40 Years of German Membership in the United Nations

This photo shows the United Nations seal merging with the German flag.

40 Years of German Membership
Almost 40 years ago Germany joined the United Nations, as both German states were brought into the inner-circle of the world’s most renowned global institution in September 1973. Meanwhile, reunified Germany is a widely respected member of the UN, an organization whose development is closely linked with German history. However, throughout the 1950s Germany struggled with regards to its relationship with the United Nations.

The Beginnings
After the Second World War, German membership in the United Nations was unthinkable. In the destroyed cities of post-war Germany, the focus of the majority of the population was centered on issues concerning their immediate livelihood and economic reconstruction. Thoughts about the future of German foreign policy were cast into the background, especially since it remained open whether or not Germany, after all of its crimes, could become a member of the free and peaceful world community. Indeed, during the foundation of the global community the so called “enemy states articles” of the UN Charter (Art. 53, 77 and 107) established that the eventual measures taken against the former Axis Powers were not to be subjected to its stipulations. However, in 1995, these provisions were declared by the General Assembly to be “obsolete.”

The first contact that post-war Germany had with the United Nations remained in connection with the humanitarian work of different UN specialized agencies – including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). According to the former West German ambassador to the UN Alexander Graf York von Wartenburg: “Back then all we knew of the UN were aid packages and school lunches from UNICEF.”

With the establishment of the Federal Republic of the Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1949, the partition of Germany was set in stone and the iron curtain was drawn across Europe. The beginning of the Cold War ensured that the two German states, and the city of Berlin in particular, were continuously placed as the center of attention of the United Nations. The construction of a European community and the question of unification were more important than the debate concerning the United Nations. According to Hans Riesser, the Federal Republic of Germany’s first permanent observer to the UN: “charity begins at home.” Nevertheless, in the 1950s the West German state became a member of all specialized agencies of the UN (e.g. FAO, WHO and UNESCO). Below the threshold of full membership, it was possible to be involved in almost all UN areas. For years, the FRG was content with its “active non-membership.” Furthermore, an isolated attempt by either of the states to achieve full membership would have simply resulted in a veto in the Security Council (UNSC) anyway.

The German Democratic Republic didn’t join any UN specialized agencies in the 1960’s. The West German blockade – marked by the Federal Republic’s “demand of exclusivity” (also known as the Hallstein Doctrine) – made the GDR unable to gain access to appropriate means that would enable an application for membership. Therefore, the East German State (in connection with the Basic Treaty between the FRG and the GDR) wasn’t able to participate as an observer state at meetings at the General Assembly until 1972.

On September 18th, 1973, the two German states were admitted into the UN as the 133rd and 134th member states. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-M0925-406/Fotograf: Joachim Spremberg/Lizenz CC-BY-SA 3.0

From Observer Status to Full Membership
The beginnings of German UN membership came at a time in which the United Nations was first emerging as a powerful global institution. Numerous states had recently gained independence and could finally become members of the UN. The preconditions for the inclusion of both German states included the acceptance of the Four-Powers Agreement concerning Berlin, and the Basic Treaty between the FRG and the GDR. Willy Brandt’s successful “Ostpolitik” was considered the foundation of the fruitful membership bids. As members 133 and 134 of the UN, the two countries appointed their own diplomats in the numerous committees and working groups. The points of contention between both German states were set aside, resulting in a distant, but unproblematic relationship between the diplomats from either country.

Alongside the Cold War, the North-South-Conflict pronounced itself in the first years of German membership. Although West Germany in particular was known for attending to the needs of the so-called Third World, both states acquired increasing respect from members at the UN. Aside from deadlocked ideological debates, there were also increasing discussions regarding concrete global questions, to which Germany brought forward solutions. They included subjects concerning the environment, climate and desertification.

Due to the historic experience of the Second World War, the support of human rights initiatives stood at the heart of Germany’s UN policy. Building upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the two comprehensive human rights conventions known as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) were acceded to by both states after they acquired full membership in 1973. The Federal Republic significantly advanced the adoption of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and the Establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as well.

However, the Federal Republic and the GDR were initially reluctant to participate in UN “Blue-helmet” missions. Officials avoided a possible encounter between the GDR’s People’s Army and the Federal Defense Forces during UN missions, thus resulting in a preference to abstain from participation. Nevertheless, both countries played a diplomatic role within the international politics of peace. This is exemplified by West Germany’s non-permanent membership in the Security Council from 1977-1978. Rüdiger von Wechmar, the Federal Republics UN Ambassador at the time, was one of the most prominent actors in the Security Council and helped prepare Namibia’s transition towards independence. This valuable German contribution had also provided a template for other UN missions, including those in Cambodia and Mozambique. Rüdiger von Wechmar later led the UN General Assembly as President from 1980-1981. (See “Fotostrecke” below)

The ceremonial raising of the German flags one day after the formal membership reception. See more in our photo gallery. UN Photo/Teddy Chen

