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.

A Commentary by

Angela Merkel poses with a soldier in Munster: Germany's military restraint is also a product of the chancellor herself.

Angela Merkel poses with a soldier in Munster: Germany's military restraint is also a product of the chancellor herself.

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.

At last Germany has grown up, said international officials and commentators. At last it's ready to accept a degree of responsibility commensurate with its weight. To be sure, the rhetoric is noteworthy because it marks progress from Germany's restraint and reluctance to shoulder responsibility. It was overdue. In recent years there's been an excessive discrepancy between Germany's economic clout and leading role in the euro crisis on the one hand and its reticence in international crisis regions on the other. But the general expressions of delight are surprising. After all, it's not uncommon for new ministers to make grand promises aimed at making them look different from their predecessors. The world will have to wait and see what Germany actually does in concrete terms to deliver on its pledge.

"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.

One should welcome Germany's readiness to become more involved at levels that don't go as far as committing troops -- such as its recent agreement to take part in the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons. But Germany's partners in Washington, London and Paris will measure Germany by the stance it takes when the international community next has to contend with a situation like Libya -- Germany abstained in the 2011 UN Security Council vote to impose a no-fly zone.

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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peskyvera 02/03/2014
1. optional
Why should Germany, or the rest of Europe for that matter, end up being the ones fighting the dirty wars for the US?
sneeekysteve 02/04/2014
2. international role
Germany does not need to become involved militarily in foreign conflicts to be influential on the world stage. I sincerely hope that Germany stays out of foreign conflicts. The US has wasted billions of dollars and thousands of lives of our soldiers for nothing. There was nothing in Iraq or Afghanistan that was ever worth the life of one single soldier. I hope Germany has learned from the US experiences and stays out of such conflicts.
peskyvera 02/04/2014
3. optional
I am getting this feeling that this new 'GroKo' (grand coalition) Berlin government has militaristic tendencies. The world doesn't need more wars, it doesn't need more weapons. What it desperately needs is PEACE!
Kofi 02/04/2014
4. No poodle tolerance please
Why should Germany fight for US interests when the US continues to spy against its citizens and business interests? In Ukraine it is well known that Germany understands the sensitivities of the Russians and views Ukraine as was it is, a nation run by a corrupt regime where any change is good. It was right that Germany abstained on the no-fly zone and that it did not support the heating of the Syrian conflict. Germany is no mediterrenean power. The zonal approach of Roman Herzog still apllies as the German doctrine for the East. Just ensure that things in the buffer zone to Russia don't get too crazy.
LukasB 02/09/2014
5. Germany must back words with deeds
Indeed, Germany must back words with deeds. When Victoria Nuland criticized Europe's inaction over Ukraine, Merkel condemned the comments as "unacceptable"; thus, she expressed more anger over some comments that an official believed she was making in confidence, than about the EU's unwillingess to do anything meaningful to help Ukraine. The EU has repeatedly forestalled the idea of targeted sanctions against Ukraine's Party of Regions politicians, who operate as a mafia group. These individuals use European financial institutions as safe havens for their loot, and travel Europe freely while ordinary Ukrainians have to fill out egregious visa applications. I'd like to know if Angela Merkel thinks that the following things are "acceptable": http://www.kyivpost.com/content/business/klyuyev-brothers-politically-exposed-336410.html http://euromaidanpr.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/austria-the-addresses-of-the-regionals-and-their-managers/ yanukovich.info Where is Angela Merkel's outrage over that? Please be a leader, and prove that you can offer more than words by imposing targeted sanctions against the Party of Regions mafia syndicate!
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