Roundtable with Joschka Fischer about international issues

August 11,2006 – Excerpt:

… JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, thank you very much. I feel very honored to be invited to this very prestigious society. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not experienced in a professional way about international law, but I have to deal with it and will deal with in the future in foreign policy and security policy. And of course, I mean, the very concept of sovereignty, historically, was created in Europe as the answer on religious war. So at the end — (inaudible) — the power, which was in the very old Europe decentralized and on several actors and the state was only one actor, to concentrate all the power in an absolute way on the state, to overcome the atrocities, brutalities of the religious civil wars. This was the idea — theoretical idea of Hobbes and it was the reality of the Westphalian peace. But even in the best days of these classical European sovereignty concept, all at the end — (word inaudible) — were equal, but some were more equal. So from the very beginning, it was a theoretical or formal equality, which was more or less accepted, but by and then not accepted. And it depends, sovereignty, also not on theoretical concept but on the power, not only to control the territory but also to defend the control of such a territory or to extend it. And sovereignty, therefore, was also a question of the stability of the European state system; and therefore, it was created on the concept of the balance of power, not the balance of law but the balance of power. So power was and is an essential element of international law, and we shouldn’t forget that. And it was an emerging system. It was not a (stated system ?). One of the major blows for the traditional concept of sovereignty was the French Revolution. It was at that moment the whole system changed completely.

