance, an essential one, of course, but still an alliance . But the EU is more than that, it is a community geared to political and economic integration. The integration of security and foreign policy is proceeding apace. That gives it a new quality. For EU missions, by the way, Germany's contribution as one of the big three is of crucial importance. In NATO, on the other hand, the key factor is the U.S. contribution.

You are talking now only of Europe, but where do transatlantic relations come into the picture?

They are one of the main pillars, possibly even the cornerstone of peace and stability in the world of the 21st century. Only if Europeans and Americans work together is there any chance of creating from the present disorder in the world something that resembles order. However, the relationship is not always free of tension, if only because of the changes in Europe that enlargement will bring about. Europe is growing together - which is also in the interest of the United States. In the past the European foreign and security policy, for example, used to be viewed with some scepticism, since it might lead, it was thought, to Europe becoming detached from its NATO partners. Today, however, close cooperation between the EU and NATO is absolutely routine. Yet in the transatlantic family there are always going to be differences of opinion. That is completely normal.

That brings us to the current hotspots. Are Europe and the United States really building stability in Afghanistan?

There is clearly substantial progress in Afghanistan, even if the situation remains very critical.

So there are good and sound arguments for deploying German troops also in Kundus?

Of course. No deployment in Afghanistan is without risks, but the team sent to sound out the situation there concluded that the risks were reasonable and such a deployment made good sense. After all, the task of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) - under whose auspices our troops would be deployed - is to support implementation of the Petersberg Agreement.

Is there not a danger that, in the absence of success, we slide into ever increasing commitments from which no one dares to pull back?

I do not see us sliding into anything - the situation is not as bad as some would have us believe. Almost everywhere in Afghanistan today the relief agencies can do their job. In many areas reconstruction work is making good progress: schools are being built, nearly all the refugees have returned. So there - as in the Balkans - I cannot see any kind of slide. But Afghanistan is certainly a long-term commitment.

But in the Balkans there is no defence minister with a private army now said to be bigger than the country's official army.

It is going to take a long time to establish a balance between the different ethnic and religious groups. Clearly it will be crucial to involve the provincial chiefs in this connection.

Are there perhaps certain problems the international community has not yet had to tackle because the provincial rulers know they are going to be left in peace?

I can only warn against any notion that the international community could one day break their power by armed force. Those are problems that must be resolved by the Afghans themselves. The idea of Afghanistan as a centralized state has no basis in reality. What the central Government in fact needs to strengthen its position is the ability to balance different interests.

And where is the political concept that also Red-Green politicians demand if they are to approve a Bundestag mandate?

At the Petersberg Conference we created under UN auspices a political framework for the country's future. That is the difference between Afghanistan and notably Iraq: parallel to the anti-terror campaign we have a UN-led political process to restore Afghan stability and sovereignty. In December the constitutional assembly will convene and elections are scheduled for the middle of next year. All that is based on a consensus among nearly all civil war parties which, though certainly fragile, nevertheless exists. There is a consensus on the different stages of the process and on a timetable. None of that exists in Iraq.

So you see merely chaos there ....

The problems there are precisely those we had feared. To reiterate, I want to see a UN-led political process similar to the one on the Petersberg. It must be clear that what is at stake is liberation and the restoration of Iraq's sovereignty on the basis of an agreed timetable and an agreed process. The yardstick of success is whether Iraq's citizens view the presence of foreign troops in their country as occupation or liberation. The process of Iraqization must be pursued with all speed and Muslim countries, too, should be involved in the efforts to stabilize the country. That is possible only if the UN has a leading role. Unfortunately our arguments failed to convince. We have to accept that the war coalition wants to retain sole responsibility for Iraq's security and stability.

Is it already too late to change course now?

I do not think it is too late. But we are watching developments with great concern.

Is domestic pressure on President Bush not getting so strong that he will ask also Germany for a contribution?

That is pure conjecture ...

But Washington is looking at least for more money for reconstruction.

That, too, is speculation. Our position is well known and clear. For good reason we were against the military operation in Iraq. Nevertheless, we are willing to provide substantial humanitarian aid. For example, the Federal Minister of the Interior has offered the services of the Federal Disaster Relief Institute. We are also willing to support the reconstruction effort, provided concrete plans exist and the security situation makes the deployment of civilian relief workers feasible. As soon as reconstruction proposals are on the table, we will be glad to see how - given our limited resources - we can best help.

Is it not almost our duty to help our American partners, given the seriousness of the situation?

We will never forget what the United States has done for Germany. We will examine what we can do to help in every area where such help is desired. However, we have also learned there must be some prospect that such help will be of real use. Without a strategy that emphasizes the liberation character of the whole process, Iraqization and the increasing involvement of Arab countries under UN auspices, that is going to remain very difficult.

And what will happen if Washington demands next week in Brussels that NATO should get involved in Iraq?

At this moment in time I cannot see what NATO could do there, apart from providing the logistic support for our Polish friends that has already been agreed. And I cannot understand what further "westernization" is supposed to achieve in terms of stabilizing the country. It is quite obvious that extremists are exploiting the presence of foreign troops in Iraq to foment resistance among the population, that is something we cannot ignore.

So would the Federal Government oppose in the North Atlantic Council any deployment of the western military alliance?

We will always take a constructive approach without prejudicing our position, of that you can be sure.

Do you not find it rather strange that just a few months after the Iraq war there is no longer any talk of the domino effect people had feared, a situation in which the U.S. began one war after another? Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defence Secretary, did after all show you a long list of possible rogue states.

I was never too worried about any domino effect, since such a situation would very soon be more than even a superpower could cope with. The crucial thing after 11 September was that the world found the right response to the terrorist challenge. It was clear that the status quo that had generated such monstrous threats was not and is not defensible. But it is important to weigh up very carefully what strategy is appropriate for a crisis zone that stretches from the Atlantic almost to the Pacific.

Will the negative experience in Iraq produce a new isolationism now in the United States?

Global peace and stability are inconceivable without the United States. That is why withdrawal is not an option, nor is it in the United States' own interest, for a destabilized Middle East is something none of us can afford. In a strategic dialogue we must work together to align our positions as closely as possible. But that means Europe has to be a dependable factor. We need to have a common political purpose, to know in what direction we want to go.

The 1991 Gulf War gave a positive impetus to developments in the Middle East. That does not seem to be the case now. Is it still too early to make a final judgement?

The situation in the Middle East seriously worries me. It is one of those core regional conflicts which, while not explaining everything that happens, does impact on a whole range of issues. For many of its Arab neighbours Israel has, ever since its founding, served as a scapegoat. Moreover, this conflict has of course tremendous potential to destabilize the whole region, quite apart from all the human and humanitarian tragedies it is causing. Things are not going well. I see here a crass contradiction: all members of the international community in positions of responsibility know what needs to be done to achieve a compromise that will settle the conflict. But there seems hardly any way of bridging the gap between what needs to be done and the reality on the ground. I believe the Quartet has a very clear responsibility here.

Has the Iraq conflict had a more negative or a more positive impact on the situation in the Middle East?

If there have been any positive effects, then positive. If there have been any negative effects, then negative. Other than that I prefer to make no comment.

Turning to a different subject, on 6 September EU foreign ministers will meet at Lake Garda to discuss for the first time during the Italian Presidency the draft constitution for Europe drawn up by the Convention. Are you still optimistic that the whole package will not be unravelled?

The debate at the Intergovernmental Conference will - as I found on my recent trips to Finland and the Czech Republic - be complicated and difficult. I would of course have nothing against making further improvements to the draft. But I have my doubts as to whether that will be possible. However, perhaps I am too sceptical on that point, given my past experience of such conferences. But everyone involved must understand one thing very clearly: anyone who challenges the current compromise is then responsible for finding a new compromise. If everyone involved goes along with that, I see no reason to worry. But if things move in a different direction, then the whole project will fail and we will be faced in the EU with an extremely difficult situation. We are after all talking here about a landmark decision that consists of three elements: the first is EU enlargement; the second is a new constitution to make the Union more democratic, transparent and effective; and the third is the financial perspective for the Union of the 25, to be agreed in 2006. These three elements are in effect inseparably linked. The Convention's ground-breaking achievement is to have laid the foundations for the Union of the 25. If the Intergovernmental Conference goes back on what has now been achieved, then I can safely predict we will see a rebirth of the core Europe debate. That everyone should clearly understand. That would be precisely the outcome I do not want to see.

Would that also be the result if the British prevail with their objections to enhanced cooperation in the field of foreign and security policy?

One way or another, enhanced cooperation in foreign and security policy is going to happen. The sole question is whether it will happen within or outside the framework of the treaties. Look at Schengen, for example. The fact of the matter is, it is already today reality. Or take another example: over the next few years we are going to spend a great deal of money on a European transport aircraft. It makes absolutely no sense to organize our aircraft fleets in national command structures. Everyone knows that over the coming years and decades this plane will be flying European missions - in presumably nine cases out of ten. What is then the point of sticking to the old nation-state structures dating from the 19th century? In other areas - the Galileo satellite navigation programme, for example - the issue is exactly the same.

But the Convention failed to agree on majority voting in the area of foreign policy...

I think also people here cherished some illusions on that score. Where there are opposing views as over Iraq, for example, over issues of war and peace, the matter cannot be decided by the majority and the minority overruled.

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