Crisis management requires action more than reaction

Anyone who wants to create or maintain peace must participate in shaping policy as well as know and make use of all available options, says General Klaus Naumann, Ret.

We live in a world without a world order where the future is likely to bring crises more so than times free of conflict. None of these crises will leave Germany unaffected; the vast network of interconnections in our globalized world alone would render this impossible. Many of these crises will be global in nature, and nearly all will require, to varying degrees, the use of the whole range of policy instruments for overcoming crises and ensuring conflict prevention. However, if Germany maintains its “culture of restraint” and its disposition to forego options for action, it will hardly be in the position to tackle any conceivable crises. The country’s vulnerability to crises is also compounded by the fact that it always seeks to act together with partners and because it remains dependent on allies, even with regard to security issues, due to its absolute renunciation of nuclear weapons.

Learning from successful crisis and conflict management

A look at the lessons learned from the examples of successful crisis and conflict management shows that appropriate, timely and often even preventive action is needed at all times. This, and only this, will allow states or alliances to distance themselves from any initial stance they may have been coerced to adopt due to unlawful and peace-threatening action of perpetrators. Lesson number one is therefore: only through rigorous action might we achieve the goal of peace.

Lesson number two is that this may only be accomplished if all options of political action remain on the table, and if the use of all the instruments and means of power of a state or an alliance are taken into consideration. These should then be categorized in a comprehensive political concept for managing the crisis and for ending the conflict. Moreover, this concept must contain a clear description of the policy objective and the desired outcome at the end of the conflict.

Germany is always reactive

When examining the conduct of all German governments with regard to international crises since the end of the Cold War, we observe that none of them have adhered to these two key principles of crisis management. This also applies to the intensification of a smoldering crisis induced by the November 13 Paris attacks, where we initially believed that condolences would suffice as an expression of solidarity.

Germany’s behavior in all crises over the past 25 years has been reactive; government and parliament alike have generally been actors who are driven by events rather than actors who take charge of the crises.

The stereotypical remarks at the beginning of a crisis are always that “there is no military solution” or that “Germany has no mandate to intervene.” Both point to a relinquishment of participating in one’s own future, since excluding a conceivable option from the outset invariably means remaining a second-rate partner, at least when the use of the most extreme political instruments—the use of military force—comes into consideration. A country like Germany, which expressed a resolve to take on more responsibility to contribute to world peace, is therefore called on to consider how it might be able to actively manage crises and contain or end conflicts in the future. This applies all the more given the many, mostly global, crises, which appear to require the use of military means more often than not.

Goal: peaceful conflict resolution

In every crisis the goal is to find a peaceful way to end the conflict. Any strategy developed for this purpose must show how one might steer and influence the perpetrators so that they have no choice but to accept our proposal for ending the crisis. This alone demonstrates that, given today’s nearly unlimited potential for destructive violence, there will never be a military solution, as that would involve destroying the enemy. In the world of today, this option has been eliminated, due to the development of international law and the destructive power of nuclear weapons. Thus, in this day and age, military means are only a means to achieve a political solution. Yet, to function as such, in other words, to enable diplomacy in the first place, the threat of using military force must always remain on the table. Indeed, this characterizes the political framework in which the crises of the past 25 years took place. It is thus a mistake to exclude military means at the first sign of a crisis, because this downright encourages the disturbers of peace to enforce their agenda with military means. Opponents and allies alike view the hasty exclusion of military means as the somewhat frivolous insouciance of those seeking to avoid having to make a contribution and to shirk responsibility.

Anyone who wants peace must consider all options

Therefore, anyone who wants peace and who wants to realize their vision of a peaceful world must keep all options on the table in a crisis. This puts the aggressor at a greater risk and expands one’s own scope of action. However, for this strategy to work, said options must have a secure legal basis for their eventual implementation (e.g., in the case of military means, self-defense or a UN Security Council resolution) and the majority of one’s own population must support this strategy and be willing to follow it through to the end, in other words, until peace has been restored.

Not a solution: waiting for mandates from international organizations

The other standard form of German self-paralysis is its insistence on refraining from taking any action unless it receives a request by an international organization such as the UN, NATO or the EU, or by allies. However, the propensity to wait for requests hardly corresponds with the modus operandi of international organizations nor does it allow a nation to end crises through prompt and efficient action. When the UN Security Council decides to adopt a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, then the UN therewith calls on all member states to contribute to the implementation of that resolution within their means. This means that nations then do not have to wait for an additional request by the United Nations. Rather, in the case of a Chapter VII resolution, the member states have the obligation to indicate what they intend to contribute or, depending on the case, that they are unable to contribute at all.

The situation is analogous to the case of the solidarity clause under Article V of the NATO Treaty or the mutual assistance clause under Article 42(7) of the EU Treaty. If and when such clauses are invoked, the nations indicate whether and how they can and want to contribute to the implementation of the resolutions. In the case of NATO, this is followed, subsequent to the elaboration and political endorsement of an operational plan, by a Force Generation Conference, where the Alliance can make demands that any gaps remaining after the notification of the national contributions be filled.

This means that those waiting for a mandate from the UN, NATO or the EU are wasting their opportunity to have an impact on the implementation of decisions. In all international organizations, the principle applies that the influence of nations is as great as their contributions. Those who wait for mandates gamble their power away, in addition to raising the chances of being suspected of shirking their share of the burden and especially the more dangerous risks. This, in turn, can reverberate far beyond the crisis, since nations can only expect to be on the receiving end of solidarity if they have always, and in all areas of international policy, shown solidarity within their means. This also applies to the German government, which has all the right to transfer powers to international organizations, namely since 1994 pursuant to a decision by the German Federal Constitutional Court regarding Article 24 of Germany’s Basic Law.

Germany as a follower in international crisis management

Governments that, in times of crises, readily make it known to international organizations or allies that they are willing to act, even if they have yet to gain the political majority or examine the legal basis for their planned action, are doers—and thereby stand to increase their scope of influence. By contrast, governments that start out by expressing concerns and reservations, even if they eventually bring themselves, or are driven, to make contributions, are followers who generally achieve little impact for a relatively high input. So far, Germany has unfortunately belonged to this latter camp.

Thus, if our country really wants to take on more responsibility and do more to contribute to peace in the world, it will have to join the league of the doers. Doing so will require Germany to adapt its behavior in crisis management accordingly, mainly by keeping all options on the table and by taking proactive action early on.

This commentary is a translation of the article “Krisenbewältigung verlangt Aktion und nicht nur Reaktion

Translation by Cathleen Poehler