Russia and Global Security Risks
The Human Factor and the Prospect of Germany’s Permanent Membership in the UN Security Council

The growing vassal-like dependence of Germany on Washington, a biased position on the situation in Venezuela, Syria, Ukraine, as well as Berlin’s active participation in the development of unilateral EU sanctions have led to a situation where an increasing number of countries no longer consider Germany as a candidate for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, Dmitry Kiku writes.

In order to use the UN as a tool to increase its geopolitical weight, Germany seeks to ensure its participation in the work of the main UN organ — the Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member as soon as possible (within approximately 7-8 years).  In 2017 Germany was accepted as a candidate for the UN Security Council for another two-year term (2019-2020) In 2017 Christoph Heusgen, an influential adviser on foreign and security policy to Chancellor Angela Merkel, was sent to New York as Germany’s ambassador to the UN. 

According to Berlin’s logic, the political “heavyweight” Heusgen should have given a significant impetus to the establishment of Germany within the UN as a reliable international player, as well as to promote Berlin’s claims for a permanent seat in the Security Council. The 75th anniversary of the UN, celebrated in 2020, should have been a suitable opportunity for ideas to be voiced from the German point of view about reforming the UN and expanding the composition of its Security Council (of course, with the participation of Germany). As a rule, in September, leaders, heads of government and foreign affairs agencies usually arrive at the “high-level” session of the UN General Assembly, so this format is used to draw the attention of top officials to their foreign policy priorities.

Loud and controversial debut

The initial stage of German membership in the Security Council was marked by an unconventional initiative — in March-April 2019, the joint chairmanship of France and Germany in this body took place. As stated by Heusgen, this idea came from Berlin, and “we actually declared the partnership of countries as an institution in the UN Security Council.”

At the same time, the overwhelming number of French experts did not see the added value from such a tandem. In their presentation, France, as a permanent member of the Security Council, only suffered reputational costs by “taking under its wing” one of the applicants for permanent membership in the UNSC. France is aware of the German government’s plan to seek in the future a permanent seat on the Security Council for the European Union. In the German understanding — and this was stated by the former vice-chancellor and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer — there should be a “Europeanisation” of the permanent seats of the EU “nuclear” powers. However, in the wake of Brexit, France is the only EU country which has a permanent UNSC seat, so this seems unrealistic.

The German-French duo caused particular irritation in Spain and Italy, which are part of the so-called “Uniting for Consensus” group and support the “intermediate” model of reform — they are among those who propose that only the number of non-permanent members of the UN Security Council should be increased.

As a result, in June and July 2020, France and Germany already chaired the UN Security Council separately, that is, the practice of German-French partnership promoted by Heusgen did not gain traction.

During the German presidency of the UN Security Council in 2019, Heusgen proposed two innovations that perplexed his colleagues and journalists alike. The German delegation decided to open the always closed curtains of the Security Council hall, which made it difficult to make videos and photographs of the meetings, and to install an hourglass next to the chairperson’s seat, which counted down just over 5 minutes — the recommended time for the heads of delegations to speak. Heusgen made an unsuccessful attempt to use the new hourglass rule to cut short the Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, during a meeting on Venezuela on April 10, 2019. 

“You can turn your wonderful hourglass over as many times as you wish, but I will take as much time as I need to,” the Russian diplomat responded, after which he detailed Russia’s position on the topic under discussion. It should be noted here that a long (18 minutes) speech by US Vice President Mike Pence took place before Nebenzya, but the German diplomat did not dare to limit it.

However, the greatest “sensation” at the initial stage of Heusgen’s work in the UNSC was his statement during a briefing on Ukraine on February 12, 2019, about the “direct involvement” of Russian military personnel in the “occupation” of Minsk and Donetsk (by the way, in the official protocol of the meeting the speech of the German representative was corrected).

In response, Nebenzya had to point to the mistake. “My friend Christoph, apparently making a Freudian slip, said that Russia in 2015 ‘took Minsk’. Russia took Berlin, I remember, but that was before. Before that, we liberated Minsk,” — Nebenzya reminded.

Failed mission

Of course, the mission of a representative of such a large European country as the Federal Republic of Germany should be to defend its national interests while respecting the principles of international law and observing the ethical standards adopted by the UN. However, instead, Heusgen decided to slide into a confrontation in the Security Council with two of its permanent members, Russia and China.

