GERMANY: 'Germans would love to see Germany in agreement with the US'
Thomas Cromwell

Kanat Saudabayev

Washington's drive to remove Saddam Hussein from power by force created unanticipated rifts with long-time allies in Europe. Among them was Germany, which opposed military action without a stronger United Nations mandate. With Iraq now back in the hands of an Iraqi government, the role of NATO in securing the peace there has become a matter for debate between Washington and Europe. Germany's ambassador to Washington, Wolfgang Ischinger, recently sat down with DiplomaticTraffic.com to explain his government's position on NATO's role in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as its current view of US-German relations, the expansion of the European Union and the prospects for the German economy. Extracts from the interview follow. 

On the role of NATO in Afghanistan and Iraq

When you deal with that issue, you need to look at the case of Iraq, and the case of Afghanistan. The reason NATO is now actively engaged in Afghanistan as the organization carrying the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) peacekeeping organization… is due to German pressure on the United States. Just to set the record straight, it wasn't the United States who proposed that NATO go into Afghanistan, it was the European allies, who first of all adopted the famous Article 5 decision way back in October of 2001, expressing their solidarity with the United States in the post 9/11 environment.

It took quite a bit of convincing to make the US Defense Department consider NATO activity in Afghanistan. That was a German initiative, and I am happy to say that we are proud today to be the #1 contributor to the ISAF operation. I am less happy about the fact that there is not a single American soldier associated with the ISAF operation. And that is why I am sometimes not happy when I read in American newspapers that NATO should do more in terms of the ISAF operation as the elections in Afghanistan approach. My question would be: 'Is it conceivable that the United States would do something for ISAF?' So far I haven't seen much in that respect.

That's Afghanistan. Now we come to the case of Iraq. The reasons why Germany is reluctant to advocate a larger NATO role in Iraq are manifold. We're not opposed to a NATO role in Iraq, but we see a number of issues or problems. The first one has to do with my previous point about Afghanistan. If it's true, and it's probably true, that we, the United States and NATO allies, are not yet doing enough in Afghanistan, it may be a problematic proposition to add to our burden a major task in Iraq, if we can't even get the first task, the one in Afghanistan, right.

It is the German view that if we don't get Afghanistan right we might as well forget about international commitments of the kind that we have undertaken in Afghanistan. Our very credibility as NATO would be at stake, so we tend to take this argument very seriously: where we will be sure that whatever resources there are available and that are necessary for Afghanistan are actually going to be made available to Afghanistan by NATO and, of course, by the United States. So that's the first reason. 

The second reason is a domestic reason. In Germany, every military deployment abroad needs to be approved by a plenary decision within our parliament, by a parliamentary majority. It so happens that our parliament is not in favor of German military personnel serving in Iraq. Not even our opposition is in favor of a deployment of the German military in Iraq. In other words, in my view it's a practical impossibility. Even if the government were inclined to participate in the mission, it's de facto a practical impossibility to get that kind of proposal approved under the present conditions in the German Parliament. That is why I cannot say that Germany would participate with troops in an in-country mission in Iraq. My government has made it clear that it would not oppose such a mission, but because of the legal and constitutional constraints, we would not send German soldiers for an in-country mission in Iraq. 

What we are doing, and what we have done for the last six months already, is training Iraqi security personal, in particular police, outside the Iraqi borders. That does not require full parliamentary approval in Germany, so we've been having a police training program together with the United Arab Emirates where we have already successfully trained several hundred Iraqi police officers. Prime Minister Allawi and his Interior Ministry and his Justice Ministry have expressed their gratitude for this program. They've expressed their desire for this to be continued and it is being continued as we speak. So, simply, to say that we're not only sitting on the fence watching others carry the ball but we're also trying to do certain things that we believe we can do. These are highly qualified police officers, not beat policemen: specialists in criminology and senior officers, etc. 

On the impact of the rift over Iraq policy on US-German relations   

We have had, over the last several decades, serious differences of views once in a while, sometimes on less important issues, sometimes on more important issues. The difference of view on Iraq, whether to go to war at this moment or not, in retrospect is one of the more serious cases of disagreement. This kind of disagreement of course produces problems. Germans do not like it when we cannot agree with America. Germans would love to see Germany in agreement with the United States. But this was a case where, as you well know, not only a vast majority of Germans, but a vast majority of Europeans felt that it was not going to be the right thing to go to war with the conditions that existed in 2003. So yes, we had a problem, but no, we don't have a problem anymore. I think our difference is of the past. The German and the American governments have decided to agree, quite some time ago, at the level of President Bush and Chancellor Schroeder, that we would let historians decide who was right and who was wrong on the war issue, and that we would now try to work together to make the best of the situation as it evolved,  namely as we look at the Arab-Israeli conflict, as we look at the rehabilitation of Iraq, and as we look at the security and transformation and future of the entire region.

