A Seat at the Table

EPA-EFE/JUSTIN LANE

The United Nations Security Council in New York after a meeting called by the United Kingdom to discuss an investigation about a recent chemical attack, March 14, 2018. 

As the chasm between UN Security Council members grows ever wider with the onset of a new Cold War, granting Germany a seat as a nonpermanent member would boost its credentials as a champion Western values and help turn the page on its 20th century past.


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Germany’s transformation from a divided Cold War battleground in the struggle between East and West to Europe’s essential nation now finds itself in a position to use the political capital it has gained over the last 20 years to take the next step in solidifying itself as one of the world’s major powers as it bids for a nonpermanent UN Security Council seat.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has been working to convince the UN’s Member States that Germany’s credentials for a place at the table on the Security Council are a natural progression for a country whose global profile on the rise for the better part of the last two decades.

Germany is one of the UN’s biggest contributors, a fact not lost on Maas as he has been lobbying his UN colleagues in New York for the better part of the last 10 days while highlighting Germany’s commitment to peacekeeping and combatting global climate change. “We are shouldering responsibility already, and we are prepared to shoulder responsibility in the future,” Maas said in New York. “And we show this through our candidacy for a nonpermanent seat for the UN Security Council 2019 and 2020.”

Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel have increasingly positioned themselves as both standard bearer and defender of the core Western values of fairness and democracy, particularly as populism in Europe gains political traction and, more specifically, following the election of US President Donald J. Trump, whose isolationist and nationalist beliefs are seen as a major threat to a world order that was largely constructed along Western values.

Deeply aware of the pain imposed on the world by its dark Nazi past and deeply scarred by the physical barrier that kept imposed division that forced more than 20% of its population to live behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain for 44 years, Berlin has been one of Europe’s more forceful champions of causes aimed at curbing the spread of populism and authoritarianism.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks to members of German armed forces during a visit to an airbase, in Jordan April 5, 2018. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks to members of German armed forces during a visit to an airbase, in Jordan April 5, 2018. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN

Germany’s commitment to free trade, market capitalism, the freedom of expression and religion, the democratic process, and the right to the freedom movement remain pillars of Berlin’s foreign and domestic policy, as well as being central to the DNA of Germany’s citizens.

Maas, who has relentlessly pressed Germany’s case that it be seated alongside the world’s main powers, has also been quick to use his gift for subtlety as a way to criticise Trump for his opposition to alliances and “go-it-alone” worldview.

“We live in a time where we need more United Nations and not less as some may think,” Maas said. He noted that it was important to allow reason to prevail in discussions at the UN during what he called “the age of fake news.”

Countries who historically relied on American leadership at the UN are turning to Germany as a counterbalance to Trump, especially given Berlin’s reputation as a reliable and sober partner in the security and financial realms.

Germany is unquestionably well-placed to present a compelling argument that it has the right to serve on the Council as Berlin is the second largest provider of both funds and troops for the UN as well as one of its top contributors to humanitarian and stabilisation missions, as well as on climate change – ranking far ahead of permanent Security Council members and frequent human rights violators, Russia and China, in both.

The present Security Council, on which the five permanent members – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia, all of whom hold veto powers – is the only UN body that can make legally binding decisions, as well as impose sanctions and authorise the use of force.

Potential nonpermanent members to the Council must win more than two-thirds of an overall vote by the 193-member General Assembly to be elected.

Observers have noted that Germany’s chances of winning a seat on the Council look positive as its reputation as a highly engaged and productive member of the UN has garnered a great deal of goodwill amongst the other members of the General Assembly. This sentiment has been heightened by Chancellor Merkel’s emergence as the indisputable leader of the free world at a time when Trump appears determined to abdicate the US’ traditional role.

Questions still remain about whether Germany’s bid for a spot on the Security Council – where it last served in 2011-12 – violates a two-decade-old agreement to have Israel run unopposed for one of the 10 nonpermanent seats. It also remains unclear whether certain key members of the United Nations, namely the United States, can get beyond its fossilised view of Merkel’s post-Cold War, reunified, democratic, and economically prosperous Germany as the heir apparent to the goose-stepping Third Reich that Aermicans still see in countless World War II films, which helps perpetuates the detrimental view that Germany is on the precipice of being overtaken by its darkest nationalist impulses.

The symbolism of the world’s fourth-largest economy sitting alongside the other heavy hitters in global affairs is a powerful message to both the international community and the European Union that the bloc’s most influential member is helping to turn the page on the post-World War II perception of power and influence by acknowledging that Germany has a place at the table with the world’s main decision makers.

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