As the German Mission’s website states: “The task of the Mission is to represent Germany at the United Nations.” As such, the German Mission is located at a very representative location on 1st Avenue and 49th Street, right across from the United Nations Headquarters. Our host at the Mission, Ms. Katja Wiesbrock, First Secretary at the Mission and working at the Permanent Representative’s office, shed some light on what the rather diplomatic term “representation” had actually implied over the last three years – a period during which the Iraq war and UN reform had divided key players at the UN.
Her opening statement, of course, focused on the most recent debate on UN reform, for which Germany had lobbied along a lot of dimensions with the goal of becoming a permanent member of the Security Council. Rehearsing some of the well-known diplomatic phrases usually mentioned in the debate over UN-reform (“the UN Security Council represents international power relations of 1945…”), Ms. Wiesbrock very quickly approached the more sensitive topics such as the lack of political will for a comprehensive reform of the Security Council. A critical question was raised whether the German decision to join efforts with Japan, India, and Brazil to enter the Council as a group had turned out to be more of a hindrance rather than a strategic alliance. Ms. Wiesbrock agreed that, indeed, every member to the so-called G4 had met fierce opposition to their claim for permanent membership. However, according to the German view, the long-term prospects were not as dim as they might appear today and a legitimate case could be made for all four countries.
Speaking on the need for a new Human Rights organ within the United Nations, it had become evident to all observers that the old Commission on Human Rights had become rather ineffective with its membership including persistent violators of Human Rights. Outlining the main features of the new Human Rights Council such as the improved election procedures for members to the body as well as its reduced size, Ms. Wiesbrock also discussed the main concern that the press and also some student delegation members had raised to her, namely the lack of US support for the Council. She explained that a large number of countries with a respectable Human Rights record (one of which is Germany) had expressed clear intentions to run for membership to the Council, firstly, to give their support and ensure the proper functioning and, secondly, to enhance their own moral standing. Returning to diplomatic tone, Ms. Wiesbrock concluded that it was too early to make definite statements and that the Council had to be observed in its functioning. As a personal observation, the First Secretary added that “the United Nations is pretty much about discussions as such” with this process having a value in itself and that one should not pass judgments only about results.
That being said, the discussion turned to the imminent second topic at the United Nations in the last years that had excited public debate – the division over Iraq and the future of the UN after the éclat. Here, Ms. Wiesbrock told the story of her personal experience at the time in New York, where diplomats from all 191 countries interacted on many occasions and at many events – inside and outside the UN. From her experience, the current political divisions between some European countries (most prominently, France and Germany) and the United States translated into different perceptions between diplomats on the need to go to war as well. That assessment, Ms. Wiesbrock continued, derived from a different assessment of the impact of 9/11 between the countries. As a private footnote, Ms. Wiesbrock added that her personal, heated discussion over the issue of Iraq with an American diplomat had led them to set the issue aside to discuss personal matters. As the two are married since 2005, the outlook on transatlantic relations now seems to be better than ever - at least for some diplomats at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations.