Dec 05, 2022

Op-Ed: Greater Peace for a Fragile World

Germany has been working to recognize, prevent, and alleviate emerging international conflicts and crises for decades. What specific form does this work take? A view from the German Foreign Office.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attends a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin, Germany May 15, 2022.
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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called it a “watershed moment,” or Zeitenwende: Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine will not only have repercussions for NATO, for European and German foreign and security policy, for fundamental strategies as well as Germany’s capabilities and instruments. It is also changing how we—particularly in Germany—view our own security and the way we are affected by conflicts. The war is reawakening fears and memories believed to be things of the past in Europe, while the immediate experience of war and conflict is the terrible everyday reality for many people in other parts of the world.

Comprehensive View of Security

Questions surrounding the political and practical consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine are also informing the debate in Germany about the National Security Strategy the German government is currently working on, with the German Foreign Office leading the process.

Recognizing that Germany, as Europe’s biggest economy and a country with considerable influence in foreign policy, needs a stronger culture of debate in foreign and security policy as well as a clearer focus on issues relating to strategic security and corresponding answers, the incoming German government undertook in its 2021 coalition agreement—before the start of the war against Ukraine—to draw up a National Security Strategy. This should and will not merely be a reaction to the war but rather a comprehensive stocktaking of the security policy situation. As Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock announced in her speech on the National Security Strategy on March 18, 2022, it will elaborate on our stance, our capability to act, and our foreign policy instruments.

The process of drafting this strategy offers an opportunity to engage in an intensified discussion about peace and security issues with the German public and society. To this end, Annalena Baerbock and other members of the government will continue to seek to engage directly with members of the public.

The National Security Strategy takes a comprehensive view of security: it is to address all issues of relevance to peace and security. All relevant ministries will contribute to it. The focus is on human security and the security of the individual. This is crucial not least for foreign and security policy, with the priority being to work from a broad and comprehensive concept of security.

Alongside instruments of “hard” military security, instruments of civilian crisis engagement and preventive action will come into focus. Germany has comprehensive experience with these civilian instruments in crises and conflicts in fragile regions of the world—experience which shapes our ideas on and actions in foreign policy and which lead to political and operational conclusions.

Establishment of Directorate-General S

This experience, gathered over many years, already fed into various concepts and structural decisions. In 2017, the German government published the “Policy Guidelines: Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace,” a comprehensive concept and compendium of tasks that are constantly being implemented and monitored at intervals. In 2021, we published a comprehensive report on the implementation of the guidelines, using the opportunity to set new priorities. We want to strengthen the European Union’s role in crisis management, better dovetail early crisis detection and crisis prevention, consider the climate crisis and security issues as a package, and evaluate the implications of experiences in the COVID-19 pandemic for tackling health risks.

In structural terms, too, the German government has continuously improved its toolbox. Following an intensive review process over the past decade, the German Foreign Office gathered its expertise and actions to manage crises and armed conflicts in a newly established Directorate-General. Since 2015, crisis prevention, stabilization, peacebuilding, enable and enhance, as well as humanitarian assistance have been the responsibility of Directorate-General S (for “stabilization”).

Bundling funding and structures for civilian crisis engagement has resulted in expanded knowledge, more intensive work, and a more targeted engagement to resolve conflicts and crises. This continuously produces new insights into promising methods and instruments helping us to act more rapidly, more resolutely and more substantially to prevent and overcome crises and conflicts around the world. We can do it; it is expected of us; and it is in Germany’s interest.

Successful Commitment

One example of successful German stabilization efforts is Iraq. In 2014, Islamic State (IS) committed terrible crimes against the Yazidis living in Sinjar District. The world looked in horror at the brutal war, massacres, the rape and enslavement of girls and women. IS became a danger to the stability of Iraq and the entire region. Military measures were needed to counter the threat. Germany provided the Peshmerga with weapons and, within the Global Coalition against Daesh, played a leading role in stabilization efforts. In May 2017, significant parts of the region were liberated from IS. Since 2019, UN investigators have been exhuming mass graves.

From the outset, Germany has helped with measures aimed at enabling the rapid return of internally displaced people and investigating and prosecuting the crimes committed by IS. We are supporting the Economic Crimes Unit of UNITAD (the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL) to secure evidence proving the atrocities committed by the jihadist militia that can be used in legal proceedings against the perpetrators.

Rubble, Mines, IEDs

The most serious physical barriers preventing displaced persons from returning to former conflict areas are rubble, mines and hidden IEDs. Germany is assisting with clearance and demining efforts. UNMAS (the United Nations Mine Action Service) is an important partner; from 2017 to 2021, it received project funding of €38 million from the German Foreign Office. Germany is committed to providing sustainable support, which is why people in the affected areas are being trained to clear weaponry themselves.

Last year, thanks to support of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), an organization that seeks to locate people who went missing in wars, disasters, and conflicts, we supported projects aiming at helping victims dealing with their emotions in the wake of the crimes. Yazidis living in Germany were thus able to follow the transfer and burial of their relatives’ remains and attend funerals locally. Even if IS’ reign of terror is largely over, the work of investigating and prosecuting the crimes committed and of reconstruction will take many years. Germany will continue to provide support in the future. Project experience like the one gained in Iraq may also help in other countries, possibly even Ukraine.

A Discrete Approach

A further instrument tried out in Iraq—stabilization facilities—is being applied in the Sahel. Stabilization facilities are multilateral funds various partner countries contribute money to. The success of projects implemented this way is attributed solely to the local partners. German foreign policy has engaged in this more discrete approach for years with a view to strengthening people’s trust in their own governments and thus making their lives more secure.

This approach was applied in the Lake Chad region of West Africa. In 2014, raids by the terrorist group Boko Haram lead to the security situation on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon deteriorating so precariously that it led to the border being closed. This had devastating effects on supply routes and triggered a huge increase in the need for humanitarian assistance. Since 2019, the Lake Chad Regional Stabilization Facility, administered by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and co‑financed by Germany, has been carrying out measures in the border region to restore state structures and basic services and thus to re-open the border.

Painful Withdrawal

Dramatic images from Afghanistan in August 2021 clearly showed that the supposed successes of the 20-year international operation in the Hindu Kush had been rendered null and void in just a few days. The pictures from Kabul were shocking and fueled debate about what caused these dramatic developments.

Despite the combination of a long-term military mission and substantial financial as well as civilian support for state-building and civil society, the operation did not succeed in creating lasting stability. The task now is to review the experiences gained in Afghanistan by numerous members of the diplomatic service, other ministries, the Bundeswehr, German civil society, and implementing organizations. We need to learn the right lessons for the future.

As part of an evaluation agreed back in November 2020, the German Foreign Office, the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Ministry of the Interior are now jointly evaluating the civilian components of the mission in Afghanistan. Currently in analysis phase, the evaluation will also be supported by the Ministry of Defense looking at the interfaces between military and civilian cooperation; we expect the results of the evaluation in 2023. We will then draw conclusions not only for our future engagement in Afghanistan, but also for other crisis regions.

 Without wanting to anticipate the results, one lesson may be this: socio-economic progress and military operations on their own cannot bring peace and stability. The political will within the country itself to attain sustainable solutions is crucial. There is a need for political processes open for support by regional or international partners, but ultimately these processes have to be supported in and by the country itself.

The international engagement in Afghanistan did not lead to the then Afghan government being regarded by its own population as legitimate in the long term. Thus, a key aim of the stabilization effort was not achieved. In order to create stability, it is vital to put political processes within the affected region at the heart of efforts. At the same time, it is important for successful engagement—and for communication—that the aims of civilian, military, and development policy engagement must be clearly defined, and the risks stated honestly. The risk of failure must be communicated frankly.

Necessary Steps

Experiences of success as well as failure—of successful crisis prevention and peacebuilding, as well as cases when our instruments fell short—will inform the National Security Strategy and of course will feed into concrete work on future challenges, too.

These tasks and challenges undoubtedly include continuing support for Ukraine, managing the global humanitarian and political consequences of the war against Ukraine, and tackling the increasing effects of climate change.

When Russia launched its attack, Germany started to provide multiple forms of support to Ukraine and to the people affected, in close coordination with Ukraine itself and in line with the country’s needs: sending in rapid humanitarian supplies, taking in refugees, supporting the military and security forces with weapons and other material, as well as support for disaster risk management.

In addition to ongoing political support for Ukraine, the task continues to be to provide rapid and practical assistance in order to stabilize war‑torn areas, and at some point to invest in reconstruction.

With regards to the German Foreign Office’s civilian support for Ukraine, we focus among other things on the resilience of Ukrainian structures, help for communities close to the front line following liberation from Russian occupation, and on the first steps toward reconstruction—clearing rubble, defusing mines, reopening schools, supporting civil society, and investigating and prosecuting war crimes.

As well as delivering humanitarian assistance for parts of the population in immediate need, we support initial steps like these in order to overcome violence and destruction and create more stable conditions for more fundamental reconstruction efforts to come. We are doing so at a bilateral level, while at the same time using a specific structural approach to facilitate close coordination between Ukraine, the European Union, and other states, in order to combine international support efficiently.

This kind of integrated approach to stabilization builds on experience gained and tested in other contexts, for example in the Turkish-Syrian border region. Even if the circumstances differ greatly, conflict expertise from other countries and regions of the world such as Syria, the Sahel, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, or Yemen helps guide both concrete action during the conflict and rapid action after it ends, thus giving impetus for positive change.

Hurricane of Hunger

The war against Ukraine is having a terrible impact not only there; it is also causing the number of people starving around the world to rise, as food exports are not leaving Ukraine, energy and food prices are increasing, and government and individual debt are growing. The UN forecasts that up to 345 million people in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, the MENA region, and other parts of the world will suffer acute food insecurity this year.

