Present-day crisis diplomacy: seminar at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich lends insights into diplomatic practice

Ambassador Ischinger with students at the seminar. Photo: Nadine Niggl.

In the summer semester of 2009, Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger shared his insights into present-day crisis diplomacy with a group of students at the Geschwister Scholl Institute of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. What made the seminar especially exciting for most participants was its practical emphasis. Matthias Prechtl, for example, who is in his fourth semester of studying politics, says of the seminar: "I was hoping above all to be given a look behind the scenes, and my expectations were, if anything, exceeded." Nadine Niggl agrees: "I’d say that Ambassador Ischinger’s seminar was one of the highlights of this semester."
The seminar, which was dedicated to the main challenges facing German foreign policy since reunification, featured a series of appearances by guest speakers who gave their own personal assessment of crises in which they had been involved and fielded some critical questions from the students. At the start of the Seminar, Vice Admiral Ulrich Weisser (retd) spoke about Germany’s role in the eastward enlargement of NATO: as Head of Policy Planning Staff under the then Defence Minister, Volker Rühe, Weisser had a leading role in formulating Germany’s policy towards NATO and was therefore in a position to give the students a first-hand account of the enlargement process. Because of the continuing crises in the Balkans, events in the former Yugoslavia and German policy towards the Balkans were a recurrent topic of discussion at the seminar. The participants were first introduced to the Bosnian war and the initial failure of diplomacy, and then took a close look at the Dayton negotiations, at which Ambassador Ischinger had represented Germany. Discussion focused mainly on what conditions had to be in place in order for crisis diplomacy to succeed. Vice Admiral Weisser’s exposition was followed by contributions from other prominent guests. Albert Rohan, the retired Austrian Ambassador, former Secretary-General at the Austrian Foreign Ministry and Kosovo negotiator, together with Martti Ahtisaari, who was President of Finland at the time, led a discussion about the failure of crisis prevention in Kosovo in 1998-99. At another session, General Klaus Naumann (retd) spoke about NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999, known as Operation Allied Force, and answered students’ questions. At the start of the intervention, this former General Inspector of the Bundeswehr was Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee and on several occasions negotiated face to face with Slobodan Milosevic in the hope of persuading the Serbian President to compromise.
A few weeks later, Kosovo was again the topic of discussion at the seminar, which therefore reflected the course of German foreign policy over the last two decades. The discussion with Dr Emily Haber, Director, the Federal Foreign Office’s Commissioner for South-East European Affairs, looked at the issue of Kosovo’s status. Ambassador Ischinger spoke about his experiences as the EU representative in the troika which, following the failure of the Ahtisaari Plan, undertook one final attempt at negotiation before Kosovo declared independence in February 2008.
Another area of focus was transatlantic relations in the wake of the attacks of 11 September 2001. The students examined the highs and lows of German-American relations, which swung from "unconditional solidarity" in the aftermath of the attacks to crisis in the run-up to the Iraq War. Ambassador Ischinger spoke about his own experiences of the role played by the German Embassy, especially its role in public diplomacy following 9/11. Peter Lefkin, Senior Vice President for Government and External Affairs for Allianz of North America Corporation, followed this up with his personal take on transatlantic relations in recent years. The ensuing discussion centred on the recent improvement in transatlantic relations, particularly in the context of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Dr Volker Stanzel, Director-General and Political Director at the Federal Foreign Office, discussed the role of German diplomacy in the multilateral attempts to arrive at a negotiated solution. Ina-Elena Kanuf, 23, who is in her 6th semester of studying Political Science, Ethnology and International Law, says: "The opportunity to meet so many guests who were able to give us an insider’s view was absolutely unique."
Taking the kidnapping of the Wallert family in the Philippines in 2000 as an example, the students also looked at one of the Federal Foreign Office’s other tasks. The emphasis was on the work of the Crisis Unit when German nationals are kidnapped. The case study of the Wallert kidnapping underscored the problems facing present-day crisis diplomacy, which is caught between secret negotiations on the one hand and media reporting, which takes place almost in real time, on the other.
For some of the participants, like Matthias Prechtl, the seminar provided an impetus for studying the subject more fully in future. "I’d already been considering making international relations, especially security policy, my main subject. The seminar has increased the likelihood that I will do just that. I can see myself making a career in the field."

16 July 2009, by Tobias Bunde