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Annual Foreign Policy Conference 2008 - Values and Interests in Foreign Policy

15. Oktober 2008
By Cameron Abadi
By Cameron Abadi

For more information about the conference go to our calendar or view the programme.

Diesen Bericht gibt es auch auf deutsch.

Navigate directly to the individual panels:

Ralf Fücks. Photo: Joachim Loch

Welcome and Introduction

Ralf Fücks, Co-President, Heinrich Böll Foundation

Ralf Fücks opened the conference by describing the current context of international politics. The conflicts of the 1990s, the attacks of September 11 and the continuing “war on terror” have laid to rest the theory of “the end of history” posited by Francis Fukuyama at the conclusion of the Cold War. America’s global leadership has likewise been challenged by the rise of new powers like China and India and the reassertion of Russia. Global politics is fraught with the potential for misunderstanding and conflict. “With few exceptions, the free market system has been victorious,” Fücks told the audience. “But, democracy and human rights are still controversial.”

Fücks went on to sketch three possible ways in which international order might take shape in coming years. We might see either a “multipolar order” in which a number of great powers compete for influence; an “effective multilateralism,” in which multilateral institutions are developed that can create interdependence and mitigate conflict; or a deepening rivalry between an “alliance of democracies” and a collection of authoritarian states. “It is no secret,” Fücks said, “that, as Green Party politicians, we prefer the multilateral and integrative approach.”

But, in any of these new world orders, Germany will have greater European and international responsibilities than it previously had. Unfortunately, its foreign policy culture is still underdeveloped, Fücks admitted. Indeed, German policy makers often treat “values” and “interests” as mutually exclusive concepts. It should be Germany’s goal to attempt to reconcile the terms. “Without clarity about our core values, we can’t determine our interests,” Fücks said. “And it’s only when our values are integrated as part of our properly understood interests that they will be seen by others as more than a mere homily.”

Ahmed Rashid. Photo: Joachim Loch

Keynote Address

Ahmed Rashid, Journalist and Author, Lahore

In his keynote address, Ahmed Rashid used the crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan to discuss how German foreign policy might better reconcile its values and interests.

He was unsparing about the failures in Afghanistan. “NATO is not winning,” he told the audience. The Taliban has become a regional problem; recruitment is exploding. Meanwhile, nation-building has been paralyzed. “Developers are no longer able to leave cities,” Rashid said. War lords have the tacit approval of the government and drug problems are rampant. Pakistan is likewise in dire straits. Inflation is out of control. “There is full-scale economic breakdown,” Rashid said. Furthermore, the Taliban has developed a sanctuary in the north of the country and is beginning to infiltrate cities.

Germany’s failure has been its refusal to educate its own public about what is at stake in the region. Germans are “ignorant about the facts, the realities and the danger to Germany,” Rashid said. Germany should “de-link” the rationale of its mission in Afghanistan from the USA. Germans should know that they are involved in Afghanistan for their own interests, not for the sake of the United States.

Lasting improvements in Afghanistan and Pakistan will demand major changes in tactics and strategy. For its part, Germany needs to not involve itself in the fighting in southern Afghanistan, but it must do more in the north. It should focus on the interdiction of drugs, and on the strengthening of local police capacities. Rashid also endorsed a greater troop presence to combat a Taliban build-up in northern Afghanistan, but only if Germany is prepared to lift its caveats on fighting. “Otherwise, it will make no difference,” he told the audience.

Rashid also encouraged Germany to pursue a regional solution to the crises in the region. As it is, Afghanistan blames its problems on Pakistan, Pakistan blames India, while India blames both. Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and the Central Asian states must be brought together and made responsible for their actions. Germany can take both the diplomatic and economic initiative to start these negotiations. It is imperative, certainly, to move away from the Bush administration’s approach of unremitting military confrontation. With respect to the last seven years of conflict, Rashid made a simple, albeit harsh, verdict: “We have failed.”

Panel 1: Values and Interests: Conflict or Convergence?

