The Security Council is the most important body of the United Nations, and its resolutions are binding, unlike those of the General Assembly. Under the UN Charter, the Council bears primary responsibility for maintaining world peace and international security. Furthermore, it can authorize peacekeeping missions and impose sanctions. Germany is currently a non-permanent member.
Ambassador Heusgen, Germany became a member of the UN Security Council on 1 January 2019 for the sixth time. What is your assessment after the first eight months?
Christoph Heusgen: Mixed! We have a Security Council that is often divided on how to solve world crises and conflicts. Take a look at Syria, Venezuela and Ukraine for example. We are seeing the rules-based international order come under increasing pressure, and we are seeing various states think more in national terms.
But there are also positive developments. I was recently with the Security Council in Columbia and was able to see with my own eyes how important UN support is for the government there. The Security Council stands united behind the Columbian peace process, and the UN Verification Mission is doing important work there.
In general, the legitimacy of the United Nations is not under question. It is the most important global organization. Global challenges like climate change, migration movements, human rights and conflict prevention--but also the often tedious struggle to find solutions for political crises--cannot be addressed without the United Nations.
The U.S. in particular seems to have a diminishing appreciation for the United Nations. On issues like climate, migration, the Middle East and Iran, the U.S. is taking a divergent course from the Europeans. Is this a cause of concern for Germany?
Christoph Heusgen: First, we have to make it clear that countries like Russia and China in particular routinely question the value of multilateralism. Russia’s actions in Ukraine break international law. And when minorities in China are not treated how they should be in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a cause for great concern.
But it is also correct that we have a new situation in that our close partner, the U.S., has withdrawn from international agreements like the nuclear deal with Iran and has broken with UN resolutions, for example when it moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
How have Germany and the Europeans responded to such developments?
Christoph Heusgen: We are aware of our responsibility in this difficult geopolitical situation. We have a special configuration in the Security Council right now. Five of the fifteen Security Council members are EU member states: Belgium, France, Great Britain, Poland and Germany. We work closely together on all issues here in New York. In March and April, France and Germany tried something new in the Security Council. We combined our presidencies in a joint program. This was a strong symbol of our close partnership and enabled us to closely coordinate our core topics.
To return to your initial question, Germany stands for a rules-based international order. When the multilateral system embodied by the United Nations is attacked, whether by Russia, China or even the U.S., then it is our job to call it out. When countries do not follow the rules, we will criticize them. Any other way would damage our credibility. Our job is to convince the U.S. and other states that it is in their interest to strengthen multilateralism and follow all rules without exception. The five Europeans are in agreement here and have voted unanimously on all Security Council resolutions so far this year. This is a strong symbol of European unity in the world’s most important global body.
You mentioned Germany’s presidency of the Security Council in April. What goals did you set? Did you achieve them?
Christoph Heusgen: Our presidency in April was marked by acute crises and conflicts. As I mentioned before, even a German presidency cannot negotiate away irreconcilable viewpoints. But like in the case of Venezuela, we were able to steer the focus more toward the humanitarian situation of the affected people.
Furthermore, it was important for us to set our own priorities. I’ll name a few. The Security Council should take action when a crisis is still bubbling up, for example when human rights are coming under systematic pressure. On Germany’s initiative, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet briefed the Security Council for the first time. We also heard the testimony of a young Syrian woman who made the arduous journey from Aleppo to Germany in a wheelchair: a truly inspiring example of the courage of a young civil society representative. And we launched an initiative with our French partners aimed at protecting humanitarian workers. We will continue working on this issue during the high-level week in September and beyond. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas just spoke on it a few days ago in the Security Council in New York.
Last but not least, from the start, we wanted to address sexual violence against women in conflict. The extent to which sexual violence is systematically used as a tactic of warfare in conflicts, for example in Myanmar, South Sudan and the Congo, is often completely underestimated. It is vital that victims and survivors get support and that perpetrators are brought to justice. Despite significant resistance, we were ultimately able to pass a substantial resolution.
The UN General Assembly—the world’s largest summit of heads of state and government—is coming up in September. You served as the foreign policy and security adviser to Chancellor Merkel for twelve years. Can we expect to see her in New York in September?
Christoph Heusgen: You know that the government spokesperson announces the Chancellor’s travel plans one week in advance. Chancellor Merkel enjoys an excellent reputation in New York, and she would certainly receive a warm reception if she came to New York for the important climate summit in September.