A view from inside the UN

November 6, 2007

The SZ has an interesting interview with the former German Ambassador to the UN. The original can be found on their web-site, a translation can be read here.
Interview with Günter Pleuger
“The disarmament of the Hezbollah is suicide”
The former German ambassador to the United Nations, Günter Pleuger, talks about the Blue Helmets in the middle east, the failure of the UN reform and the nuclear conflict with Iran.
Interview by Nicolas Richter
Günter Pleuger, 65, was until a few weeks ago the German ambassador to the United Nations in New York, he was one of the highest profile diplomats in Germany.
During the red-green Government he was Secretary of State in the Foreign Office before he became leader of the German UN mission in 2002.
Pleuger retired in July 2006.
SZ: The Security Council argues for weeks about UN Peacekeepers for the Lebanon. Should they carry the mission to disarm the Hezbollah?
Pleuger: If the Hezbollah doesn’t agree it would be a suicide mission. Israel hasn’t managed to subdue Hezbollah even with an all out offensive. If the peace keepers are now supposed to disarm the Hezbollah they will find themselves in the same situation as the Israeli Military. In order to disarm the Hezbollah the UN troops would need to in the whole of Lebanon. If he peace keepers only stay in the south as a buffer the Hezbollah will simply fire over their heads into Israel. The UN can only lose.

