Beer and pretzels? Wine and biltong? I don't know what exactly German and South African diplomats ate at their respective parties in New York last Friday. But I am sure on two things: That they did have a smashing party indeed. And that they did have all reason to celebrate!
Last week, both Germany and South Africa were elected to the U.N. Security Council, the most powerful body of the United Nations. From next January, our two countries will hold non-permanent, two-year seats on the Council.
I believe this is great news for South Africa, great news for Germany, and indeed: very good news for the United Nations — the main and most important pillar of our international order.
For both Germany and South Africa, multilateralism is not a choice, not an option among many. We have both learnt through our history, and in particular form the darker parts of that history, that peace and justice will only come through engagement and cooperation with our partners.
"Continuing the legacy — Working for a just and peaceful world" — is the motto under which South Africa has placed its U.N. candidacy. It is a strong and appropriate claim to be made in this special year as we are celebrating the Nelson Mandela centenary. And indeed, it was Madiba and his brave compatriots, it was the South African people who proved to the world from 1990 onwards that justice and peaceful change are possible.
At the same time, in 1990, Germany celebrated its reunification. Finally – after the horrors of the Second World War, after the inhuman crimes committed by the Nazi regime — our country was one again. Germany's extraordinary path from darkness to light, from cruelty and pain to freedom and unity — all would not have been possible without help from our neighbours and friends.
In both South Africa and Germany, we know that there simply is no alternative to international cooperation and engagement on the path towards peace and justice. The United Nations and its institutions stand at the centre of this effort.
I am glad that we share this view. And I am particularly glad that we share it at this particular moment in time when some of our partners seem to retreat from this long-held position. To me, this should give us all the more reason to join hands and strengthen those institutions that safeguard our global peace and security. As South Africa's Minister for Cooperation and International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu put it recently: Multilateralism is under siege. I would like to call out to our South African friends: Let's defend it together! With crises and conflicts from Syria to Iran, from Ukraine to North Korea, from South Sudan to DRC and Burundi – there is plenty to work on.
We have been engaging with our South African partners over the past few months, sounding out how we can work closely together on the U.N. Security Council — especially when it comes to our joint efforts to try to resolve conflicts and maintain peace in Africa. We support "African solutions to African problems" — and we are ready to assist, where we can make a meaningful contribution.
South Africa has repeatedly proved its strong role on this, using its seat on the U.N. Security Council in 2007/08 and in 2011/12 to elevate the African agenda on peace and security. For its next stint, it has targeted diplomacy, mediation, and the peaceful settlement of disputes. We share these goals.
Germany is a strong supporter of United Nations and African Union peacekeeping missions in Africa, with the mission in Mali being one particular focus, with more than a thousand men and women on the ground — our biggest mission worldwide. But we both know: Peacekeeping is only one part of the conflict cycle. Like South Africa, we want to go the extra mile and target the prevention of conflict.
And I think we should also look at what our concept of international security in the year 2018 actually entails. Security is much more than the absence of military conflict. Challenges like climate change, migration and human rights violations certainly impact our security and belong onto the agenda.
Like our South African friends, we want to make the U.N. more efficient and effective, adapting it to 21st-century realities. This means reforming its most powerful institution, the U.N. Security Council, to make it more representative of today's world. And it also means for the UN to cooperate more closely with the African Union — something on which we will certainly join hands with our South African friends and push for.
One thing seems clear: we have our work cut out!
We stand ready to live up to our responsibility — as regional leaders, as "middle powers", as capable international players — Germany and South Africa.
We are glad we will have South Africa at our side, and we look forward to working in the Security Council together with the strong partner that is South Africa.
Let's enjoy those pretzels and biltong.
And then: Let's get to work!