Adding to the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events, and armed conflicts, Russia’s war of aggression is yet another cause of human suffering and humanitarian need, and a potential factor for political instability and state fragility. This is due to the fact that rising food prices, food scarcity, and discontent at the social and economic situation can be an explosive mixture.

Furthermore, there is a risk, heightened by the deliberate manipulation of facts and cleverly designed disinformation campaigns, that the cause and effect of—and true responsibility for—the crises, namely Russia’s attack on Ukraine, one of the world’s breadbaskets, will be pushed off the radar.

Germany has undertaken, not least with the G7 presidency in 2022, to counter the global repercussions of the war with strong engagement and clear political signals. We were quick to put the issue of the looming food crisis on the agenda for the high‑level political meetings of the G7. We support the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy, and Finance, initiated by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in March 2022, which is seeking global solutions, also involving the private sector and civil society.

The German government has made available substantial additional financial resources for a rapid and practical response to the looming crisis via humanitarian assistance and mid- to long‑term development cooperation. Within the EU, in multilateral formats such as the G20, and in international financial institutions, we are committed to looking for structural solutions, for example in agriculture and trade, in order to enable particularly hard-hit countries to manage their economies in a more sustainable way and reduce their dependence on imports. In May 2022, in cooperation with the World Bank, Germany launched the Global Alliance for Food Security (GAFS), which is to work for sustainable structural changes to this end.

Climate Change as a Factor

Climate and energy policy is becoming more and more a part of foreign and security policy. According to a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in early 2022, up to 3.6 billion people live in regions that are very susceptible to the impact of climate change. Of the 20 countries most threatened by climate change, almost two thirds are simultaneously affected by armed conflicts. The effects of climate change can feed directly into political conflicts; handling them is therefore becoming an increasingly important part of preventive, integrated peace management.

In Nigeria, for example, conflicts between farmers and nomadic herders have been among the biggest threats to peace and stability for some years now. As climate change makes more and more of the land unusable for agriculture, competition between the farmers and herders is increasing. In turn, the violent course of this confrontation is causing environmental degradation and preventing the two communities from adapting to the new environmental conditions. One key element for solutions to the multifaceted conflicts in Nigeria is therefore for local communities to find ways toward using land and other natural resources peacefully side by side.

In order to break such spirals of environmental degradation and violence, the German Foreign Office supports efforts to reach agreements on the division of resources between local communities. A first agreement of this kind was mediated and signed in early 2022 with support by our mediation team. We want to build on this success to arrive at further agreements.

More Funding for Civilian Engagement

Crisis engagement as described above requires resources. Only if personnel and financial resources are available can Germany’s foreign ministry and other parts of the government make an effective and substantive contribution. Germany is one of the world’s largest donors to humanitarian assistance, peacebuilding, and development cooperation. This is only possible thanks to the support of the German parliament, the Bundestag, which makes our engagement possible by approving the budget. By increasing the budget in 2022, the Bundestag has  underlined its determination to ensure that Germany can still act in times of global crises.

In response to Russia’s war against Ukraine, not only was the Bundeswehr’s funding increased; the Bundestag also upped the funding for civilian engagement in crisis prevention and for humanitarian assistance in the 2022 budget. We, therefore, can ensure that, notwithstanding our increased commitment to Ukraine, money is available to tackle the global repercussions of the war and other crises.

Second-Largest Humanitarian Donor

Over the past 10 years, funding for humanitarian assistance has increased roughly tenfold, to €2.7 billion today. Germany is thus the second-largest humanitarian donor worldwide after the United States. In 2022, a total of €555 million is available for crisis prevention, stabilization, and peacebuilding.

In addition, the German Foreign Office disposes of funds to support advisory and training measures and equipment for the security forces of other states. Together with the Ministry of Defense, the German Foreign Office is responsible for the implementation of such enable and enhance measures. This funding increased to a total of €2 billion for 2022 due to Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The diversity of projects and challenges described here reflects the factual and political complexity of the German Foreign Office’s peace engagement day in day out. No matter which instruments we use, no matter which form of engagement—crisis prevention, stabilization measures or mediation—our goal is always the same: to prepare the ground for a peaceful balance of interests, to resolve conflicts and ultimately to establish peace.

Integrated peace engagement is at the same time an expression of German foreign policy’s assumption of responsibility in the world and of our commitment to our own security. It is in Germany’s own interest to help resolve conflicts and instabilities in other parts of the world that so often have an impact on our own security. That is what German diplomacy is working for—often out of the limelight, but unceasingly. That is why the importance of crisis prevention and conflict management will be expressed in formulating the National Security Strategy, too.

Deike Potzel is Director-General for Crisis Prevention, Stabilization, Peacebuilding, and Humanitarian Assistance at the German Foreign Office.