Germany on the Lifting of Iraqi Sanctions

Today we treat the German view of the recent 14-0 vote of the UN Security Council (on which Germany now serves as a non-permanent member) to lift most sanctions against Iraq.

The headline of Die Welt’s article lays out that newspaper’s position: Washington gewinnt den Irak-Krieg auch in der UNO – “Washington wins the Iraq War also in the United Nations.” It quotes the New York Times’ evaluation that the authority that the resolution grants to the occupying powers over the further political and economic development of Iraq is unprecedented. True, the resolution provides for the presence of a special UN representative, but hardly on terms equal to those granted to American and Britain. And, while the resolution also prescribes its own review by the Security Council in twelve months’ time, that is not a provision to cause the occupying powers much worry: they both possess veto rights as permanent members, so that they could veto any new resolution at that time which would change these terms of their presence in Iraq.

Daniel Brössler, writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, also concedes that America and Britain pretty much gained what they wanted. In his estimation, the prime function of that UN special representative will be to coordinate the work of various UN agencies in providing Iraq with humanitarian assistance, which was precisely the sort of limited role the occupying powers desired for the UN, although it is also true that other public institutions such as the World Bank and IMF will participate in a council supervising the use of revenues Iraq gains from oil and gas export.

This gives rise, in the same newspaper, to Stefan Kornelius’ rather bitter commentary, Die verneinten Nationen – a pun on Vereinten Nationen, or “United Nations”: the additional “n” here (verneinten) transforms the phrase into “The Denied Nations.” “The UN is back,” Kornelius quotes French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin as saying after the near-unanimous Security Council vote to lift Iraqi sanctions, but that is just a superficial reading of events. In reality, France, Russia, and Germany have kow-towed to American demands in order to try to regain some semblance of influence over American policy. He calls the price for doing so – in effect sanctioning the conducting of war without UN approval – as too high, as a “diplomatic genuflection” (diplomatischer Kniefall). But at least there is the chance that the chaos in Iraq will continue and, as US elections approach, the Americans will need additional assistance and diplomatic cover in Iraq from their partners on the Security Council; perhaps then these partners will be able to extract a higher price for that.

Meanwhile, Germans should not try to imagine that their cooperation in voting to remove the Iraqi sanctions means that personal relations between George W. Bush and Gerhard Schröder can be revived. These are beyond repair, according to Gunter Hoffmann’s article in Die Zeit, but something like this was destined to happen sooner or later. That is because one of Schröder’s key innovations in German foreign policy has been to make it clear that Germany was no longer obliged to simply follow the lead of others, particularly the US, in a foreign policy low-profile that it adopted for decades in reaction to the all-too-active German foreign policy from before 1945. Now it should feel itself free to follow a deutschen Weg – a “German way.” This was a new attitude just waiting for a serious policy disagreement to arise to show that it just wasn’t a bunch of words, and that it could result in diplomatic unpleasantness; and Iraq provided that policy disagreement. Since then, Hoffmann observes, Germany has attempted to conciliate itself with the US, but always subject to certain limits. For example, and despite Colin Powell’s recent visit to Berlin, the stationing of German military forces in Iraq is still no foregone conclusion; the Germans demand further discussion and clarification of “who in the future is to do what precisely where.”

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