Let me just add that Germany was one of America's most solid allies, I would even go a step further and say I think we were America's closest ally in trying to create a program aimed at helping what we now call the broader Middle East to transform itself in coming years and decades. My country, my government, feels quite strongly, and shares the view held by the Bush Administration, that the West owes it to the countries of the broader, or greater, Middle East to offer help as these nations, these peoples, try to modernize, try to step into the modern world. We don't want to appear patronizing, but we want to offer a helping hand. I think this has successfully been done. It has been achieved by the decisions adopted at the G8 summit at Sea Island in early June. And I know for a fact that the Bush Administration is grateful to Germany for the very, very close and trustful cooperation that we've had over the entire period of preparation for these decisions. In other words, from late last year until the actual decision in Sea Island we worked together beautifully on this strategic issue of long-term importance. 

The impact of the rift over Iraq on Germany's approach to America.

Our policy hasn't changed, our approach hasn't changed. My country, my government, continues to believe that a close alliance and a close partnership with the United States is one of the most dominant foreign policy goals that Germany has. And it will need to remain a key foreign policy goal. So that is not changing and it hasn't changed. What I would worry about, however, is the fact that, unfortunately, through the Iraq debate and through the Iraq crisis, the image of the United States, the reputation of the United States has tended to erode in Europe and I suppose in other parts of the world, where my observation is less precise. But certainly with respect to European countries it is a matter of great concern to everybody who is interested in a close trans-Atlantic relationship.  You see how much damage obviously has been done to how close people feel or do not feel across the Atlantic. And I think it will be one of our major jobs for the months and years to come to try to repair the damage, to accept that that's possible, and to try to recreate a sense of community, a sense of shared objectives on the basis of the shared values that undoubtedly exist but ended to be overshadowed by the political fallout of the Iraq debate.

The impact of European Union expansion on Germany

Germany has, from the very beginning of this debate, been an advocate of EU enlargement. We've always felt that it was going to be in the German national interest and in the interest of Europe as a whole, to create Europe whole and free. That actually was a shared trans-Atlantic vision. The enlargement of the European Union, which has just recently been concluded, makes Germany a central country in the EU from the kind of frontline country that it used to be until quite recently. And it is, of course, clearly to the benefit of Germany as a country, and to the German business community in particular, to sit in the middle of the solid, single market bloc where capital and goods and people can trade and move freely.

We've always argued that a larger European Union was going to be to Germany's advantage and in Germany's interest and I think we've been totally right in making that prediction. I think my country is benefiting from the enlargement of the EU. I believe that the concerns, which used to be rather strong, that opening of our borders to our eastern neighbors would lead to a flood of immigrants who would take jobs away from Germans, were not well-founded. The flood of immigrants is obviously not coming. But something different is happening. Western European companies are now beginning to take advantage of the fact that they can produce their goods at lower costs because of lower wages in countries of Central Europe. In other words, we have some kind of an outsourcing debate, not totally different from the outsourcing debate in this country, but where you are discussing India, well we are discussing Poland.

I happen to think, speaking personally, that this outsourcing debate is going to be pushing Germany in the right direction, because it definitely pushes Germany towards recognizing that we live in a globalized world and unless we are competitive ourselves we're not going to be able to make it. It pushes Germany towards reform of its social system, it pushes Germany towards reform of its economic system, of its healthcare system, and many others. So I believe that even though there are problems of a serious nature associated with these affects in the long-term, they're going to be, I believe, quite beneficial to my own nation and to Europe as well.                                                            

Why there has not been an invasion of workers from the east.

There are two reasons. One is that the freedom of movement of people and the freedom of movement of capital have been restricted in certain ways for a certain transition time.  So full, total freedom is something that will come in stages in the large European countries. That may be one of the reasons why we haven't had the flood. But the second reason, which I think is the much more important one, is the citizens of the new member countries of the European Union. For example, our Polish neighbors, the Hungarians, the Slovaks, and others tend to be people who love their countries. They are not generally in an overwhelming sense interested in following the signs that lead them to higher wages abroad. They'd rather stay at home. They love their own country. So that is why the fear of a flood of immigration into Western Europe was probably exaggerated. And the effects of relocating manufacturing businesses from Western Europe into the lower-wage Eastern Europe was maybe underrated. That turns out to be the bigger issue today, the outsourcing. 

