Veteran diplomat Longtime Merkel aide begins term on UN Security Council

Christoph Heusgen, Angela Merkel’s former foreign policy adviser, will step into the limelight for the first time in his diplomatic career, as Germany joins the Security Council.
Quelle: Reuters
The man in the background.

Unknown to the public, but well-connected in diplomatic circles: Meet Christoph Heusgen, the 63-year-old German who joined the UN Security Council on January 1. He began a two-year term on the UN’s powerful body, representing Germany and joining the permanent members – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain – alongside nine other temporary members.

Heusgen, who has been Germany’s ambassador to the UN since the summer of 2017, serves Germany’s and Europe’s interests at a time when Donald Trump is rejecting international cooperation. Trump has talked down global institutions since becoming president of the United States. And he effectively downgraded the American role at the UN by replacing political star Nikki Haley as UN ambassador with the relatively inexperienced Heather Nauert, a former Fox News journalist.

Germany's man is a diplomat with an economics doctorate. At the Security Council, he will have a more public role than he has in the past, conveying the messages of Angela Merkel. He is well-versed in her thinking; before moving to New York City, he spent 12 years as Merkel’s advisor on foreign policy and national security, longer than anyone else.

His discreet style, focus on cooperation, and his perseverance – Heusgen runs marathons – made him one of Merkel’s closest staff members. Often, while his peers had to leave during high-level meetings, Heusgen attended many of Merkel’s powwows with world leaders, from Barack Obama to Xi Jinping. Beyond those, having served diplomatic posts in Chicago, Paris, and Brussels, Heusgen's own network spans the globe, which should stand him in good stead when he forms alliances at the UN.

Heusgen, a fan of the US, shouldn't be fazed by trans-Atlantic tensions. He speaks English fluently, since studying in Ohio as a teenage exchange student. An idealist, after studying economics, he decided to join Germany’s diplomatic corps as a way to serve his country, he once told a German publication. Following postings in the US and France, he helped to craft the Maastricht Treaty, which laid the cornerstone for the euro zone in 1999. He was a deputy official in the Foreign Ministry during the 1990s and the first chief of staff to Javier Solana in Brussels, when the latter was EU representative for foreign and security policy.

Quelle: picture alliance/AP Images
A face you'll see more often.
(Source: picture alliance/AP Images)

Heusgen, a father of two adult children, and two younger ones with his second wife, maintains a close connection to his home town. He takes international visitors to see local soccer games in Neuss, on the Rhine river. And every year without fail, he heads back there to a summer festival for amateur marksmen, which spans a shooting competition and regimental parades, and can draw up to a million visitors.

He says that spending time talking with people in Neuss helps him to understand what regular citizens think of Merkel’s policies, and the government in general. It also allows him to see his sister, who now operates the pharmacy that was founded by their parents.

His fellow marksmen came to his aid in 2017, when German media criticized Heusgen for helping his wife find a job, after he moved to New York City to take up the UN ambassador post. Ina Heusgen, who has a doctorate in law and a degree in medicine, now has a UN job too. Some said she had found the post thanks to connections; others called this standard networking. Heusgen’s friends in Neuss argued that anyone would help their wife to find work, and Ina was highly qualified.

Heusgen hasn’t caused any controversy since and is unlikely to do so in his Security Council post. His ambitions are relatively modest. He told the ZDF television network that Germany's agenda includes arms control, climate change, safeguarding humanitarian workers and involving women in conflict prevention. He said he would consider his tenure a success if he could draw attention to sexual violence against women, and raise awareness about climate and security issues.

In Berlin, many see Germany's turn on the Security Council as a chance for the country to underline the importance of the multilateral institutions that form the postwar international order, as Trump opts instead for bilateral relations or confrontation. Germany is the fourth-largest contributor to the UN budget after the US, China and Japan, and has repeatedly sought a permanent seat on the Security Council. But it has never managed to change the council’s structure, because the five permanent members have veto rights. The new term as a temporary member is Germany’s sixth since 1978.

Heusgen's statement suggests Germany's membership of the UN Security Council will be to continue in the same role it has done since the post-war era: being a powerful non-hegemon and working quietly together with partners.

Annett Meiritz is a Washington correspondent for Handelsblatt. Darrell Delamaide and Gilbert Kreijger adapted this article into English for Handelsblatt Today. To contact the author: [email protected] and [email protected]