by Aislinn McNiece
The Georgetown International Relations Club (IRC) hosted Peter Wittig, the current German ambassador to the U.S., at the Mortara Center for International Studies. Ambassador Wittig discussed current challenges facing Germany, Europe, and the world.
Since serving as the German ambassador to Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Nations, and currently the United States, Wittig has acquired acute insights into the world system and the problems it faces. Wittig, who began his diplomatic career in 1982 after teaching as a professor of history in Germany, called on attendees, as students of the world, to recognize and prepare to solve the challenges jointly facing Germany and the United States.
Proliferation of Crisis
“The unprecedented proliferation of crisis has put the world order under tremendous stress,” said Wittig, “[and it is our duty to] actively and jointly address these emerging crises.”
His major concerns, as a German diplomat and as a citizen of the world, are European solidarity within the EU coming to a peak with the euro crisis, the “Grexit” question, the refugee crisis; German relations with Russia and the Ukraine crisis; and the transatlantic partnerships on which Germany depends.
Syrian Refugee Crisis and European Solidarity
Wittig’s discussion of the current refugee crisis through the lens of European solidarity sparked the majority of student questions. His answers centered on his argument that the root cause of the flow of refugees is war in the Middle East, and that world powers, especially the United Nations P5, must make sustained efforts toward a ceasefire agreement in Syria.
“There is no peaceful future in Syria with Assad [in power],” added Wittig.
Calling it a “crisis of historic proportions,” Wittig had much to say to students interested in his solutions to the refugee crisis, including increasing budgets of what he called the “scandalously underfunded” international organizations who are serving refugees in Eastern Europe.
“We are struggling to find the tools to meet humanitarian needs, but we must receive them in a fairer, more sustainable way,” he said. “This is an international challenge not just for Europe.”
Price of Leadership
Kathleen McNamara, Associate Professor of Government and Foreign Service and Director of the Mortara Center, moderated the discussion along with Jeffrey Anderson, Professor and Director of the BMW Center for German and European Studies.
McNamara cited Germany’s unusual role as the current clear leader of Europe, and Anderson praised German leadership’s multilateral, principled responses to these crises so far.
Calling the U.S. and Germany relationship “a partnership by choice” due to common cultures, concerns, and responsibilities, Wittig closed the discussion with an analysis of Germany’s new place on the world stage and in the changing European context.
“Germany is experiencing a moment now that the United States has been experiencing for decades,” said Wittig. “German citizens are realizing now what Americans have known for a long time: that leadership can have a price.”