At the same time, the GDR was first elected as a non-permanent member to the UN Security Council. From 1980/1981, Peter Florin, who had already led the East German accession negotiations, represented the delegation of the German Democratic Republic. Florin was also chosen as the President of the 42nd session of the General Assembly in 1987 and had also held this position during the important sessions concerning disarmament in 1988. While the Federal Republic was engaged in all UN specialized agencies, the GDR consistently focused upon specific areas of the UN. Above all, one disturbing factor for East Berlin was the existence of “capitalist” Bretton-Woods Institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Alexander Graf York von Wartenburg led the second period of West German non-permanent membership in the Security Council from 1987-1988, which was also supported by the GDR. During this period the war between Iran and Iraq took almost all of the working capacities of the Security Council. For the first time, all five permanent members came to a unanimous decision on a resolution issued by the Security Council. In addition to this, the Federal Republic and the GDR shared their opposition to the use of chemical weapons in the conflict.

The Reunified Germany in the UN
After the reunification of both German states on the 3rd of October 1990, the GDR withdrew its seventeen-year long UN membership, meaning that the Federal Republic would take charge and represent the unified state at the UN. As a result of unification, Germany’s importance and stature in the international community would increase dramatically. As early as 1992, the first German “Blue-helmet” operation took place in Cambodia, which was the first time the country had taken responsibility for a peacekeeping mission.

In the period from 1995-1996, Germany occupied a non-permanent membership in the Security Council for the first time as a unified state. Furthermore, the German willingness to participate in UN initiatives was becoming more and more noticeable, which was exemplified through Germany’s participation in UN mandated military operations and other missions that would contribute to the maintenance of international security. The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, led to even stronger German engagement in the fight against terrorism.

This renewed engagement was exemplified by the German participation in the Security Council mandated ISAF Operation in Afghanistan and the “anti-terror” operation “Enduring Freedom” on the Horn of Africa. However, the German engagement in UN-led peace operations was always modest. At the end of 2012, there were 221 German soldiers participating in UN operations; which ranks Germany as 49th out of all troop-contributing states.

In the years 2003-2004 and 2011-2012, the states in the UN General Assembly elected Germany as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council once again. However, the 2003 Iraq War overshadowed the German membership to a large degree. The Federal Republic, along with France and Russia, belonged to the group of member states that opposed the American-British intervention. During the same period of time, Germany decided to build a campus for UN organizations in Bonn. The later membership in the Security Council from 2011-2012 would be shaped in part by Germany’s abstention from UNSC resolution 1973, which established a no-fly zone over Gaddafi’s Libya.

The only western abstention provoked much discussion, as the BRIC-states (Brazil, Russia, India and China) abstained as well. In addition to Libya, other countries affected by the “Arab Spring” came into the Council’s field of vision. Germany exercised its influence through the Afghanistan Dossier, its chairmanship of the Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee and as the leader of the working group entitled “Children and Armed Conflict.” On the 1st of January 2013, Germany’s most recent Security Council membership ended.

For many years, Germany has been home to a number of UN administrative bodies. The historic "Lange Eugen" is part of the UN campus and remains the headquarters of many UN organizations. Foto: Flickr/Matthias Zepper

Moreover, Germany has been home to many organizations affiliated with the UN. In the center is Bonn, which is home to several very important agencies such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV). The International Labor Organization (ILO) is located in Berlin, along with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ISGH) also has its headquarters in Germany (Hamburg).

As the third largest financial contributor to the UN, the Federal Republic plays a deciding role in the UN. In 2012, Germany financed 8.018% of the UN’s regular biennial budget of $5.24 billion, which totaled approximately $190 million. With regards to the financing of international peace operations, the Federal Republic is the fourth largest financial contributor. Work in the International Criminal Court (ICC), specialized agencies and UN Programmes (e.g. UNEP and UNDP) is also made possible as a result of the financial contributions of Germany, as well as a number of other states. When examining the voluntary financial contributions to specialized agencies, Germany usually remains in 10th place. An exception is evident with regards to support of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), to which Germany is one of the largest contributors.

The 40th year of UN membership has a special importance for Germany. Aside from the anniversary, as a new member it will have to demonstrate its reliability as a contributor the Human Rights Council. For the period of 2013-2015, the Federal Republic was admitted for the second time into the Geneva Council, formed in 2006. Furthermore, within the framework of the “Universal Periodic Review,” the condition of human rights in Germany itself was topic for discussion as of April 2013. Upon Germany’s 40th year anniversary, the UNA Germany will pay especially close attention to the country’s numerous contributions to the UN as a world organization.  On one hand, there is retrospective documentation and analysis. But on the other hand, we want to address current policy and focus on various future course settings for Germany. All events that we plan in reference to the 40-year anniversary can be found through the title logo on our website.

Slideshow: 40 Years of German UN Membership