“The time has come for Europe to finally draw overdue consequences and become much more independent”

Interview of the newspaper Izvestia with Dr h.c. Hans-Christof von Sponeck

Izvestia: You have signed an open letter in which you call on the German government not to deliver heavy weapons to Kiev. In your opinion, this will only lead to a further escalation of the situation in Ukraine. Can Germany become a conflict party in this way?
Hans-Christof von Sponeck: The decision has been made. The German government, with the support of the opposition, has decided to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine. Many citizens in Germany, including myself, do not support this weighty decision. I live in a country that allows me the right to express my own opinion. I am free to express it by saying: more war material means that even more people will lose their lives on both sides of this asymmetrical confrontation. Media and parts of the political community are trying to push this fact aside in an irresponsible way. This statement has absolutely nothing to do with an assessment under international law of the effects of Russia’s engagement in Ukraine. Those who question this fact are deflecting attention from the core of the matter. To say that Germany’s arms deliveries have nothing to do with direct participation in the military conflict underestimates people “who have courage to use their own understanding” [dare to know]!

Olaf Scholz: Keep willingness for dialogue and channels of discussion open

On 27 February, Olaf Scholz gave a historic speech in the Bundestag in which he announced the start of arms deliveries and an increase in the defence budget. Is this a turning point in the history of modern Germany, which previously focused on peacekeeping missions?
In his speech to the Bundestag on 27 February 2022, the German Chancellor stated his attitude and that of his coalition partners to the Russian engagement in Ukraine. From the citizens’ point of view, this should have happened much earlier. What was quickly branded by political opponents as the chancellor’s indecisiveness is probably more related to the complexity of the unexpected geopolitical developments that have befallen the German government. Thoughtfulness is probably a better indication of the Chancellor’s attitude. He is surely fully aware that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing in the German political establishment, roaming Germany on the lookout for food.
  The Chancellor’s statement that “what is needed for the security of peace in Europe will be done by his government” is not interpreted unanimously in Germany. His pointing out that this includes showing a willingness to engage in dialogue and maintaining open channels of communication with the Russian Federation is a valuable commitment that must be honoured at various levels. To do so is not to devalue the consequences of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but an act of realpolitik that seeks to prevent further mischief on a larger scale through contact and diplomacy. This will serve peace in Europe and is reminiscent of Germany’s own history. I am fully aware that this statement will be firmly rejected in some places. But that does not mean it is wrong.

Supplying arms to Ukraine – a major political earthquake

After the Second World War, a strong pacifist movement emerged in Germany. The most important representatives of this movement were the Greens. Now Annalena Baerbock is actively campaigning for the supply of heavy weapons. Why could Germany not preserve its foreign policy traditions?
Germany’s new beginning after the Second World War was largely pacifist. As a people, we had learned from history and, as a member of a Western community of values, we wanted to work for a united Europe, for multilateralism and international cooperation, especially with the countries of the developing world, and for peaceful solutions to crises in accordance with the law of the UN Charter. By and large, this has been achieved. However, the annual Munich Security Conferences – I attended several as an observer – showed how relentless pressure from NATO allies has been year after year to increase German participation in the Alliance’s rearmament. Some of them even criticised Germany as a free rider. Nevertheless, the provision of 100 billion euros for the modernisation of the German armed forces and the increase in the defence budget for 2022 do not represent a turnaround in German foreign and security policy. They are rather a response to years of repeated internal and external criticism of the German armed forces’ inability to defend themselves, and to other NATO member states’ demands for more German input.
  For the German public, however, the decision of the Scholz government in spring to after all agree to arms deliveries to Ukraine, contrary to previous election promises and government declarations, seemed like a major political earthquake. Many people are worried about their future. So far, there are no statements from the German Constitutional Court or the German Ethics Council on the legal and moral permissibility of German arms involvement for Ukraine.

How would you characterise German foreign policy today? How independent is it?
It should be noted that the re-election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France is an important event for European and German politics. Due to years of Western security policy failures, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, Europe must finally draw overdue consequences and become much more independent. Olaf Scholz’s government continues to have a partner in Paris with whom the Europeanisation of foreign and security policy can be expanded.

Sanctions demands against Russia remain without global majority

You once condemned the sanctions policy against Iraq. In general, how do you assess the results of the sanctions pressure on the Russian Federation? Can you say that they have a greater effect on average citizens?
Sanctions and the rejection of war activities are two different things. The UN General Assembly has taken a majority decision to oppose Russian action in Ukraine. The world has seen a lot of war since 1945 and is tired. I can agree with that. Attempts to find a global majority to support sanctions against Russia have completely failed. Brazil, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, South Africa and many smaller countries, including some in the Middle East, refuse to support Western demands for sanctions. The sanctions pressure on the Russian Federation does not come from the United Nations, but is a product of the governments in Washington and Canada and the EU. Instead of this sanctions ping-pong between the two sides which is currently being played out ad absurdum, with serious consequences for the well-being of the people, round table negotiations should be initiated as soon as possible.
  Much has been written about multilateral sanctions policy. The 1990s became a veritable sanctions decade. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan finally concluded that the “blunt instrument” of UN sanctions had not led to any conflict solutions. Time and again, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Venezuela or the People’s Republic of Korea, the wrong people, namely the citizens, had become the victims. The permanent members of the UN Security Council have at no time been able to implement political and economic sanctions with real protection for the citizens. The 1945 promise of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta to guard world peace as a team was forgotten. In the end, nation-state self-interest was more important.

