A week ago, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, which authorizes the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. Germany abstained in the relevant vote. Since then, there has been a barrage of criticism – not only but in particular – from sections of the Opposition. A former Foreign Minister, who sent more German soldiers to take part in new combat missions then any Federal Foreign Minister before or after him described the abstention as a “scandalous mistake”.

Everyone knows how difficult it is to make foreign policy decisions when it comes to war and peace. I have great respect for my predecessor Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who chose to set aside party tactics and publicly described our decision as “understandable”. Others, with one eye on the two Landtag elections on Sunday and the criticism that has been expressed in the meantime, prefer to forget the view they previously held. The core criticism is that Germany has isolated itself in the foreign policy field. It is also claimed that Germany had failed to show solidarity with its Alliance partners. Neither of these assertions is right.

Germany has not isolated itself. Neither in the Security Council, nor in NATO, nor in the EU. The majority of EU states will not take part in the military operation in Libya. The EU has unanimously agreed to provide humanitarian support and, not least at our insistence, to further tighten the sanctions against the Gaddafi regime. On the one hand a military operation, on the other no comprehensive oil embargo to ensure that the dictator does not get his hands on more money – that does not make sense. In the Security Council, the permanent members Russia and China abstained, as did Brazil and India. Three of the four G4 states (Japan is currently not a member of the Security Council), which have been campaigning since 2004 for reform of the United Nations and the Security Council, thus abstained.

We take solidarity with our Alliance partners very seriously. We know what we owe to NATO. We called for NATO’s core commitment, collective defence as provided for by Article 5, to be highlighted in the new version of the Strategic Concept. I would remind everyone that, despite all the concerns which we, too, share concerning the current situation and the crimes committed by the Gaddafi regime, it would not be possible to invoke the mutual defence clause in the case of Libya, in contrast to Afghanistan in 2001.

Solidarity with our Alliance partners and unity within the EU and NATO do carry some weight but they cannot take away from any individual member state the decision on whether or not to send its own troops. A decision like this cannot simply be made because others have made it. A decision like this must be made after carefully weighing up the pros and cons, the risks and dangers, as well as the likelihood of escalation. That is what we did. The German Government has decided not to send any German troops to fight in Libya. None of our partners was unaware of this, for we made it clear in no uncertain terms and at an early stage. Our abstention in the Security Council was the logical consequence of our carefully considered decision.

Many now think it would have been better to vote in favour of the resolution and, at the same time, to make it clear that we would not send German troops to Libya. Then we would be having a very different debate today. I am convinced that at both national and international level it would then have been all about which Bundeswehr capabilities would be made available for the operation and no longer whether Bundeswehr capabilities would be made available at all. It would not be credible for the largest NATO member state in Europe to say yes to a military operation in the Security Council and then when it came to the concrete implementation of this decision not to participate.

The human rights violations committed by the Gaddafi regime are terrible wrongs and no-one can be indifferent to them. The dictator must step down and be held to account for his crimes. In our view, the alternative to military intervention is not inaction. We have called for the situation to be referred to the International Criminal Court. We have pressed for tough sanctions. We are providing humanitarian aid. We want an oil embargo and a moratorium on payments so that Gaddafi and his supporters cannot gain access to more money.

From the outset, however, we have made no secret of our scepticism about military intervention. Apart from the civilian victims which had to be reckoned with, we have to ask ourselves what will happen if the air strikes do not end the civil war. Will ground forces then to sent in after all? Can the risk of escalation be controlled? Is the support from the Arab world really as clear as is claimed? The Arab League resolution certainly was not, nor are the comments coming out of the Arab world since the air strikes started. How does the announced participation of the Arab world in the operation actually look today? Is there not ultimately a risk that this will look like an intervention by the West? What does that mean for further developments in the Arab world, what about the freedom movements and reform efforts in other North African countries? Our motto should be: respice finem! Consider the outcome!

However, roma locuta, causa finita also holds true. The Security Council made its decision, and there is now an international legal basis for all those who decided in favour of military intervention. I very much hope that our concerns prove to be unfounded. I hope it is possible to reliably guarantee the protection of the civilian population, as envisaged in the Resolution.

The ceasefire ordered by the Security Council is of the utmost urgency. Although we are not prepared to send German troops to take part in this military operation, we will do all we can to ensure that the objectives set out in Resolution 1973 are reached. No combat mission on the part of the Bundeswehr does not mean inaction on the part of the German Government.

Süddeutsche Zeitung (Allemagne)