Germany in the United Nations

The "Knotted Gun," given as a gift from the government of Luxembourg, was built by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd and currently stands in front of the UN Headquarters in New York. Its construction was motivated by the rage and bewilderment felt by artists after the murder of John Lennon. Photo: flickr/Jorbasa


In 2013, the Federal Republic of Germany will celebrate and reflect upon 40 years of membership in the United Nations, an organization that is widely considered the centerpiece of the country’s multilateral orientation. Although other organizations such as NATO, the European Union (EU) and G-20 serve as other means through which multilateral action can be undertaken, support of the United Nations and its mandate among German constituents and policy makers is widespread, bipartisan and strong.

There is hardly a pressing global issue which the UN fails to play a key role in managing, some of which include fighting poverty, encouraging sustainable development, protecting the environment, protecting human rights and even combating international terrorism and its causes. Within the context of the UN, Germany addresses each of these problems extensively, thus underlining Germany’s commitment to the UN as an institution and a mechanism through which problems can be solved. This was underscored by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2007, in which she stated: “For me there is no question: The only location in which collective answers to global challenges can be addressed, is the United Nations.”

From Pariah to UN Membership for both States  

As the UN Charter was brought into effect on October 24th, 1945, Germany laid in ruins. Although the other former Axis powers (i.e. Italy and Japan) sought and achieved member status at the UN in the 1950’s, Germany’s division into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) complicated efforts to apply for membership after the issuance of the Federal Republic’s “exclusive mandate,” which asserted the FRG’s status as sole successor of the German Reich. Nevertheless, the FRG retained “standing observer” status, allowing the country to contribute significant financial resources to UN institutions. After its application for full membership in 1966, the GDR sought to play an active roll in UN institutions as well.

Both German states became full member states on September 18th, 1973, 28 years after the establishment of the UN. Within the context of détente, the GDR and FRG worked within UN institutions yet pursued their separate interests. Eventually, both states would obtain non-permanent membership status in the UN Security Council, thus exemplifying their role as newly admitted and active member states.

The German Ambassador Peter Wittig speaks in front of the UN General Assembly in November 2012. Photo: UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe

German Unification as a Turning Point

The political and social transformations of 1989 created a new framework in which German policy towards the UN would operate. Germany would eventually become unified into one state and the agreements which enforced it, such as the “Two-Plus-Four-Agreement,” would set the stage for Germany and its relationship with the United Nations. Within this key document existed numerous references to the UN Charter, above all the dedication to a peaceful and civil-rights-oriented foreign policy. Multilateralism and integration would also become the cornerstones of German foreign policy, much of which became exemplified in Helmut Kohl’s first Declaration of the "Day of German Unity" on October 3rd, 1990. Several days prior, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher announced before the UN General Assembly that Germany had become aware of its enhanced responsibility and was ready to fully engage itself with the UN and its institutions.

The UN Policy of Unified Germany

Shortly after unification, issues regarding German foreign and security policy received broader consensus, thus resulting in stronger support for the United Nations. Increased parliamentary attention for “UN issues” would eventually follow, which was later accompanied by the creation of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the “Subcommittee for the United Nations, International Organizations and Globalization.” In the spring of 2001, the German Bundestag stated that it “is more than ever convinced of the necessity of the United Nations as a global organization that safeguards peace and addresses global challenges.” Shortly thereafter, measures were taken to increase the strength of the UN.

