Germans to flex security muscles

Posted in Europe | 25-Oct-06 | Author: Judy Dempsey| Source: International Herald Tribune

An Afghan boy waves to German soldiers as he rides his bike next a military jeep in Kabul.
BERLIN Underscoring a further emergence from the shadows of the past, Germany will publish a defense and security policy review Wednesday that says the country is poised to play a major role in shaping Europe - but without distancing itself from the NATO alliance.

The review is the first since 1994, a time when Germany was still struggling through reunification. At that time, German military chiefs were preoccupied with integrating the armed forces from East Germany and the government was reluctant, for example, to intervene in an effort to stop the fighting in the Balkans.

Since then, Germany has allowed its armed forces to play a greater role in international peacekeeping missions.

The new review, which went through several drafts and was passed from ministry to ministry for consultations and amendments, says that "because of its size, population, economic strength and its geographical position in the middle of the Continent, the reunified Germany has a central role for the future shaping of Europe and beyond."

The 133-page review, called the White Book, will be presented by Chancellor Angela Merkel at the weekly cabinet session in the Bendlerblock, the former headquarters of Hitler's Wehrmacht, which now houses the Defense Ministry.

Influenced by the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, the review will say that the defense of Germany against external threats remains the political and constitutional basis and essential function of the Bundeswehr, or armed forces.

And as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it says Germany's allies must be defended "in case of attack and the assistance in crises and conflicts that could escalate into concrete threats."

The paper is careful, however, not to favor any international organization, and instead spells out its commitment to multilateralism. It supports NATO, the European Union's defense ambitions and the United Nations, as well as Germany's special relationship with France.

Nonetheless, some officials who have seen the document are critical of it because they say it fails to define the circumstances under which its armed forces could intervene in foreign conflicts. And, these officials say, it avoids defining the precise role of NATO and the EU in dealing with new threats, particularly in regards to international terrorism.

NATO and the EU have rapid reaction forces that could theoretically be sent to trouble spots anywhere in the world within days. And both are competing for financing from their members to buy new equipment and pay for missions. Security experts say the new review falls short of defining what national interests would justify military action.

Bernhard Gertz, chairman of the German Armed Forces Association, said the strategy paper "missed a great opportunity and lacks courage" to tackle issues head on.

"The paper gives no perspective," Gertz said by telephone. "It looks back instead of forward. It does not spell out the limits for German participation in military missions. There are no difficult discussions brought up in the paper."

Winfried Nachtwei, defense spokesman for the opposition Greens party - which supported sending German troops to the Balkans when it was in the Social Democratic-led coalition government under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder - also had reservations.

"The good thing is that it has finally been published," Nachtwei said. "But I am disappointed. Nothing is said about the lessons learned from the missions we have participated in." More than 8,000 German soldiers are engaged in NATO and EU missions in Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa.

Nachtwei also regretted any serious discussion about the role of the police and development-aid agencies. "Over 98 percent of our missions are stabilization missions," he said. "That means that there has to be a role for police training and development programs aid since they complement the military role. The White Book does not discuss these linkages."

Sascha Lange, a security expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, said the document was "not what you call visionary."

It was, he said, about setting out Germany's foreign and security policies, and the challenges facing Germany in the 21st century.

"Germany's foreign policy and security interests are focused on NATO, the EU security and defense policy and its relations with France," he said.

The publication of the White Book comes at a time of competing demands on the Defense Ministry, one being to find savings, the other to provide more troops to NATO, EU and UN peacekeeping missions. Germany's defense budget is €24 billion, or $30 billion, the equivalent of 1.4 percent of gross domestic product.

There is a debate, too, about whether to phase out compulsory military service, a decision already adopted by France and several other European countries.

Germany insists that "the EU and NATO are not competitors. Both have indispensable contributions for our security," according to the document. Berlin "will work toward improving the relationship between both organizations in a way that leads to closer cooperation, greater efficiency, avoids duplication and strengthens the European and transatlantic relationship over all."

But it states that the "fundamental questions of Europe's security can only in the future be answered together with the United States."