TCS Daily


Germany Rising

By Joseph Tom Goeller - July 3, 2003 12:00 AM

More than 9,000 German peacekeeping troops are currently deployed in South East Europe, the Caucasus, Afghanistan and Africa. And, practically unnoticed by the rest of the world, the number is steadily increasing. Is Germany clandestinely becoming a military power again?

This "out of Germany" deployment of troops started in Somalia in 1991 as part of a UN peacekeeping mission. For this engagement the then-restricted German Basic Law had to be changed to turn what was considered by Germans to be "the unthinkable" into reality.

But this huge political step back to national adulthood didn't require a heated public discussion. On the contrary. After reunification in 1990 German national pride resurfaced and gained ground again especially under the eco-socialist government of Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer. With encouragement from the United States and UN Secretaries-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan in the 1990s, Germans are now participating in a variety of military missions around the world.

Something that has gone unnoticed lately is the fact that Germany now has the second largest international troop deployment abroad, behind the US. For the last seven years, the German Army Bundeswehr has kept the peace in the Balkans, with 1,500 troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 4,400 troops in the Serbian province of Kosovo. It's the largest contingent of international troops in the region. In neighboring Macedonia, 225 German soldiers are protecting the international monitors overseeing implementation of the peace process. Further east, a small contingent of German officers patrols the Caucasus mountains in the rebellious Georgian province of Abchazia.

Germans are also part of the coalition against terrorism. While 1,336 German troops operate in Afghanistan, another 1,135 mostly naval troops are serving in Operation Enduring Freedom at the Horn of Africa, patrolling the straits between Somalia and Yemen.

In Africa, Germany is being drawn into more and more action mainly by its European neighbor, France. With the exception of Somalia, in most of the countries where German troops have been deployed they have stayed or increased their number over the years.

Recently, an overwhelming majority of the German Bundestag agreed to send a token force of non-combat troops to Africa to support the new European Union mission in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. The EU mission, which was approved by the UN Security Council at the end of May, is de facto a typically traditional French neo-colonial military interference in Africa. It has been sold to the public as a response to the savage civil war atrocities in the northern province of Congo, where an estimated 3 million people have been killed since conflict began in August 1998.

With the EU contingent consisting so far only of the French Foreign Legion securing a mineral-rich part of Congo, the German government had to discuss whether it would send in regular troops of drafted 18 and 19 year old inexperienced soldiers -- because the German elite troops are already serving elsewhere.

"The Germans to the front!" demanded some of the media in Germany -- a reference to the first historical engagement of German troops in an international military operation. On June 22, 1900 the British Admiral Seymour led a multi-national corps against the Boxer rebels in China and gave at that day the order: "The Germans to the front!"

This became a well-known phrase in Germany, glorified by a famous oil painting and popular until today. However, German governments so far have been able to avoid the deployment of German troops for French interests and purposes in Africa.

At least since the mid-1990s, a number of German sergeants and officers have been trained by the French in African jungles. Several times in the past French governments tried to order the Franco-German corps into African states to solve their post-colonial problems. But Bonn and later Berlin always resisted those French desires -- until now.

Schröder made a big issue out of his opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq -- "I don't send German troops on an adventure!" he exclaimed -- and for the first time since 1945 chose Paris over Washington, so he now has to stick with Chirac through thick and thin. And the African "adventures" of the French are certainly riskier than the British-American war on Iraq.

But it's interesting: Even before German politicians decided to participate in a so-called EU mission in the Congo, some strong voices in the media demanded the deployment of German troops to restore law and order -- in Africa.

It all represents quite a change in the nation's psyche.

While hundreds of thousands of Germans protested against the war in Iraq and posed as pacifists, the same people -- politicians and journalists included -- do not hesitate to demand the deployment of German troops for an African "adventure".

And Foreign Minister Fischer, who was all his political life a "pacifist", explained in the parliamentary debate that the deployment of German troops to Africa "is in...European [and] German security interests". Does he really think someone buys this excuse? He talked at length about German interests in Africa: humanitarian aid and the obligation not to leave the poor and tortured alone. (What he really meant was we need to keep refugees away from Europe.)
Even though the eco-socialist government cautiously committed only 350 troops to provide logistical and medical support in neighboring Uganda to the French troops in Congo, German "pacifists" warn that this commitment will not be enough to prevent massacres in the mineral-rich district of Ituri. They add that the time limit set by the UN for 1 September is by far too short. As in the Balkans and Afghanistan, where first a small number of German troops started for an originally scheduled short period of time, we can expect the German troops to increase in number and time.

More and more self-determined and focused on its own goals, Germany is attempting to be a global military player and extend its influence far beyond the EU. This is also the reason Germany now has -- as France always had -- a shrinking interest in NATO. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars showed the Germans how outdated their military equipment is. This will change. Not soon but within the next decade. Schröder has already announced that the military budged has to be increased -- for more peace keeping missions, of course.

One can hear between the lines his hurt pride. "The German military will get what it needs to be fit," some senior members of the Schröder administration frankly say. And one can sense that this grinding of teeth is directed towards the U.S. Are the Germans going to compete with the Americans?

Yes. Not alone, but with their new closest allies, the French. Schröder and Chirac are determined not to leave the world unchallenged to the U.S. They both despise the American president and American culture. They are both able to stir public opinion into a hostile mood towards the U.S.

All this has political and military consequences. The neighbors of France and Germany in Europe sense this development. Their unease obviously increases as one can see in Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe.

The only questions that remain: Do both countries render each other a doubtful service? Or will Germany in the end prevail as the actual (and only European) power that challenges the U.S. on the world stage?
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