Before, all these princes and kings dealt with each other. Ordinary people were — this was not a serious issue. And before the French Revolution, something very revolutionary happened on the other side of the Atlantic where very few — I mean, at that time, I don’t know how many people lived in the 13 colony states, but a very small amount of people compared with present times. I mean, they made the American Revolution. They created a constitution, the rule of the people, the rule of law. And with the French Revolution, this was, I think, a direct blow, a very severe blow to the traditional form of sovereignty. We shouldn’t forget that, that sovereignty is nothing static; and therefore, I mean, these developed and especially the contributions of the growing power of the United States was to bring the law into the international relations. And I think this is one of the big achievements of the American foreign policy tradition, that responsibility according to the law was implemented. And one of the brightest moments, from my view, was the Nuremburg trial, after the Shoah, after these terrible war crimes which took place in the countries which the Nazis had occupied or in Germany, the mass murder, genocide against the European and German Jewry, the racist war in then Poland and the Soviet Union. And the answer was that those who committed these crimes cannot hide behind sovereignty. They are responsible. And a new form of — a very new form, a revolutionary form — a new international tribunal was formed. They were indicted in a transparent — a very transparent procedure. And at the end, they were convicted. I’m against capital punishment, but at that moment, I have to say even not only the major war criminals but when I saw the gallows in Auschwitz where Hess was hanged, I had serious problems with my general rejection of capital punishment, because these crimes were so terrible that they had to be punished. And I think this was a major breakthrough. And decades later, what we saw in Kosovo was that we were in a contradiction. Politically, for myself, in the contradiction I was grown up in post-war Germany, so I was grown up with two basic principles as the legacy of the terrible crimes of my country: no more war, because war in Germany means also not self-defense but aggression and an attack on our neighbors; and secondly, no more Holocaust, no more Auschwitz. And my generation lived quite well for a long time with these two principles. But suddenly, with the end of the Cold War, when the Wall came down and in Yugoslavia, all the contradictions of the old Europe exploded. And we had a situation that on the one hand, there was the traditional concept of sovereignty, and the war — especially not against Yugoslavia — Hitler armies invaded there, committed terrible crimes. It was unbelievable almost for me to think in terms that German soldiers would be part of a humanitarian intervention where Hitler — Hitler’s army and the SS committed such terrible crimes. And on the other side, the reality of the new forms of concentration camps, of terrible atrocities, mass rape, destruction of churches, to destroy a whole culture, and of course, moving forward with another genocide of the Muslim population in Bosnia. So there was a contradiction — (inaudible) — illegality. I mean, I don’t believe that it was illegal to intervene. Why? I’m not a lawyer, but I had to deal with the subject. The United Nations tried everything, and step-by-step, they moved forward with resolutions — very powerful resolutions — (off mike). But the specific structure of the Security Council, when it came to the final conclusion of the road to the resolutions, now to say, okay, you mistreated the blue helmets, you committed terrible crimes, you will go on with that — so we have now under Chapter 7 decide about a military intervention. The Russians left. So it was, the whole procedure — and I think here procedure matters very much. This was not the lonely decision or this was not a decision of one nation. It was a transparent procedure in the Security Council and in other regional or international institutions and was blocked by a national political position not to intervene, not to allow to intervene, according to international law. So the procedure is element number one. And by the way, in practice, the procedure produces legitimacy, and in international law, legitimacy — as in, by the way, also in national law — legitimacy is very important. I would say it’s crucial. The second element was, if the Security Council is blocked, can we sit there and watch mass rape, ethnic cleansing? Innocent people were killed in a very brutal way and put into mass graves. And we see in Germany we have accepted more than 200,000 refugees from Bosnia at that time. It was, I think, very important that we opened our doors. We had a (lot of strong ?) Bosnian minorities, by the way, from all the ethnic groups were living. I experienced that in that time; my daughter was in elementary school in Frankfurt, and the war was in the classroom. The children came back. They were Croats, they were Serbs, they were Muslims. They came back from summer holidays and the war was a reality in the classroom. We shouldn’t forget that. So from my view, if the Security Council was blocked, the other question was, is their original consensus? And the original consensus was there. EU, NATO, not pressured by the major power U.S., but, I mean, pressured by the reality, pressured by the facts, the reaction of the people, decided, yes, we have to go to war, even (with ?) blocked — Security Council. This was part of the procedure. And we ended the war with a Security Council resolution with the agreement of all relevant powers. So this is the third element. Therefore, I wouldn’t say that this was illegal. I would blame myself that I needed too much time to reach, personally, the decision to say yes to such an intervention. I think altogether — pacifists and unpacifists — have to blame ourselves that we acted too late. And I think some of those thousand people could have been saved if we would have acted earlier. And this is also, I think, a very important element in the procedure. So if I would — if I draw the conclusion here from my view, I would reject the position — not by political purposes — I would say, okay, this was illegal, I would say it and bear the consequences. But no, I think I have to blame myself that I needed too much time and not that we went too far. But nevertheless, I mean, the question over sovereignty was raised after Kosovo by a very courageous speech of Kofi Annan where he said sovereignty cannot mean that a government has the right for mass murder or whatever, to brutalize their own people. After Kosovo I made the experience — I went to Africa and all the leaders I met there, they were very hesitant, because, I mean, they were very suspicious that this is a new concept — humanitarian intervention — of the old colonial powers to rule. But based on very painful experiences in Africa, two years, three years later, there was a completely different mood. And based on the experiences in Western Africa but also in some other African countries, there was a change in the mind set that regional responsibility matters. And it’s not only an issue — a humanitarian issue, a moral issue, it’s also a question of regional security. And by the way, this was also a very important element in the Balkans, as it was in West Africa or East Africa, wherever. And also, the reaction of the Southeast Asian community on the war in East Timor was based on these elements. So I think we have here a serious development. So from my view, to make a long speech short, I think that we have to deal with these new challenges by developing sovereignty, and also limiting sovereignty. It’s unacceptable that we accept the right (men ?) to brutalize their own people. And there is a right to protect. And there is — we must create a new balance between the protection of individual rights and, on the other hand, of sovereignty, because sovereignty is very important for peace and stability. And so I would propose that we should really focus on the regional level, because once again, it’s also about legitimacy. And regional powers — direct neighbors, indirect neighbors — backed and supported by the international community, by the U.N. system, by other important powers, could, from my view, intervene with lesser costs and with a broader acceptance. And therefore, I’m quite happy about the developments, especially in the African Union. There’s another — there’s a change of mind-set. Of course, the capabilities are very weak and the challenges are very big, but I think that this is a positive element. But at the end, I mean, the question will be whether we can reach an agreement. I’m not so pessimistic about reaching an agreement between Europe and the United States or the West in a broader sense, including Japan or a lot of others. I’m not so pessimistic. If the U.S. will define herself as part of the system and not to be outside of it, in a very unique and specific role — do not misunderstand me. I understand very well that the United States historically, but also actually, with the whole burden — I mean, to avoid carrots and — around the globe. And for seven years I experienced that neither in West Africa, nor on the Indian subcontinent during these dangerous crises after the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi, nor wherever you really, I mean, will go around the globe, the U.S. and the might, the power of the United States, is indispensable. I’ve said that many times. Do not misunderstand me. During the election campaigns — between two election campaigns — and saying that as a Green in the election campaign to a Green audience, it’s still slightly scandalous. But I’m convinced about it because I experienced it. And, of course, you are in a very specific role. And from my view, everybody will understand it and at the end agree to that. But the key question will be whether the United States will define herself as part of the system with a very unique role or to be outside of the system, profit from the system as long as it works, and if it’s negative in the outcome, well, then we have to look for other options. I think it’s very important, these questions. They should be answered positively because without American leadership in all these issues, I don’t believe that we can really promote a positive development. So there we are. And hopefully, based on negative experiences, there will be a majority in the United States which will understand that at the end you — the United States — you are the global world power, and there is no other. And you have the full burden of this global world. And from my view, it’s much more easier if this global burden is backed by consent, by legitimacy, by internationally accepted rules and institutions, which are efficient. The U.S. would be, I think, the biggest — you would have the biggest positive outcome if there would be a successful U.N. reform because this would lower the burden on the shoulders of the only global power. You would benefit from an increased legitimacy to run the world. You would benefit from more efficient international law. And you would benefit from more efficient international institutions more than any other country because you are in this specific role. There we are. I think you shouldn’t overestimate the frictions between Europe and the United States because if we come to these value-based issues, I don’t see there are differences, but there are differences also in Europe. I wouldn’t overestimate these differences. We discussed before about the International Criminal Court. At the end, I think the world needs an International Criminal Court. Secondly, it was an excellent idea to create this institution. And thirdly, when we had the negotiations about the Security Council resolutions about Darfur, at the end, the American side accepted that it would be very unwise not to do the International Criminal Court and give those who are responsible for terrible crimes at the end a free ride. So it was a very pragmatic compromise, which has also opened the door for a better future. Thank you very much … (Read the rest on Green World Press).

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