Overseas Role: Germany Must Back Words With Deeds
German politicians have won applause abroad for promising a beefier role in international crisis management in the future. But does Chancellor Merkel support the new line? Berlin's behavior in Syria and Ukraine will prove how serious it is about the rethink.
When German politicians pledged a more active international role at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, the reaction they got was almost euphoric. President Joachim Gauck, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen appeared to be vying with each other to present their vision of a new Germany to the gathering of security experts and senior politicians.
"Leading, I say respectfully, does not mean meeting in Munich for discussions, it means committing resources," US Secretary of State John Kerry told the conference.
Merkel Looks at Opinion Polls
After all, Germany's policy of military restraint wasn't only espoused by former Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. It was backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel herself. And there's nothing so far to suggest that she is departing from her guiding politicial principle: basing her policies on opinion polls. As long as a clear majority of Germans remain skeptical of or outright opposed to any German military involvement abroad, Angela Merkel is highly unlikely to commit troops to unpopular missions. The president and the ministers can hold as many grand speeches as they like -- if things get serious, they won't be the ones taking the decisions.
Future international missions won't be any easier, because the Americans are no longer prepared to automatically assume leadership. Germany will face the question not just whether and how it gets involved, but whether it's ready to seize the initiative. Following the planned withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan, every new substantial military deployment will be harder to justify. In the eyes of most Germans, the Afghanistan mission was a failure.
So far, Germany's new foreign policy position has been flanked by nothing more than a microscopic increase in its involvement in Africa, That's not a big leap forward. Meanwhile, the murdering goes on in Syria and the conflict in Ukraine is escalating. Germany will need to prove it is ready to back up its words with deeds.
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