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2011: An extraordinary year in international affairs

Foreign Secretary William Hague and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle write about "an extroadinary year" in the Huffington Post UK.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Already, 2011 has proved an extraordinary year in international affairs. Governments across the world have needed to act quickly and responsibly to encourage positive change and foster stability in the face of global security challenges. They have had to work ever harder to secure a sustainable economic recovery from the worst financial crisis in a generation.

The upheavals across the Arab world have rightly captured attention. We welcome reforms in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, which are encouraging. We will do our utmost to support those who are moving towards freer societies that meet the legitimate aspirations of their peoples. But these changes are fragile: both our countries are determined that the European Union can and must make a crucial contribution through a further opening of its markets to add economic dynamism and growth to political reform.

Repressive and authoritarian regimes that seek to defy the winds of change and try to stamp out the sparks of freedom using brutal methods are on the wrong side of history. President Assad’s oppressive treatment of his own people has left him discredited and isolated, and brought new EU sanctions on the regime and overdue scrutiny by the United Nations Security Council. He must reform or step aside. Colonel Qadhafi’s appalling abuses against his own people shocked the world. He must leave power. As members of the Contact Group we both deal with the Transitional National Council as the legitimate governing authority. We are committed to seeing a better future for all Libyans.

With all the changes that are taking place in the region one issue in particular stands in stark contrast to the potentially positive developments: the deadlock in the Middle East Peace Process. Only a genuine negotiating process and a comprehensive agreement can put this right. Britain and Germany are pushing hard for the parties to return to talks on the basis of clear parameters: The aim is clear: a negotiated two-state-solution, with a State of Israel and a sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable state of Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security. The Arab Spring should make Israelis and Palestinians redouble their efforts for peace, not resile from them.

Further afield, we see steady progress in Afghanistan. On the 5th December, Afghans and the international community will return to Bonn to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2001 conference. The original Bonn Conference set the tone for the following decade. As Afghans increasingly take responsibility for their own security, the 2011 Bonn Conference will, over and above the transition process, allow decisive steps forward in two areas: the international community’s long term commitment to Afghanistan and the process towards a sustainable and inclusive political settlement.

We will not repeat the mistakes made in the past and leave Afghanistan to its own devices. The Bonn Conference will signal the international community’s strong commitment to Afghanistan even after our combat forces have withdrawn. As part of this, the EU will develop a formal, long term partnership agreement with Afghanistan, outlining its commitment to Afghanistan’s development beyond 2014. On the political process Bonn will be an opportunity for the Afghan Government and international partners to set out a clear vision of an inclusive political process.

Too often we find ourselves reacting to crises after they happen. We need to be doing more, consistently, to tackle the underlying causes of instability and thus prevent it. Both our countries are investing more in upstream conflict prevention: tackling the potential threats to our security before they become real, at which point they are ten times harder to address.
One of the ways we can do this is by taking decisive, lasting action to tackle climate change. This is one of the key security issues of our era. Last year’s Russian wheat crop failure; floods in Pakistan and the terrible drought in East Africa are graphic reminder of the very real, human impact of climate change.

Climate security is an imperative for prosperity; for food, water and energy security; for the open global economy; and for cross-border cooperation and the rule of law. Climate security is central to the values the EU stands for and the goals that we, as Foreign Ministers, have set ourselves.

In July this year, at our initiative, we secured agreement at Foreign Affairs Council on the need for EU action on climate diplomacy. In the same week, under Germany’s presidency, the UN Security Council discussed climate security, the first time in four years acknowledging that climate change may affect peace and security. It is important we build on this momentum in the run-up to the conference on climate change in Durban in November, as we push for a legally binding global deal committing countries around the world to take action on climate change.

The dramatic upheavals to Europe’s south should not hide the sad fact that our continent is not immune from the threat of conflict. Most of our citizens assume that today there is lasting peace and stability in Europe. This cannot be taken for granted.

Two weeks ago, a Kosovar policeman was killed near the border with Serbia. Nearly 17 years since the end of the conflicts which marked the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the countries of the Western Balkans have made good progress towards democracy and good neighbourly relations. War crimes suspects have been delivered to face international justice, and the invitation to Croatia to join the EU shows what the region can accomplish.

But recent events in Kosovo underline that the achievements of recent years remain vulnerable to the politics of ethnic division. Serbia and Kosovo must find a diplomatic solution to their differences, in a way which respects Kosovo’s borders, improves the lives of all citizens and moves both Serbia and Kosovo securely towards EU membership. If they do not, they will be throwing away a crucial opportunity for progress, at the expense of their citizens’ interests.

We emphatically support the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina which Baroness Ashton is facilitating on behalf of the European Union. This Autumn, the EU will review Serbia’s and Kosovo’s relationship with the EU. We will examine very carefully what progress they have made by then.

Britain and Germany are pulling in the same direction on all these issues. Together we want to help realise the hopes and opportunities which people throughout the world associate with the desire for change.

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Published 8 August 2011