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Germany Should Step Up to the World Stage

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Joachim Gauck is the President of Germany. He is a former Lutheran pastor and was a prominent anti-Communist civil rights activist before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This comment is excerpted from his prepared remarks on Jan. 31 at the Munich Security Conference. The full speech can be found at: www.bundespraesident.de

MUNICH - Germany is globalized more than most countries and thus benefits more than most from an open world order -- a world order which allows Germany to reconcile interests with fundamental values. Germany derives its most important foreign policy goal in the 21st century from all of this: preserving this order and system and making them fit for the future.

"At this very moment, the world's only superpower is reconsidering the scale and form of its global engagement. Europe, its partner, is busy navel-gazing. I don't believe that Germany can simply carry on as before in the face of these developments."

Pursuing this core interest while the world around us is undergoing sweeping changes is one of the major challenges of our age. If there has been one constant factor during the last few years, then it's the fact that we always underestimate the speed of change.

Futurologists are amazed time and again that changes in the world become reality much more quickly than they had forecast. That also has an impact on our security: at a faster pace than we had ever imagined, we are entering a world in which individuals can buy a quantity of destructive power which was the preserve of states in earlier times; in which economic and political power is shifting and entire regions are arming themselves.

In the Middle East, there is a danger that individual crises will converge and engulf the whole region. At this very moment, the world's only superpower is reconsidering the scale and form of its global engagement. Europe, its partner, is busy navel-gazing. I don't believe that Germany can simply carry on as before in the face of these developments.

For some time now, it's been impossible to ignore the fact that this change is gradually gnawing away at German certainties.

We're committed to the European idea. However, Europe's crisis has made us feel uncertain. We're also committed to NATO. However, we've been debating for years about the direction the Alliance should take, and we've done nothing to stop the depletion of its financial resources.

We're not calling the alliance with the United States into question, but we have observed symptoms of stress and uncertainty about the future.

We have great respect for the rules-based world of the United Nations. However, we can't ignore the crisis in multilateralism. We'd like to see the new players on the world stage participate in the global order. However, some of them are seeking a place on the margins rather than at the heart of the system.

We feel surrounded by friends, but hardly know how to deal with diffuse security threats such as the privatization of power by terrorists and cyber criminals.

We rightly complain when allies overstep the mark when they use electronic surveillance to detect threats. And yet, we prefer to remain reliant on them and hesitate to improve our own surveillance capacities.

" We rightly complain when allies overstep the mark when they use electronic surveillance to detect threats. And yet, we prefer to remain reliant on them and hesitate to improve our own surveillance capacities."

This means that simply repeating familiar mantras won't be enough in future! For the key question is: has Germany already adequately recognized the new threats and the changes in the structure of the international order? Has it reacted commensurate with its weight? Has Germany shown enough initiative to ensure the future viability of the network of norms, friends and alliances which has brought us peace in freedom and democracy in prosperity?

RESPONSIBILITY FOR NOT ACTING

Germany has long since demonstrated that it acts in an internationally responsible way. But it could -- building on its experience in safeguarding human rights and the rule of law -- take more resolute steps to preserve and help shape the order based on the European Union, NATO and the United Nations. At the same time, Germany must also be ready to do more to guarantee the security that others have provided it with for decades.

Now, some people in my country consider "international responsibility" to be a euphemism, veiling what's really at stake. Some think that in reality Germany would have to pay more. Others think that Germany would have to send in more soldiers. And they are all convinced that "more responsibility" primarily means more trouble.

I see things differently.

Politicians always have to take responsibility for their actions. But they also have to live with the consequences of their omissions. He who fails to act bears responsibility, too.

We would be deceiving ourselves if we were to believe that Germany was an island and thus protected from the vicissitudes of our age. For few other countries have such close links with the rest of the world as Germany does. Germany has thus benefited especially from the open global order. And it's vulnerable to any disruptions to the system. For this reason, the consequences of inaction can be just as serious, if not worse than the consequences of taking action.

We cannot hope to be spared from the conflicts of this world. But if we contribute to solving them, we can take a hand at least in shaping the future. It is thus worth Germany's while to invest properly in European cooperation and the global order.

