Germany’s New Foreign Policy: Same Reluctance to Fight

Photographer: Omer Urer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Smoke rises after U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State, in Kobani, Syria.

Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark, whose combined populations are less than half that of their German neighbor, have sent warplanes to strike Islamic State. Germany is sitting this conflict out. While Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is supplying weapons to Kurdish forces fighting the militants in Iraq, it has stopped short of joining the U.S.-led coalition pounding Islamic State targets from the air. It’s a decision that belies German ambitions to step up international engagement to match the country’s economic clout as Europe’s export powerhouse.

“Germany has a deep aversion to using force,” Mats Berdal, a professor in the Department of War Studies at King’s College in London, said by phone. “Yet it’s important to get a broad coalition for symbolic effect. Chancellor Merkel needs to think hard about this because the consequences of what can be called a death cult could be very severe.”

Germany’s ultra-cautious approach to defense matters is deeply rooted in a militaristic past that caused two world wars. A rush of rhetoric promising a bolder Germany at the start of Merkel’s third term has ebbed as beheadings in Syria and a spiralling death toll in Ukraine pointed up the risks of greater involvement and escalated the global mood of crisis.

Photographer: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images via Bloomberg

‘Morally Clean’

“Germany still has a very hard time in thinking of geostrategic German interests and European interests,” Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment in Brussels and a former German Defense Ministry analyst, said by phone.

“The debate on sending German troops anywhere is about how can we stay morally clean and not about saving Syrians,” Techau said. “I don’t know if it puts Germany to shame but it shows different security thinking.”

The post-1945 reluctance to deploy force risks alienating allies at a time when the international community is looking to Germany to step up and play a greater role in matters from rising instability along the European Union’s southern Mediterranean border to Russia and the Ukraine crisis, as well as steering Europe out of its economic and jobs torpor.

Libya, Mali

The crucible of those greater expectations is Iraq and Syria, where the U.S. is leading a coalition attacking Islamic State. France, the U.K., Australia and Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark have all committed to send aircraft to join forces from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar.

Germany sat out the 2011 Libya war and limited its assistance to France’s 2013 Mali intervention to logistics and aid. Then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was a leading opponent of the U.S.-led Iraq War in 2003, though he did send German troops to serve in Afghanistan and warplanes to conduct patrols in the 1999 Kosovo War.

Germany under Merkel has risen in prominence, particularly during the crisis in the euro area that began in Greece in late 2009. Through a combination of its economic might and the weakness of fellow euro-area nations, Germany became Europe’s dominant policy maker, with expectations placed upon it in other fields that the Merkel government says it’s still coming to terms with.

“German diplomacy is facing demands as rarely before,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a Tagesspiegel am Sonntag newspaper interview on Oct. 12.

German ‘Shirker’

Earlier this year, German President Joachim Gauck said his country needed to shake off its postwar reluctance and play a greater global role.

“Some -- both at home and abroad -- have a quick and simplistic answer: they regard Germany as the shirker in the international community,” Gauck said in a January 31 speech at the Munich Security Conference. “Not all critics of German policy are simply unfair.”


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commented 2014-10-15 15:20:05 -0400 · Flag
Thomas N. writes:

The United States OWNS this Problem Lock, Stock & Barrel. We abrogated our Responsibilities in Iraq and to the Iraqi people.

I would Not Trust the United States of America.

Germany may be a duplicitous, self-serving mercantilist parasite state, BUT the United States of America Owns the Nightmare in Iraq.

Don’t confuse your general disgust with German free-riding For bankrupt US foreign policy decisions being made by that Communist Fraud who occupies the oval office.
commented 2014-10-15 15:19:13 -0400 · Flag
A.A. writes:

Germany’s obsession with projecting “value neutrality”, “moral superiority” (while at the same time being the 3rd biggest weapons dealer in the world as well as being a money-obsessed mercantilist menace to its neighbors) and Pacifism – while the USA foots its defense bill for the last 70 years and garners nothing but disdain and hatred, natch – is a pathology that is perfectly expressed by their bland, risk-averse, pygmy-“leader” Frau Merkel. The woman is the very definition of “drab” and truly represents the Germanic character in all its hypocrisy and insipidness.