Describing the short-sighted actions of the German diplomat, whose main task, I repeat, is to obtain the country a “permanent residence permit” in the UN Security Council, it is advisable to briefly consider the criteria for the applicants by which they are guided. As such, there are no officially agreed-upon criteria, but Germany is “trying on” the parameters laid down in Article 23 of Chapter V of the UN Charter for the election of non-permanent members of the Security Council by the General Assembly. These include the degree of participation in the maintenance of international peace and security and in the achievements of other goals of the Organisation, and a fair geographical representation.

One of the main arguments of Germany in favour of raising its own status within the UN is the country’s significant contribution to the regular budget of the Organisation in 2019-2020. This amounted to 6.090% of the total budget. However, a detailed examination of the statistics indicates a gradual decline in Berlin’s funding of the UN. Compared to a decade ago, the decline in the current German financial participation looks more than significant — at the time, the share was 8.018%. In 2016, Germany was bumped into fourth place by China in the list of the UN’s financial contributors. Beijing also climbed past Japan, with a contribution to the UN regular budget of 12.005%, and now ranks second after the United States, which invariably contributes 22%.

If Germany acquires the status of a permanent member of the Security Council and brings the number of permanent members to 9-10, the principle of equitable geographical distribution in this body will be violated. Germany, in this situation, will become the fourth member state from the regional group “Western European and other states,” as well as from NATO, where Washington zealously monitors compliance to “iron” discipline.

It is hardly possible to imagine that Germany would become a permanent member of the UNSC, because US military bases and a US military contingent numbering about 38 thousand troops are located on its territory. Moreover, tactical US nuclear weapons, despite Berlin’s timid attempts to get rid of them are still based in Germany. According to expert estimates, up to 20 American nuclear warheads for B-61 thermonuclear gravity bombs are deployed in Germany at the location of the 33rd Luftwaffe squadron in Büchel (Rhineland-Palatinate). However, the current government of Germany not only does not plan to withdraw nuclear weapons from its territory, but, on the contrary, is involved in the financing of an expensive project to modernise the nuclear arsenal being implemented by the Pentagon. In the fall of 2019, the warheads were moved from Büchel to the United States, where they were re-equipped with a modern, more accurate guidance system.

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer reached an agreement with the head of the Pentagon Mark Esper on the purchase of 30 Boeing F/A-18F multirole fighter aircraft. Along with the purchase of 93 Eurofighters from Airbus, they are intended to replace the morally and physically obsolete Tornado, and in the event of a conflict involving the use of nuclear weapons, they can carry American B-61 bombs. Remarkable in this regard is the statement of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer that “without the nuclear and conventional potential of the United States, Germany and Europe are not able to defend themselves”. At the same time, the German minister called for negotiations with Russia on disarmament issues “from a position of strength”.

For the sake of Uncle Sam

The growing vassal-like dependence of Germany on Washington, a biased position on the situation in Venezuela, Syria, Ukraine, etc., as well as Berlin’s active participation in the development of unilateral EU sanctions have led to a situation where an increasing number of countries no longer consider Germany as a candidate for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Moreover, given the strained relations between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, Berlin could not count on Washington’s support for its efforts to join the elite club. Accordingly, the German deck did not have a significant trump card that could be presented during the UN “jubilee” year. This explains the downgrade of the German delegation’s level in the plenary meeting of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly — from chancellor to foreign minister. In a video message to the session participants, Merkel announced “Germany’s readiness to continue to assume responsibility, including in an expanded Security Council”. However, German politicians have been voicing similar ambitions for a long time, and here a big question arises for Merkel’s speechwriters, who do not bother to add variety to the wording.

The apogee of Germany’s failed work in the UN Security Council was another confrontation between Heusgen and the heads of the delegations of two permanent members of this body, Russia and China, during a meeting on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria, held on December 16, 2020. As a result, they openly made it clear about Germany’s negligible chances of getting a permanent member seat in the UN Security Council. As noted by Dmitry Polyansky, acting Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, “... based on conversations with my contacts here, I conclude that the number of supporters of Germany being in the UN Security Council seems to have significantly decreased. I think this is the best result of your stay in the Council...”. In turn, the Permanent Representative of China pointed out that “Germany’s membership in the Security Council has not met the expectations of the world and the expectations of the Council. Thus, Germany’s road to permanent membership will be difficult. ”

Thus, the actions of the German ambassador to the UN (of course, it is difficult to imagine that his statements contradicted the instructions from Berlin) set back the possibility of the country’s obtaining an equal place in the UN Security Council to the times of Germany’s participation in the NATO operation in Yugoslavia in 1999, which was illegitimate from the point of view of international law.

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