Germany is home to 26 UN-Organizations (in Berlin, Bonn, Frankfurt and Hamburg.) Special importance is placed on Hamburg, which is home to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, while Bonn has the UN-Campus and the Assembly House, in which nineteen UN facilities and over 900 employees are stationed. Not all attempts in getting more organizations to come to Germany were successful (e.g. IRENA, the Green Climate Fund…). However, at the end of 2011, the WHO and European Center for Environment and Health was relocated to Bonn and the successful application to host the International Advisory Panel on Biodiversity resulted in Bonn’s ability to expand its role as a base for UN sustainable development. Photo: Presseamt Bundesstadt Bonn

German Contributions to the UN System

Germany is considered – at least in financial terms – one of the most important UN member states. Although a mid-sized country, its economic strength makes it one of the major worldwide contributors to the UN’s budget. With a gross domestic product (GDP) of roughly $3.6 trillion, Germany was situated as the world’s fourth largest economy. Furthermore, Germany currently gives the third largest amount in financial contributions to the UN (7.1 percent of the UN’s total contributions), only behind the United States (22 percent) and Japan (10.8 percent). In the year 2013, Germany is expected to pay roughly 7.1 percent of the UN budget, in addition to substantial voluntary contributions to UN specialized agencies, programs, funds and institutions.

According to Germany’s Federal Government, dues as well as voluntary donations totalled €1.7 Billion in the years 2010-2011. Furthermore, Germany invested €265 million in cooperation with UN development projects in 2010 in addition to €575 million it donated to the World Bank. Of all financial contributions made in the year 2010, €26 Million went to the World Health Organisation (WHO), €22.4 went to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), €15.7 went to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and €9.1 went to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), an organization to which Germany was the second largest donor. Despite such numbers, Germany has failed to reach UN and EU targets for development spending as a percentage of gross national income.

However, Germany has been underrepresented in UN staff positions for years, although the situation has recently improved. Of all positions in high service at the UN Secretariat in mid-2012, Germans occupied 415 of 12,289 placements, a total of 3.4 percent. However, under-representation in such positions in the UN Secretariat is accompanied by a good showing of Germans occupying management level positions. In 2011, Germany took the fourth place for most positions in leadership occupied, after the USA (112), Great Britain (39) and France (36).

On September 19th, 1973, the flags of the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany were raised in celebration at the UN Headquarters in New York. UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim (at the microphone) greets Otto Winzer, (fourth from the right) Foreign Minister of the GDR, and Walter Scheel, Foreign Minister of the FRG (second from the right). Photo: UN Photo/Teddy Chen

Important Areas of German UN Policy

Germany’s UN policy is characterized by a commitment to a broad range of UN areas of operation, many of which are incorporated into the work done by Federal Ministries and the Chancellor’s Office. Such themes include UN peacekeeping, the protection of human rights, sustainable development and humanitarian aid.

1. Peacekeeping

One of the principle goals of the UN Charter is to “free the world from the scourge of war,” an ideal that Germany has been very active in fulfilling. Germany has traditionally been a UN-friendly state and sees itself as an advocate for multilateralism, a core tenet of UN peacekeeping. Although Germany was initially unable to substantially participate in peacekeeping operations due to constitutional restrictions, support in the realm of transportation and coordination was provided until the constitutionality of foreign intervention by the German armed forces was approved in 1994. This paved the way for a larger German presence in peacekeeping operations.   

However, Germany’s participation varies between UN-led missions and UN-mandated missions. In UN-led missions, the so-called “Blue-helmets” enforce the proposed action. In UN-mandated missions, member states or regional organizations act as “subcontractors” of the UN Security Council and determine the details of their deployment. To date, there are roughly 7,000 German soldiers in UN-mandated deployments, whereas German forces total roughly 200 in UN-led deployments. Despite Germany’s significant contributions to the UN and its institutions, it’s currently ranked in 52nd place out of 193 member states when it comes to personnel in peacekeeping missions. On the other hand, the increased German financial support for UN peacekeeping totals 7.1 percent of the budget, thus facilitating other projects in the realm of crisis prevention. Germany has also established the UN Training Center for the German Armed Forces and the Center for International Peace Operations.

German UN troops participating in the UNIFIL operation in the Mediterranean Sea near the Lebanese coast in December 2010. Photo: Bundeswehr / Andrea Beinert

2. The Protection of Human Rights, Sustainable Development and Humanitarian Aid

Human rights and civil rights are notions that are held in very high regard in German politics. Germany is a party to every human rights convention and protocol, and even helped pave the way for the development of the International Criminal Court (ICC). As a proponent of “enlightened multilateralism,” emerging norms such as the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) are strongly supported by Germany, despite its abstention at the Security Council regarding the intervention in Libya.   

Germany has also established itself as an important actor in the areas of advancing sustainable development, fighting poverty and protecting the environment, all of which are preconditions for a durable and peaceful world order. Germany is frequently engaged in international environmental and development conferences, many of which are hosted in Bonn. Furthermore, German political figures such as Achim Steiner as well as Klaus Törpfer became heads of the UN Environmental Programme. In addition to this, Germany has demonstrated a strong commitment to fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), pillars of the international community’s plan to address pressing global issues.   

In conjunction with the protection of human rights and the enhancement of global sustainable development, Germany has committed itself to strengthening the UN’s capacity to deliver aid and coordinate projects. From mid-2012 to mid-2013, Germany occupied the chairmanship of the OCHA Donor Support Group (ODSG), and engaged in developing a worldwide preparedness plan for addressing humanitarian catastrophes.

On their second anniversary of UN membership, the GDR’s Foreign Minister Oskar Fischer gave bronze figure known as “The Rising Man” to the United Nations. The work by artist Fritz Cremer stands in the northern part of the UN-Park in New York City. Photo: UN Photo/Milton Grant

United Nations Reform

Despite Germany’s high regard for UN institutions and the substantial role that it plays within them, it’s widely recognized that small adjustments and even fundamental changes need to be made in order for the UN to function more effectively. Although the call for reform at the World Summit of 2005 and numerous subsequent mandates have been successful in improving equality and inclusion within the UN, there’s room for further progress.

Germany has proposed a number of reforms, including those which would transform the functioning of Security Council, yet this remains the most difficult reform to achieve.

The proposed reform states:

-Representativeness must improve, which can be achieved through raising the number of permanent members or changing the UNSC composition to become more geographically representative.

-Legitimacy needs to be strengthened by creating “democratic” decision-making mechanisms inside the council.

-The level of effectiveness must be improved, as decision-making becomes easier and the chance for the implementation of resolutions increases.

In addition to these proposals, Germany has sought permanent member status at the Security Council. However, as pre-existing permanent members insist upon their special status, there has been very little room for compromise regarding reform. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to fear that an unreformed Security Council will have implications for the body’s credibility.

Since the global economic and financial crisis in 2008, Germany pointed out the need for reform of the structure of global finance. Unfortunately, very little success was achieved. However, the “Grand Coalition” (CDU/CSU and SPD) and the subsequent CDU/CSU and FDP coalition committed themselves to strengthening the UN as a potential regulatory entity along with other organizations such as the G-20. Currently, German UN policy is confronted with a dilemma: On one hand, it’s conceivable that the UN could emerge as the core of global governance, facilitating the solution of problems in a multilateral fashion. On the other hand, it is also conceivable that other multilateral organizations such as the G-20 and issue-specific political networks could gain importance. This would mean that German foreign policy would have to become more pragmatic and less principled than it had been while working with multilateral formats in the past.

In April 2002, the President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Thierse handed over three segments of the Berlin Wall to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Photo: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Assessment: Germany and the UN

Germany’s role in the UN has noticeably developed from “pariah” status, to that of an established member of the international community. Much of this restoration has taken place through active work within global institutions. Indeed, Germany can be credited as an active member of the United Nations for 40 years and an enthusiastic supporter of UN initiatives regardless of the ideological affiliation of its government. As a result, Germany’s commitment to a stable and open international order has been well maintained.

However, there are ways in which Germany can move past rhetoric and actually strengthen its multilateral actions. This can be done by strengthening its commitment to UN-led missions. Moreover, Germany should pursue a permanent seat in the Security Council and undergo a serious self-examination, to determine how a German space in such an institution can have a positive influence on the world order.

Regardless, Germany’s relations with the global institution can be described as a success story – a success story which began on September 18th, 1973 by means of nothing but steadfast commitment.