The impact of the new EU constitution on Germany's role in Europe.

I want to be sure that we're not misinterpreting the role of Germany and France in helping to run in the European Union. The idea that Germany and France have a special responsibility is not a new one. In fact one of the original motivating ideas was that you could create a different Europe if you could overcome the arch enmity between the French and the Germans, as a major impediment to European unification as a whole. So I think that's the historical shared responsibility of Germany and France, and I think we've done a very good job on that one. It is also true, and I can say that as a practitioner of European policy over quite a number of years, it is also true that if Germany and France agree on something, quite often the rest of the European Union will find it possible to agree to a solution. Conversely, if Germany and France do not agree it has often been impossible to achieve consensus in the European Union. In other words, our two governments and nations have also felt that responsibility to allow solutions by trying to agree on possible ways forward. In other words, we have felt that we have a role as a catalyst that makes collective decisions possible, or makes collective decisions by all European member countries easier. But we've never felt that it was our job to dominate the European members. And I think that has often been misunderstood.

One of the wonderful things, but also one of the things that makes the European Union so difficult to handle, is that there is no such thing as a dominating nation. The construction principle of the European Union is that even the smaller countries, even Luxembourg and Malta, have a vote. And it's not and shouldn't be possible for the large countries such as Germany, France, or Poland to simply dominate the rest. That's a construction principle that makes it essential that compromise be reached. And it makes it sometimes difficult to manage the European Union. It also makes it necessary to accept that sometimes you have a setback because you will simply not reach agreement. That is why the history of the European Union has been a history of two steps forward, one step backward sometimes, and then three steps forward. But generally I think we have been moving in the right direction.

Germany's position on the inclusion of Turkey in the EU.

My government has said for a long time that we need to honor the commitment entered into by the European Community before it was even a European Union, way back in 1963, when an association agreement with Turkey was signed. In fact, Turkey was the first country offered such an association agreement, and it is on that basis that we need to be fair with our Turkish neighbors. It is on that basis that we have been in favor of a process that, if Turkey fulfills the necessary conditions, would allow the beginning of membership negotiations between Turkey and the European Union. The calendar is such that at the end of this year, the European Commission will make a recommendation on the basis of the facts and reform efforts that have been taken by the Turkish government, and then the European Union will make a decision about this really historical question.  My government, again, to be quite clear, is prepared to say yes to Turkey if the conditions prescribed by earlier decisions regarding Turkey's reform are met.  In other words, yes, we are willing and prepared to welcome Turkey into the European Union, recognizing all along, however, that membership negotiations and Turkey's membership in the European Union need to be considered as a long-term project. It's not going to happen overnight.

On the advantages of having Turkey, as a Muslim state, within the EU.

I regard this as a certain problem but also a huge opportunity. Let me explain. The European Union is designed to be not just a club where you pay a membership due while you remain yourself. By entering the European Union you change the nature of your existence. You give up elements of your sovereignty. In other words, you share the fate of your own nation with that of others. You bind yourself together in a way that is novel in the history of nations. Most Americans have serious difficulty even understanding the very principle and I've been asked the question many times: "Why would you ever do a thing like that, and give up what is so dear to us Americans, namely our sovereignty?"  Giving up our sovereignty is our way of securing the future.

Sharing sovereignty is a different way of looking at our needs in the future. That means of course that you want to be sure that the countries that you share your future with are countries that also share, as much as possible, the same values. In other words, you don't want to create a situation where you would end up with a conflict over what should be and what should not be your education, health policy, your foreign or domestic security policy. That is why we have placed such a premium in the European Union on being absolutely certain that all members fulfill the same conditions with respect to the observance of human rights, the rule of law, independent judicial branch, etc. And that is why many Europeans, for good or for not so good reasons, have expressed reservations about membership for Turkey, because Turkey clearly comes from a different background then some of the other European countries.