Joscha Schmierer, Publicist, Berlin
John Hulsman, Alfred von Oppenheim-Scholar, Alfred von Oppenheim-Centre for European Studies, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), Berlin
Lotte Leicht, Director, Human Rights Watch, Brussels
Ahmed Rashid, Journalist and Author, Lahore

In their introductory statements, each of the panel members gave their views on the distinctions between values and interests in foreign policy.

Joscha Schmierer discussed the perspective of the foreign policy practitioner, for whom the criteria of success are neither only moral intentions nor only narrow interests, but pragmatic. They have to analyze the concrete situation and to weigh up facts, values, national and general interests, possibilities and capabilities by making decisions. Policy makers are never 100 percent certain of their decisions, but they hope to be at least 51 percent sure. Therefore, they try to make sure that their decisions can be corrected, in case they are wrong. Ultimately, they know, the quality of their decisions will be judged by their effects.

According to John Hulsman, foreign policy problems always represent a convergence between interests and values, though interests ultimately take priority. If democratic leaders want to allocate resources for long periods of time, they have no choice but to justify their national security decisions in terms of national interest. Indeed, policy makers should focus on making progress in basic policy questions, because otherwise their claims to superior values amount only to moral posturing. “I don’t want to feel good,” Hulsman told the audience. “I want to do good.”

Lotte Leicht argued, in contrast, that the values have a direct role in policy making through international treaties, standards and commitments. “These are objective tools to measure right and wrong,” she said. America has lost its credibility and power of standing up for these rights. Europe continues to make a difference, but it is “shooting below its weight.” Europe needs to reinforce its credibility by more forthrightly addressing the human rights problems of powers like the United States, Russia and China. The EU should also be more diligent in addressing emerging crises; its sanctions against Sudan have been toothless, and it has not comprehensively addressed the human rights violations in Georgia. Finally, Europe needs to better practice what it preaches within the European Union; Europe should improve its asylum laws and reveal its involvement in secret detentions as part of US-led counterterrorism efforts.

According to Ahmed Rashid, nation building represents the true synthesis of Western values and interests. Unfortunately, Europe and America have failed to develop the appropriate tools for nation building. The United States has even dissolved the national agency USAID that was once responsible for international development. Meanwhile, Germany, lacking a federal police structure, has found itself unable to competently train the Afghan police force. Instead, America has pursued nation building on the cheap by providing money, arms and training to Afghan warlords, which has hindered the Afghan central government’s promotion of the rule of law. “It should not be a choice between security and justice,” Rashid said of the struggle in Afghanistan. “There can not be security without justice.”

In the next round, the panelists responded to one another’s contributions. Joscha Schmierer again voiced the need for pragmatism. Our judgments, he said, must not be expressions of abstract beliefs, but rather reflections of what is possible to achieve. John Hulsman cautioned against trading the neoconservative ideology for an ideology of Wilsonian idealism. “I don’t think the left or the right holds the key to the universal truth market,” he said. Indeed, many of the world’s emerging countries “do not have the same values” as the west, he pointed out. International progress in a multipolar world would be impeded if the West claims its views are representative of universal values.

Lotte Leicht disagreed. “Treaties and standards do matter,” she said. Aspirations are changing in other parts of the world, but when the West follows a double standard, other countries begin following our bad example. Ahmed Rashid again emphasised that NATO must have the resolve to stay and fight in Afghanistan. He pleaded for the West not to abdicate its responsibility to this part of the world. “We are all part of the same world,” Rashid said.

Thomas Risse, Christoph Heusgen, Bastian Hermisson, Dorothée Schmid, Cem Özdemir. Photo: Joachim Loch

Panel 2: Values and Interests in German and European Foreign Policy

Thomas Risse, Professor, Center for Transnational Relations, Foreign and Security Policy, Freie Universität Berlin
Christoph Heusgen, Foreign and Security Policy Advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin
Dorothée Schmid, Senior Researcher, Institut Français des Relations Internationales (Ifri), Paris
Cem Özdemir, Member of the European Parliament for the Greens/EFA Parliamentary Group, Spokesperson on Foreign Policy, Brussels