SZ: Why, after more than four weeks, hasn’t the Security Council issued a cease fire resolution?
Pleuger: France and the USA are in disagreement about the Israeli pullback and the seizing of any offensive actions. The problem is that Israel can give sufficient reason for every attack.
SZ: Is Israel going to far in their offensive?
Pleuger: I share the critical view of General Secretary Kofi Annan. The border between Israel and Lebanon was never quiet. Now the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers was taken as an opportunity by the Israeli Government to destroy large parts of Infrastructure in Lebanon. If Lebanon breaks up we will be faced with a crisis area spanning from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran to Afghanistan, which will endanger the safety of the entire region.
SZ: In 2004 you voted yourself for Resolution 1559. The resolution demands that the Hezbollah has to be disarmed. Did the Security Council ever discuss who should enforce this?
Pleuger: The resolution was mainly aimed at the sovereignty and independence of the Lebanese government after the retreat of Syria. The internal politics of Lebanon were not the primary motivation.
SZ: Wouldn’t Germany be more likely to have to send own troops if it would have become a permanent member of the Security Council?
Pleuger: Germany is the third largest resource contributor to the UN and thus acts pretty much like a permanent member of the Security Council. The holdback of the Government is appropriate though. The Lebanon-Mission was one of the most critical in the history of the UN. Almost no Government wants to take the risk, until they know the extend of the mandate.
SZ: Do you consider it a personal defeat that Germany didn’t obtain a permanent seat on the Security Council?
Pleuger: No, we looked for a decision at the right time. Together with Brasil, India and Japan we were looking for a permanent seat, for that we required the votes of 128 States in the General Assembly. We kept a detailed list of the States who were supporting us. Based on this we estimated that we had 145 – 155 votes by May and June of last year.
SZ: Why didn’t you bring it right up for a vote?
Pleuger: Nobody in the group of four pushed so hard for it as we. But the Japanese delayed. They were unsure because the African nations couldn’t agree on a general support of the four. We did talk to the Japanese on all levels, but they always said: “We have to be in a listening mode”. They waited too long.
SZ: Until the best moment had passed.
Pleuger: The then president of the General Assembly, the African Jean Ping, met with us in April or May. He literally begged us to bring it to vote right away. “Don’t wait for an African position” he said. “bring it to a vote, then every country will decide based on their own best interest, mostly for the economically strong G 4″. Annan also tried to persuade us to bring it to a vote. We did consider if we should try it without the Japanese, but it would have influenced the vote negatively if the Group of four had broken up.
SZ: In July the US also turned openly against the G 4. Did the opposition of a close Alley surprise you?
Pleuger: To this extend yes. At the beginning of the nineties the Government of George Bush senior told us that we should become a permanent member, we could ease the burden on the US. Today the Government thinks differently. First they wanted to prevent the Security Council reform by delaying it. The sudden strong opposition of the US then showed that the process was going well for us. The Americans wanted to prevent a quick reform.
SZ: But they could have put up a Veto later on, by simply not ratifying the reform.
Pleuger: Then they would have to go up against two thirds of all States, including allies. This kind of isolation is something no Government can sustain for very long.
SZ: You have often openly opposed the US in the Security Council, together with France you have lead the coalition against the Iraq war. Was the “no” of the US not simply a punishment?
Pleuger: Vengeance does play a role in politics from time to time. After the war the US maxim was: Forgive the Russians, punish the French, ignore the Germans. Though the psychology in the UN is different.: Political differences aren’t mixed with personal emotions, instead one tries to find a solution. We have tried this after the Iraq war as well. The US though wanted to prevent the reform because they feared the loss of power. But everybody knows that the Security Council lacks legitimacy and the reform has to happen.
SZ: Was there a moment during the Iraq crisis in the Security Council that you will never forget?
Pleuger: Yes, February 5th 2003, as then Secretary of State, Colin Powell was out to proof with a slide show that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. It was creepy. Everybody in the room knew that his facts were wrong. Everybody also knew that the Iraq war was going to happen.
SZ: John Bolton, the American UN-Ambassador, is heavily disputed. Can you work together?
Pleuger: He is one of the most difficult colleagues I have ever worked with. He is very much coloured by his ideology, he argues not political but in categories of right and wrong, or good and bad. Those are moral descriptions, while politics is about alternatives and compromises.
SZ: Do you have an example?
Pleuger: The debate about the Human Rights Commission. Pretty much everybody had agreed on the formula, it wasn’t ideal, but better than no Human Rights Commission at all. Bolten voted against it, because he didn’t think the compromise was good enough. 170 States voted for it. With this move the US had given up the chance to be elected into the commission. Of all the countries the Americans made this move who always carried the torch for Human rights in front of them. For America this was a sad moment.
SZ: Recently the Security Council demanded that Iran should stop it’s nuclear program. Will the Russians and Chinese carry the sanctions as well?
Pleuger: This resolution demands civil sanctions. I am asking myself what these sanctions are supposed to achieve. The Iranians have lived for decades with US-Sanctions. I doubt that travel restrictions for example will deter the Ayatollahs. And we also shouldn’t forget that Iran with its influence on the Shiite in the region and as an oil producer does posses some ways to defend itself.
Russian and Chinese are in principal for the sanctions, but it is very questionable if they will go any further. The Security Council decides in escalating steps, the resolutions must become more drastic at one point or stop being issued. As soon as this escalation starts happening though, it can prevent a successful negotiation.
SZ: What should happen?
Pleuger: The conflict with Iran can only be resolved through a global compromise. Europe, America and Russia have to find a grand bargain with Iran. Iran would guarantee that they wouldn’t build bombs; we guarantee that Iran can fully use nuclear power and the US will provide the necessary security guarantees. If the Council issues sanctions now though just because Iran is continuing it’s atomic program, it would take elementary rights out of the atomic non-proliferation treaty. Iran did undeniably break rules in regards to the inspections. But this does not imply that they automatically lose rights.
SZ: The US acts though as if Iran has lost any right to use civil atomic energy due to their trickery.
Pleuger: This is written nowhere.
SZ: Iran wants to decide by August 22nd about the cooperation offer from the Europeans. Wasn’t it counter productive to issue an Ultimatum before this date?
Pleuger: It causes additional stress on all parties involved without any benefit. But I doubt it will come to sanctions. On August 22nd Iran most likely won’t answer with a clear No, more with a “Yes, but…”. And then we continue to negotiate.
SZ: At the end of the year Kofi Annan will leave the UN. Does he leave behind a better UN than the one he found when he started?
Pleuger: He is the best General Secretary for a long time. He impressed because he projected Integrity. After he declared the Iraq war for not legitimate a campaign was started in the US against him, which cost him mentally and physically. The Oil-for-food scandal in Iraq was pinned on him, meanwhile the fault lay with the Security Council, more precisely by the permanent members who didn’t prevent the smuggling of oil. Annan started the biggest reforms during his term, they could make the UN stronger and better. If they are going to be implemented though is up to the member states.
(SZ 12.08.2006)


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