Again, my own country believes that the Turks have made enormous progress and if they fulfill the conditions there should not be a religious barrier that would say that because this is not a country with a Judeo-Christian heritage it must not be admitted into the European Union. That is absolutely not the German view. In other words, actually we oppose the view that the members of the European Union must have a Judeo-Christian heritage. We are even today a European Union that is in more ways than one a multicultural and multi-religious European Union with many Christians, Jews, Muslims and other religious beliefs present in this union. So that's the concern that many have had.  And a concern that one needs to take seriously. The opportunity, on the other hand, is of course an enormously important one, a strategic one.

If it is possible to demonstrate to the countries of the broader Middle East that there is such a thing as a Muslim country that can be at the same time a modern country with the same kind of quality of life, standard of living, rule of law and modernity as the West, that would make Turkey a beacon of hope and light, we believe, for hundreds of millions of people in that part of the world. In other words, I think it is a highly attractive idea, that Turkey could be a wonderful and historically important bridge-builder, creating better understanding between the Muslim and non-Muslim world in Europe. That kind of bridge-building role would be relevant in terms of the security situation in southern and southeastern Europe. So there are more reasons than one why Turkey as a member of Europe, but also as an essentially Muslim country, could play an enormously beneficial role as we look at the relationship of Europe to the broader Middle East, and the way that the countries of the broader Middle East, could or should or might develop further in coming years and decades. 

On Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's economic reforms.

I wish I could tell you that they are working without difficulty, but they are not. They are working, but with great difficulty. Gerhard Schroeder has a huge problem because, while most Germans agree that reforms are necessary, most Germans seem to believe that these reforms should take place in their neighbor's house, not in their own house. In other words, there is a huge domestic agenda that needs to be taken care of: convincing voters of this reform program, which will require many to earn less, obtain fewer healthcare benefits or work more. They have to be convinced that all of these things may be looked at as negative by individuals, but are actually necessary for the survival of this society, which is an aging society.

Like many other European countries, if there is no massive immigration in the next 30-50 years, we are a nation that will decline rather dramatically, with enormous consequences for our ability to cover the healthcare of an aging population. I think most Germans have begun to understand that "Agenda 2010" as Gerhard Schroeder has called it, is necessary, but people still struggle with the fact that that agenda requires them personally to make sacrifices. We have been a country that's been blessed by continued upward movement and growth in the post World War II period for three decades or more. And it's not easy for our population that this has come to a stop, and that we have to look at our competitiveness in a globalized world. We are facing the truth now, and facing the truth is sometimes unpleasant. I know that when I look in the mirror every morning.       


Curriculum Vitae of Wolfgang Ischinger
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United States of America

Ambassador Ischinger presented his credentials to President George W. Bush on July 31, 2001.

He was born in 1946 near Stuttgart in southern Germany.

In 1963/64, he was an American Field Service foreign exchange student in Watseka, Illinois, where he graduated from the local high school in June 1964.

Mr. Ischinger studied law at the universities of Bonn/Germany and Geneva/Switzerland and obtained his law degree in 1972. He also earned a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

From 1973 to 1975, he served on the staff of the Secretary General of the United Nations in New York.

He joined the German Foreign Service in 1975, and has served previously in Washington, D. C., as well as in Paris.

From 1982 to 1990, Mr. Ischinger served as a special assistant to the Foreign Minister in Bonn.

From 1993 to 1995, Mr. Ischinger was Director of the Policy Planning Staff of the German Foreign Office in Bonn. In 1995, he was appointed Director General for Political Affairs (Political Director). During his 3 1/2 years in this position, Mr. Ischinger participated in a number of international negotiating processes, including the Bosnia Peace Talks at Dayton, Ohio, the negotiations concerning the NATO-Russia Founding Act, as well as the negotiations on NATO enlargement and on the Kosovo crisis.
From 1998 to 2001, Wolfgang Ischinger served as State Secretary, the highest civil service post in the German Foreign Office.

Mr. Ischinger has published widely on foreign policy, security and arms control policy as well as on European and transatlantic issues.

He serves on several boards, including the Board of Overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the East-West Institute in New York, the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, the Council on Public Policy, and AFS Germany (American Field Service).  He is also Chairman of the Ambassadors Advisory Board of the Executive Council on Diplomacy in Washington, D.C.

Wolfgang Ischinger is married to Jutta Falke, a professional journalist who, before coming to Washington, D.C., was the Berlin bureau chief of the German weekly "Rheinischer Merkur".  Mr. Ischinger has two children, Christoph (26) and Anne-Caroline (20).  He is a certified professional ski instructor and holds a private pilot's license.