Thomas Risse began by reminding the audience that there is no opposition between values and interests in foreign policy; Germany’s and Europe’s security is undoubtedly promoted by the spread of well-governed democracies. Risse went on, though, to outline several acute problems with current European foreign policy. Firstly, goals have sometimes been inconsistent with the available instruments. Plans also often fail to engage local civil society actors. Furthermore, foreign policy goals have proven to operate on a longer time horizon than domestic politics. There are also conflicts, on occasion, between foreign policy goals and national security goals – in the Middle East, for example, free elections have sometimes brought fundamentalists to power. Finally, governments have consistently failed to educate their publics about their foreign engagements, which may eventually lead to a crisis of legitimacy crisis and the election of populists.

Next, Christoph Heusgen admitted that it is a daily struggle to balance foreign policy goals, but Germany’s recent foreign policy has had successes. Angela Merkel, for example, has forged close relations with the United States, while criticising them for the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay. Russia and China have also proven sensitive to public criticism from Germany, even divorced from the imposition of sanctions and threats. These countries, he told the audience, want to earn the same international moral regard as does America and are sensitive about their public image. In general, policy is moving in the direction of idealism, away from pure pragmatism, Heusgen said. As evidence, he cited the increasing activity of the International Criminal Court. He also assured that Germany’s relations with Russia would continue to be strained as long as its leaders openly regret the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Dorothée Schmid argued that the EU must focus on developing its common interests. “Otherwise, it will never stand up for its values,” she said. Indeed, the EU has found it difficult to articulate policies, because it has focused too much on building institutions. Germany, specifically, has been too procedural and not political enough. Indeed, Nicolas Sarkozy, in his speech to French ambassadors, may provide a guide as to how a future European foreign policy can be forged. He placed a strong emphasis on values, was unreservedly nationalistic, but identified the EU as the key vehicle to a sustainable world order for France.

Cem Özdemir agreed that the EU has not been visible and active in world crises. Strengthening the European Union should be one of Germany’s main foreign policy goals, along with strengthening existing multilateral ties and creating new multilateral organisations. A pre-requisite will be to burnish European credibility both domestically and internationally. Europe needs to be resolute in criticising others’ human-rights violations, including those by our allies, lest it be subject to accusations of hypocrisy.

In the round of questions, Reinhard Bütikofer, co-chairman of the Green Party, asked why the German government repeatedly fails to educate the public about foreign policy engagements. Lotte Leicht, director of Human Rights Watch in Brussels, asked for comment on the EU’s lack of transparency and accountability in its foreign policy decision making.

In response to Bütikofer’s question, Christoph Heusgen explained that the government has put massive resources into public relations – especially for the EU’s Lisbon Treaty – but to little effect. The public, he claimed, responds only to concrete situations, as it did with Afghanistan in the early 1990s and Afghanistan after 9/11. In response to Leicht’s comment, Heusgen replied that EU debates have proven to be too boring to awaken public interest; furthermore, the anonymity helps forge consensus.

Özdemir disagreed. He argues that it’s unacceptable that Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been more successful in working international public relations than has the West. Also, Özdemir seconded Lotte Leicht’s suggestion to opening up European Council meetings: public observation would be an important element of any successful plan to reduce the EU’s democratic deficit.

Petr Lebeda, Heinrich Kreft, Rainder Steenblock. Photo: Joachim Loch

Workshop 1: Economic Interests and Political Values

Petr Lebeda, Director, Prague Global Policy Institute, Prague
Heinrich Kreft, Foreign Policy Advisor to the CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group, German Bundestag, Berlin
Rainder Steenblock, Member of the German Parliament, Spokesperson on European Affairs, Alliance 90/ The Greens, Berlin

All the panelists agreed with Petr Lebeda’s discussion of the ways in which trade can bolster political integration and lead to a spread of one’s own values. But, there were disagreements regarding the degree to which the European Union should decisively act for political ends using economic means. Heinrich Kreft referred to the EU as an “empire of values”; it has had and should continue to have far-reaching democratising effects from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, he said. Rainder Steenblock in contrast was more restrained in his assessment of what trade policy could do; neighbouring governments, he argued, are attracted to the material well-being of the EU, but until the people in those countries want, demand and work for democratic reform, the EU can only do so much. Europe should support its allies in these countries, but be realistic about its expectations, he said. As the United States has proven, democracy is a difficult good to export.

