April 19, 2007

German Leader Addresses U.S. Foreign Policy

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Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, outlined the importance of transatlantic cooperation in the twenty-first century to a packed Call Alumni Auditorium yesterday. As this year’s Henry E. and Nancy Horton Bartels World Affairs Fellow, Fischer met with students and delivered a public lecture entitled, “Redefining the U.S.-Europe Relationship after 9/11.”
“If someone would have asked me in 1988 whether I would ever expect a reunification of my country and that the Soviet Union would disappear with not even a shout, but only a whisper, I would have said ‘Yea, let’s dream, but it is completely unrealistic,’” Fischer said. He argued that today’s unipolar global order with the United States at the head is entirely different from the bipolar “Cold War world” in which he grew up.
For much of his talk, Fischer stressed the necessity of U.S. leadership in confronting the challenges of the twenty-first century, many of which were created or complicated by globalization.
“I would say that the role of the U.S. isn’t everything, but without the leadership of the United States, everything is nothing,” Fischer said.
In an impassioned call for leadership, Fischer implored young Americans to assume a foreign policy that combines “robust interest” with a “moral element.”
“Let me appeal to you as young Americans, to understand the importance of your domestic decisions for the rest of the world,” he said. “We won’t have real progress in a sufficient and sustainable policy against climate change without U.S. intervention. Europe can’t do that. Russia can’t do that … if you are not going into the lead, you will create a vacuum.”
He explained, however, that U.S. leadership must extend beyond environmental policy and must help bring a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Indian-Pakistani conflicts, among others. By resolving these disputes and engaging important regional players, Fischer argued, the U.S. can help to keep Iranian ambitions in check.
Alluding to his decision to send NATO forces into Kosovo in 1999, for which he is well known and widely respected, Fischer recalled, “For me this was a wakeup call. No more war, but also no more genocide.”
However, in a press conference yesterday, Fischer disavowed the use of force in any situation in which diplomatic options have not been exhausted, even in crises like the ongoing genocide in Darfur.
Regarding Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats to “wipe Israel off the map,” Fischer condemned Ahmadinejad’s aggressive posturing, but dismissed the possibility of using force to derail his quest for nuclear weapons.
“It is a serious threat, it’s real,” he said. “Nevertheless, I think we need a stronger engagement of Europeans and Americans and the international community to deal with that threat, but I don’t believe in the use of force.”
Fischer also addressed the U.S.-German disagreement over the war in Iraq. “Our relationship is a very close one, a very friendly one, based on a very strong and deep cooperation.”
He stood strongly by his decision not to send troops to Iraq. “I thought from the earliest beginning that this was a bad idea,” he explained. “But in our bilateral relations, this is behind us and I think the majority in the Congress, in the American public and in the media understands that we had some good reason to say ‘no.’”
“If you see a friend is moving in the wrong direction,” he added, “it is the duty of the friend to say ‘stop it, don’t do it, these are the reasons why it’s not a good decision,’” he said.
“I thought that he tied together the themes of integration, globalization and cooperation in an incisive and accessible way,” said Brandon Charles ’07. “I thought it was also really interesting that he mentioned how we can’t have a unilateral or a bilateral world, like we had during the Cold War. It needs to be multilateral. That has become even more apparent since we invaded Iraq.”
On a lighter note, Fischer, a wine connoisseur and enthusiast, was excited to learn about Cornell’s wine education program, and shared some of his thoughts on wine with The Sun.
“The Riesling grape in Germany is our grape, it’s a very unique one and I like it very much — especially the dry Kabinetts,” he said. “I’m a real internationalist in the wine cellar … wine reflects a very old culture, and I love that culture … In Europe, we should be proud that we have the ‘terroir wines.’”
Since leaving the foreign ministry in late 2005, Fischer served an additional year as a member of the German parliament and assumed a post at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in the Fall of 2006.
Previous Bartels World Affairs fellows to visit Ithaca include Ambassador Dennis Ross, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama of Tibet.