Iraq 1998: “Regime change” in Baghdad instead of humanitarian aid

In February 2000, you resigned as head of the Oil-for-Food Programme in protest against the UN sanctions against Iraq. Now the EU is preparing for an embargo on Russian oil, the EU states are trying to reject gas from Russia. How sensible is that in your opinion?
As head of the Oil-for-Food Programme (the UN’s humanitarian programme), I saw on a daily basis how sanctions could affect Iraq. We tried to help the people of Iraq nonetheless with a totally and deliberately underfunded “humanitarian” programme, with the continuous support of the ambassadors of China, France and Russia in Baghdad and in New York. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at the time Russia’s ambassador to the UN in New York, will perhaps remember the helpful discussions we had during my visits to New York about the devastating human conditions in Iraq. The governments in Washington and London were concerned about weapons of mass destruction that no longer existed, as US Ambassador John Negroponte testified before a US Senate committee on 7 April 2004. The humanitarian programme was obviously secondary. As the US Congress confirmed in October 1998 through the so-called Iraq Liberation Act, it was all about “regime change” in Baghdad.
  I would like to add that sanctions against Iraq or any other country have never resulted in anyone being held responsible for the actions that caused them. It was these circumstances that finally convinced me that resigning my responsibility in Baghdad was the only choice left to me.

UN Contribution to the resolution of the Ukraine conflict

In one of your interviews, you said that the pro-Western course of the UN had led to several large military operations in which there were many victims. How do you assess the work of the UN in resolving the conflict in Ukraine?
In the major crises of the last decades, for example in the Middle East, the Balkans and South Asia, the political UN, i.e., the Security Council, has shown time and again that it has not been able to facilitate conflict solutions true to its mandate. This is a harsh judgement, but one that can be substantiated in detail.
  It is obvious that this also applies to the current situation in Ukraine. Secretary-General Guterres’ reluctance to commit himself further than only rhetorically to de-escalation, has been met with incomprehension worldwide. What was expected of him was dynamic commuter diplomacy with full use of the moral authority that a UN Secretary-General possesses. In an appeal on 18 April, more than 300 high-ranking former UN staff members called on him to fulfil his obligations. The Secretary-General travelled to Moscow and Kiev shortly afterwards. The result: the UN was allowed, together with the ICRC, to set up humanitarian corridors to help people leave Mariupol. That is a success.
  Guterres must understand that this could all have happened earlier. The lesson must be to continue such efforts on his part with both sides without interruption now. The priority is unquestionably the expansion of humanitarian aid to Ukraine by the UN.

“There is no alternative to peace”

At present, there are more and more statements about the risks of a nuclear conflict. What could and can Western countries do to avoid plunging the world into a third world war?
A new European security concept is urgently needed. Secretary General Guterres, as a bridge builder between conflicting parties, must take advantage of his role and present to the Security Council the urgency of convening an international conference on European security before the end of the year. It would be irresponsible to trivialise the possibility of nuclear conflict.
  And finally, I would like to add something more. For Germany, 8 May is a day of remembrance, a day of liberation. For Russia, 9 May is the day of the end of the Great Patriotic War. As a young person, I experienced this terrible war and have not forgotten it. I reach out to my peers in Russia and Ukraine in the hope that together we can say to the new generations in our countries: Do better than we did. There is no alternative to peace.  •

Source: German original of the interview published by the Russian newspaper Izvestia on 11 May 2022 in Russian translation (https://iz.ru/1331166/mariia-vaseliva/nado-srochno-vyrabotat-novuiu-kontcepttciiu-evropeiskoi-bezopasnosti).

(Translation Current Concerns)


Hans-Christof von Sponeck worked for the UN for 32 years. During this time, he worked in New York, Ghana, Pakistan, Botswana, India and was Director of the European Office of the UNDP Development Programme in Geneva. From 1998 to 2000, he was responsible for the humanitarian programme “Oil for Food” in Iraq as UN Coordinator and Assistant UN Secretary-General. In February 2000, he resigned in protest against the sanctions policy against Iraq. Hans von Sponeck has received several awards, including the Coventry Peace Prize of the Church of England, the Peacemaker Award of the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Bremen Peace Prize.
  He is currently working with Richard Falk on a book on UN reform, which will be published in 2022.

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