Workshop 2: Global Justice and Foreign Policy

Barbara Unmüßig, Co-President, Heinrich Böll Stiftung
Dirk Messner, Director, German Development Institute (DIE), Bonn
Uschi Eid, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Member of German Parliament, Alliance 90/ The Greens, Berlin
Wolfgang Schmitt, Managing Director, GTZ, International Cooperation Enterprise for Sustainable Development, Germany

All the panelists agreed that the West must listen more attentively to developing countries when designing development strategies. Dirk Messner argued that market capitalism has failed to provide a self-correcting global order, so unless the West develops an alternative, cooperative order in the coming years, it will succumb to the competition of the world’s rising economic powers. According to Uschi Eid, the UN Millennium Development Goals are not a development strategy but merely the lowest common denominator agreed to by the Millennium General Assembly of the UN. They lack political criteria – they place no demands for freedom, human rights or good governance on developing countries. The rising middle classes in developing countries desperately want liberty and an environment conducive to economic activity. As a result of their absence, money earned in Africa does not stay there. Africa is the continent with the highest capital flight rate. Changing that needs to be a priority. Barbara Unmüßig strongly asserted that assistance to developing countries is in the interest of the West, but she argued that current development strategies are inefficient and in need of reform. “Foreign aid doesn’t correct poverty,” she said. Instead, the West must create more organic and integrated development strategies. German ministries, for example, must work together in addressing problems, rather than divide development into small tasks and projects.

Citha D. Maass, Ivan Doherty, Marieluise Beck. Photo: Joachim Loch

Workshop 3: Human Rights, Democracy and Security Interests

Citha D. Maass, Research Division Asia, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin
Ivan Doherty, Senior Advisor and Director of Political Party Programs, National Democratic Institute, Washington D.C.
Marieluise Beck, Member of the German Bundestag, Alliance 90/ The Greens, Berlin

According to Citha Maass, Afghanistan is an example for how promoting democracy can go terribly wrong. Western forces have been insensitive to local values and local understandings of legal standards and have thus exacerbated rather than alleviated conflict. Ivan Doherty reminded the audience, though, that promoting democracy has always been a central part of US foreign policy and in coming years it will remain a part of the common ground between the American political parties. Marieluise Beck argued that the West needs to be wary of the abuse of human rights standards and laws: Russia’s invocation of genocide in South Ossetia is not borne out by the facts on the ground, nor by Russia’s failure to work through the UN Security Council. Comparisons between the recent Georgian conflict and the interventions in Kosovo and Bosnia are not legitimate, Beck said, and the West should stand up for its record.

Renate Künast. Photo: Joachim Loch

Keynote: Climate Change and Global Food Crisis: New Challenges for Foreign and Security Policy

Renate Künast, Chairwoman of Alliance 90/ The Greens in the German Bundestag, Berlin

In her keynote address, Renate Künast delivered a rebuke to German foreign and security policy for failing to develop a response to climate change and the global food crisis.

Germany’s current agricultural and energy policies, she argued, have consequences for national security: there is an increase in movements of refugees, there are more wars over natural resources and there is a decrease in the amount of arable land. Foreign policy needs to have a broader mandate and should focus on including developing countries in the WTO and post-Kyoto climate agreements.

Künast suggested that the breakdown of the Doha round of WTO talks should be seen as an opportunity to design a better set of trade agreements. Indeed, it was the developing countries that called for a halt to the Doha round, protesting the structural advantages given to the global north. The Doha talks were designed long before the acute onset of current global problems – climate change, food crisis, diminishing resources – and the conditions under which the talks operated made it difficult to discuss these issues.

Future talks must have a broader mandate than purely technical trade issues. And, in the interest of global justice as well as Germany’s national security, developing countries must be allowed to protect their interests. Previous WTO talks, unfortunately, didn’t allow for “defence clauses,” which ultimately produced global imbalances and instability.

Germany must also take a broader perspective with respect to energy policy. Germany should help developing countries prepare for post-Kyoto climate talks by providing access to climate-friendly energy technology. Of course, the success of future climate negotiations will depend largely on the participation of the United States.

Künast concluded by reminding the audience that Germany is currently not living up to its own professed values. “We are living diametrically opposed to our values,” she said. “We are living at other people’s cost.” In coming years, Germany must divorce itself from the interests of the lobbyists of the past and focus instead on shaping the future.

John Kornblum, Ulrich Schneckener, Reinhard Bütikofer, Constanze Stelzenmüller. Photo: Joachim Loch

Panel 3: Interest and Values in International Relations

John Kornblum, Senior Counsellor, Noerr Stifenhofer Lutz, Berlin
Ulrich Schneckener, Head of Research Unit, Research Unit Global Issues, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Berlin
Reinhard Bütikofer, Co-Chair, Alliance 90/ The Greens, Berlin
Constanze Stelzenmüller, Director, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Berlin

According to John Kornblum, Europe and America both recognise that they face the same global challenges, but they lack a common method to solve them, as well as the self-confidence to lead the way in forging new forms of co-operation. Perhaps new leadership in Washington can lead the US and the EU past its current impasse, but it’s not clear which presidential candidate would do a better job.

Ulrich Schneckener sees two broad global political tendencies contributing to international tensions. On one hand, there is a greater number of connections between regions of the world and increasing, though asymmetrical, interdependence. On the political level though, there is a process of de-integration, a movement away from multilateral institutions. States can’t individually address the problems they face, but multilateral institutions have lost credibility in the last ten to fifteen years. Germany should focus on turning this latter trend, Scheckener said.

Constanze Stelzenmüller argued that the Iraq war revealed the hubris of American “hard power” as well as European “soft power.” The EU has further learned the limits of soft power through its failures to affect the Middle East peace process, global nuclear arms reductions or stability on the eastern borders of Europe. Fortunately, pragmatism has forced the EU and the US together in the last few years. Indeed, new institutions like the “league of democracy” are unnecessary and dangerous. Europe and America, Stelzenmüller said, will continue to find pragmatic, ad hoc ways to co-operate in and around existing institutions. The next years call for creativity and generosity in our common foreign policy.

Reinhard Bütikofer echoed Stelzenmüller’s doubts about a “league of democracies.” The West needs to convince the people who are not in their club to take part in finding solutions for climate change and reduction of nuclear arms. But, Bütikofer continued, that doesn’t mean that Europe and America should reject all “coalitions of the willing” out of hand – especially since we admit that our multilateral institutions are in crisis. Such informal coalitions can’t be a first resort – as Donald Rumsfeld suggested in the run-up to the Iraq war – but they must be a possible option.

John Kornblum responded to his fellow panelists by stressing the need to commit to diplomacy. The institutionalised multilateralism of the post-Cold War was the historic exception. In most eras, diplomacy consists of a creative, partly improvised search for solutions. The dynamic of the last fifty years has reached its end, and now we need to loosen our institutions and search for new solutions. Stelzenmüller agreed: German foreign policy needs to be more energetic and creative, she told the audience.

For his part, Bütikofer argued that regional organisations and rising powers are going to play a greater role in future global governance. Rising powers need to be made, one way or another, to accept rules-based systems by offering them a greater share of responsibility: if the West doesn’t succeed soon at this, it may discover it’s too late. He also argued that Europe should embrace the geo-political responsibility to accept Turkey into the EU. Stelzenmüller also reminded the audience that the United States, with its capacity for self-criticism, is a much more natural ally for Europe than is China or Russia.

The panelists disagreed, though, when it came to prescriptions for current conflict. Bütikofer suggested that counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan have to be locally led and that the military can only play a supporting role. Stelzenmüller disagreed. Development efforts will fail without military support. Europe cannot continue to play good cop, she argued, to America’s bad cop and it must stop suggesting to its public that it can.