RESTRAINT CAN BE TAKEN TOO FAR

I have to admit that while there are genuine pacifists in Germany, there are also people who use Germany's guilt for its past as a shield for laziness or a desire to disengage from the world. In the words of the historian Heinrich August Winkler, this is an attitude that grants Germany a questionable "right to look the other way, which other Western democracies" cannot claim for themselves. Restraint can thus be taken too far if people start making special rules for themselves. Whenever that happens, I will criticize it. For it is crystal clear to me that we need NATO. And it is precisely at times when the United States cannot keep on providing more and more that Germany and its European partners must themselves assume greater responsibility for their security.

" There are people who use Germany's guilt for its past as a shield for laziness or a desire to disengage from the world."

Furthermore, it should today be natural for Germany and its allies to not simply refuse to help others when human rights violations multiply and result in genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity. Not only do all Western democracies consider respect for human rights to be one of their defining features, it is also a cornerstone of any guarantee of security, of a peaceful and cooperative world order.

Brutal regimes must not be allowed to hide behind the principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention. This is where the concept of "responsibility to protect" comes to bear.

This concept transfers to the international community the responsibility to protect the people of a given country from such atrocities when their own government fails to do so. In the very last resort, military means can be used, after careful consideration and a weighing up of the consequences, upon authorization by the UN Security Council.

" Brutal regimes must not be allowed to hide behind the principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention."

I know, and like human rights defenders around the world I am pained by the fact that action is not taken everywhere where such intervention would be morally justified and necessary to protect the life and limb of people in danger. This dilemma has recently been highlighted again by events in Syria. And I know that the relationship between legality and legitimacy will continue to be awkward as long as the Security Council is so often divided on these issues.

There will be many reasons why the concept of responsibility to protect rarely results in an intervention. The consequences of such action are frequently difficult or even impossible to calculate, and there is no way of determining accurately enough whether the situation in the crisis area will be better after military intervention. Sometimes domestic policy considerations will also militate against action. Whatever the precise circumstances, the decision whether to intervene or not will always be a morally difficult one.

The UN General Assembly has in principle recognized the concept of responsibility to protect. However, the concept remains contentious; the international debate continues. That's a good thing, since potential abuse of the concept for expansionist or imperialist purposes has to be ruled out. I therefore welcome the fact that the German Government is helping to further develop the concept, with a focus on prevention, international cooperation and the development of early warning systems.

A GREATER ROLE, MORE TROUBLE

So, will Germany reap "more trouble" if it plays a more active role? There are indeed commentators who think that a Germany that shows initiative will inevitably experience friction with its friends and neighbors. This assumption is, in my opinion, based on a misconception.

"More responsibility" does not mean "more throwing our weight around". Nor does it mean "more going it alone"!

On the contrary, by cooperating with other countries, particularly within the European Union, Germany gains influence. Germany would in fact benefit from even more cooperation. Perhaps this could even lead to the establishment of a common European defense.

" More responsibility" does not mean "more throwing our weight around". Nor does it mean "more going it alone."

In our interconnected world, there are problems that no country can solve on its own, however powerful it may be. The ability and willingness to cooperate are becoming the defining trademark of international politics. In line with this, responsibility is always shared responsibility.

As a globally plugged-in economy, Germany has no alternative but to find partners, be considerate and make compromises. Germany has long known that it must guard against going its own special way. A democracy must, of course, have the right to remain on the sidelines on occasion. But such a step should be well considered and should remain the exception. Going it alone has its price.

I am most firmly convinced that a Germany which reaches out more to the world will be an even better friend and ally. It will also be a better partner within Europe.

There has never been an era like this in the history of our nation. This is also why we are now permitted to have confidence in our abilities and should trust in ourselves. For we know that people who trust in themselves gain the strength to reach out to the world. People who trust in themselves can be relied on by their partners.

In the past, when the Germans put their country above everything, "über alles", as the national anthem proclaimed, a form of nationalism evolved that progressed through all the phases of an unenlightened sense of national identity, from forced self-assurance to self-delusion to hubris.

Our affirmation of our nation today is based on all the things that make this country credible and trustworthy -- including its commitment to cooperation with our European and North Atlantic friends. We should not trust in ourselves because we are the German nation, but because we are this German nation.