The sun sets behind Berlins famous landmark. the Brandenburg Gate.

The country must be willing to bear risks, and that includes helping to stabilise fragile African states, say its leaders.

Pretoria - Is Germany shirking its responsibility for maintaining global security? Leaders of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new Conservative-Social Democrat coalition government asked themselves this tough question at a major conference on security in Munich recently.

They partly dismissed the criticism but also partly accepted it, acknowledging that Germany must more decisively break the shackles of its post-World War II pacifism. This should include doing more to stabilise fragile African states.

Germany’s ambassador to South Africa, Horst Freitag, elaborated, saying his country was ready to do more to help South Africa and the rest of Africa implement “African solutions to African (security) challenges”.

Setting the tone at the Munich Conference, President Joachim Gauck spelled out the foreign policy implications of Germany’s radically changed identity since World War II.

“The post-war generations had good reasons to be distrustful of the German state and of German society,” he said.

“But the time for such categorical distrust is past.” For more than six decades Germany had lived in peace with all its neighbours, upheld civil and human rights and respected the rule of law, he noted.

And the country had a vibrant civil society able to identify errors and correct them.

“We are now permitted to have confidence in our abilities and should trust in ourselves, not because we are the German nation, but because we are this Germany nation,” Gauck concluded.

Referring to Germany’s booming export-oriented economy, Gauck noted that his country was more globalised than most and so benefited more from an open world order.

Preserving this order was Germany’s most important foreign policy goal in the 21st century. But this world order faced threats: weapons of unprecedented destructive power could fall into the hands of individuals; global economic and political power was shifting, causing entire regions to build up their military forces; individual crises in the Middle East could converge “and engulf the whole region; and the US – “the world’s only superpower” – was considering reducing its global engagement; while “Europe, its partner, is navel-gazing”.

Gauck said that critics at home and abroad had called Germany “the shirker in the international community”. This was simplistic and ignored the reality that no one, either at home or abroad, had wanted Germany to play a strong international role immediately after World War II. The division of Germany into two states had also hampered its international engagement.

Since reunification in 1990, Germany had, step by step, transformed itself from a beneficiary to a guarantor of international order and security. It had done so through considerable investment in aid to under-developed countries and in global resource-efficiency by helping Europe overcome its recent financial crisis and by participating in military missions.

Apart from peacekeeping missions, the German military was deployed abroad in a hostile role for the first time since World War II in 1999 when the Luftwaffe participated in Nato’s air operations against Serbian forces during the Kosovo crisis, preventing ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population there. Germany deployed ground combat troops for the first time since World War II in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force in 2001.

But Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier insisted, in an interview with Spiegel Online, that the quality of Germany’s foreign policy could not be measured by such deployments. The measure of good foreign policy was in making the right choices about when to use diplomacy and when to use military intervention which “must remain a last resort”.

He noted that although Germany had chosen to take part in the Kosovo and Afghanistan operations, it had said no to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and had chosen not to participate in the Nato-led bombing of Libya in 2011.

However, some analysts regard this not so much as the exercise of good judgement but instead as a retreat by Germany during most of this decade from its global responsibilities back towards its old post-war isolationism, particularly under Merkel’s cautious leadership over the past nine years.

Gauck acknowledged there was a “core of truth” in the criticism, saying Germany could “take more resolute steps to uphold and shape the (world) order...” and “must be ready to do more to guarantee the security that others have provided it with for decades”.

While Germany’s commitment to Nato had never wavered, Germany and its European partners should do more, including paying more to keep the alliance strong at a time when the US was struggling to keep shouldering the main burden, Gauck said.

Germany should also do more to bring major new emerging powers into a global order as active participants, whereas some of them were instead “seeking a place on the margins”.

Berlin should also do more to counter terrorism, in particular to address new security threats such as “the privatisation of power by terrorists and cyber criminals”. Gauck said Germany had rightly criticised the US for spying on its allies, including Germany.

“And yet we prefer to remain reliant on them and hesitate to improve our own surveillance capacities,” he added.

He, Steinmeier and Freitag all heavily stressed, above all, that Germany should be playing a bigger role in conflict prevention, an area of particular German expertise.

“Germany should make a more substantial contribution, and it should make it earlier and more decisively if it is to be a good partner,” Gauck said.

Steinmeier offered his own diplomatic intervention, with his French and Polish counterparts and a Russian envoy, in the Ukraine crisis last month to broker a deal between President Viktor Yanukovych’s government and the demonstrators calling for his resignation, as an example of this sort of preventative diplomacy.

Although the settlement was almost immediately overtaken by events as Ukraine’s parliament voted Yanukovych out of office and he fled Kiev, it had definitely prevented further bloodshed, Freitag said.

Gauck said that where conflict prevention failed and military intervention became necessary, it should only be done with Germany’s allies – but Germany should be willing to bear its fair share of the risks.

The German leaders all stressed that part of the greater international burden which Germany should be taking on was to help stabilise fragile African states.

Germany was not doing enough “to stabilise our neighbourhood both in the East and in Africa”, Gauck said.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen declared at the Munich conference that “indifference is not an option for Germany”, and that her government was ready to contribute more towards the international efforts to bring peace to Mali and, if necessary, to support the EU force which is about to be deployed in the Central African Republic.

The German parliament has since then decided to increase Germany’s mission in Mali from 180 to 250 people, helping to train the country’s military. And German media have reported that Germany might contribute transport and medically-equipped aircraft to the EU peacekeeping force about to be deployed in the CAR.

“Europe’s and Africa’s security are inextricably linked with one another,” Freitag explained, adding that Germany welcomed the axiom “African solutions to African challenges” and supported the AU’s efforts to tackle conflicts on the continent.

“While respecting African ownership, the AU and EU, together with other actors, need to consult and co-ordinate early, effective preventive actions to avert imminent conflicts.”

This meant “a comprehensive approach to preventive diplomacy, a common threat assessment based on an early-warning system and pressing for a peaceful solution while also preparing for worsening scenarios”.

The crises in Mali and the CAR both illustrated the need for such early preventative action he, said, noting that the world had seen both crises coming for a long time but had done nothing to avert them.

Freitag said South Africa’s deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Ebrahim Ebrahim, had revealed a similar approach by South Africa at a recent lecture at the University of Pretoria when he had said: “Early warning should be followed by early response.”

Given the similar views, preventative diplomacy in Africa would be a major topic of the meeting of the South Africa-German Binational Commission later this year, Freitag said.

* Peter Fabricius is Independent Newspapers’ Foreign Editor.