Germany has made it official: it is prepared to move out of its postwar pacifist mode and undertake a greater role in global security. Good. There has been no good reason for some time why Germany should not do its share of global peacekeeping and peacemaking. Defending Germany’s borders, to which its army was restricted after World War II, is hardly a consuming mission in today’s Europe.
Berlin’s new position paper on international security, issued last week, points to a welcome expansion of Germany’s role in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and antiterrorist actions. That is especially important now, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and multiple peacekeeping missions in Africa have strained the military resources of America and its leading NATO allies.
Military ties to the United States will remain at the heart of Berlin’s defense policy. But larger and more robust troop contributions from the most populous European NATO country can help restore a measure of political balance to an alliance increasingly distorted by Washington’s military role.
The taboos against deploying German troops overseas have been steadily falling away at least since 1992, when a few German medics were dispatched to Cambodia. Today, Germany has about 10,000 soldiers serving on missions in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Congo, and German warships are patrolling the Lebanese coast. But the Germans have usually avoided roles that could involve combat. Those in Afghanistan, for example, are involved in reconstruction. Under the new policy, Germany would presumably engage in all aspects of peacekeeping operations.
The specter of German militarism, once terrifying, is a thing of the past. Contemporary Germans are, if anything, more sensitive than their neighbors to episodes of military wrongdoing. Last week’s publication of photographs of German soldiers in Afghanistan toying with a skull prompted a suitably anguished public reaction. But it should not raise questions about transforming the Bundeswehr into a global intervention force. There’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s time the Germans joined in.
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