Germany Abroad: 'Mealy-Mouthed' Foreign Policy Angers Allies

By Ralf Neukirch and Gordon Repinski

Photo Gallery: Mali Mission Exposes Divisions Photos
REUTERS

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is intent on keeping his country out of military operations in Mali. But his insistence on playing the role of peacemaker is increasingly frustrating Berlin's allies. Many in Berlin are likewise unimpressed.

The German public saw the two faces of German foreign policy last Wednesday. German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stood side-by-side in the lobby of the Reichstag, the federal parliament building in Berlin. Both men wore dark suits and had expressions on their faces that reflected the seriousness of the situation. As they appeared before the press, the two ministers tried to demonstrate their unity -- but they ended up conveying very different messages.

The issue that both ministers addressed was the French-led military intervention in Mali. De Maizière spoke of German efforts to help airlift West African troops to the region. It was a calm, rational statement. "I think we should talk more about what we are doing, and not about what we are not doing," he said. That could easily be interpreted as criticism of his fellow cabinet member.

Over the weekend, Westerwelle had reacted in his own way to the French intervention: "The deployment of German combat troops is not an option," he had said initially. This was not well received in Paris and, in keeping with his style, the foreign minister further exacerbated the situation when he spoke in the Reichstag: "I have to mention just one more point," he blurted out: "We Germans are highly involved in Afghanistan, where the French are hardly involved at all."

De Maizière wanted to talk about the concrete aid that Germany is providing. Westerwelle preferred to lecture his country's allies and tell them about all the things that they cannot expect from the German government. One minister expressed Germany's support for the mission, while the other explained Germany's reluctance.

Causing Damage Abroad

Ultimately, there is no difference between the two ministers in terms of substance. They are both in favor of providing logistical support in the fight against the Islamists, but are opposed to deploying German troops for ground combat. But Berlin's seeming inability to adequately explain its approach has begun causing considerable damage abroad.

As Germany's official representative abroad, Westerwelle's comments have engendered particular consternation. He is seen as the embodiment of the very position that is so frowned upon as typically German by the country's allies.

A few months ago, former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine complained that Westerwelle expresses the "profound German attitude" that Germany primarily sees itself as a pacifist power. "I really don't see what prevents Germany from playing a larger role in international politics and military operations," he said. The current French government takes precisely the same view.

The French are not alone in their criticism of Berlin. Political leaders in the US and Britain also find it aggravating that Germany presents itself as a peace-loving power and leaves all the dirty work to the others. Mistrust of Berlin has been especially strong since the German government abstained in the United Nations vote over the Libya intervention two years ago -- the only Western country on the Security Council not to support the measure -- and refused to provide its NATO allies with military aid. "As is usually the case these days, Germany … is keeping its head down," wrote the British daily Guardian last week. Westerwelle's "mealy-mouthed statements leave a bad taste," commented the newspaper.

Even Westerwelle's own staff is growing increasingly concerned over the frustration voiced by Germany's allies. "People abroad don't understand why we always first have to draw a red line and claim exceptions for ourselves," complains a high-ranking German diplomat. "We never explain what we want to achieve," he argues. "We always talk about how we can stay out of things."

'Learned Nothing'

It is an attitude which has also met with criticism from coalition lawmakers. Andreas Schockenhoff, deputy parliamentary floor leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), says "Germany should not rule out any form of participation" in the military operation in Mali, adding that "it's wrong to commit to a position right from the outset." Likewise, Rainer Stinner, the foreign policy spokesman of Westerwelle's business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), would like to see the message change. "I begin with a description of what we are doing, and not what we don't intend to do."

But to the annoyance of foreign policy experts, Westerwelle is persisting with his stance -- for domestic policy reasons. Indeed, on Monday, SPIEGEL ONLINE reported that, while Germany has made two Transall cargo planes available to assist France with the Mali mission, Berlin has ruled out transporting French troops or munitions.

Westerwelle is convinced that the credo of military restraint appeals to the German public. This, after all, was an approach that proved successful for his role model, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, an FDP politician who was Germany's longest-serving foreign minister and vice chancellor. That, though, was during the last century, when there was no expectation abroad that Germany would take part in military operations.

Now, such a message, as practiced by Westerwelle, calls forth a very different reaction among Germany's allies -- which explains why Defense Minister de Maizière is seeking to broadcast a different message. Back in June 2011, he said that Germany could not claim a special role for itself. Those who had more, he said, had to "also assume a greater responsibility, even militarily."

While the defense minister attempts to conduct an honest debate on Germany's role in the world, the foreign minister regularly gets in his way. "I am sick of hearing all this talk about the culture of military restraint," complains a high-ranking government official in Berlin. He has little hope, though, that anything will change. "Westerwelle has been singing this tune since the coalition negotiations," he says, "and he has learned nothing since then."

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

Article...
For reasons of data protection and privacy, your IP address will only be stored if you are a registered user of Facebook and you are currently logged in to the service. For more detailed information, please click on the "i" symbol.

Post to other social networks

Comments
Discuss this issue with other readers!
6 total posts
Show all comments
    Page 1    
1. yep
ballymichael2 01/22/2013
---Quote (Originally by sysop)--- German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is intent on keeping his country out of military operations in Mali. But his insistence on playing the role of peacemaker is increasingly frustrating Berlin's allies. Many in Berlin are likewise unimpressed. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-approach-to-crisis-regions-frustrates-allies-a-878717.html ---End Quote--- He's annoying, alright. I wouldn't call it "mealy-mouthed", precisely. "holier-than-thou" fits better to the Westerwelle mix of preachiness, arrogance and inactivity. I think in the matter itself, he's right, though. The islamist threat in Mali happened, because the intervention in Libya happened. And that intervention was described, correctly, by Westerwelle as an "Adventure" - which has negative connotations in german, though not in english.
2. On the fence
jessuper 01/23/2013
On one hand I can understand the foreign minister's position because staying out of trouble is sometimes the best policy, whilst playing the hero might actually get you hurt. The nobility might not even help hurt wounds ( and I am talking about possible dead or injured soldiers, financial losses and possibly retaliation of the jihadists on German citizens in Mali and/or Algeria). Oh, there is the matter of a possible disapproval from the German public and all. On the other hand, having the resources that Germany has, it is almost arrogant and slightly cowardly to just stop and gawk without lending a hand and I certainly have sympathy for the harsh criticisms coming from Paris. What I do not have sympathy for is the criticism from the Brits. They are not sending any combatants either. From what I know and I have read, they have sent some special forces and people from MI6 in a non-combatant capacity. They are in Mali to help Malian soldiers, providing them with reconnaissance aircrafts and maybe use UK satellites to assist with whatever satellites do in conflict scenarios. The UK is maybe considering lending the Malians a drone or two to scope battlefields and what not. David Cameron has made it clear that the UK's help is limited to intelligence and logistics. Isn't Germany sort of doing the same thing? I do not know how much logistical help Germany is providing but criticising Germany for not sending in combatants is a tad unfair. I have always been for a military intervention in Mali because the looming invasion of the still free South was and still is a scary thought. But ECOWAS has a binding agreement with its members with regards to military intervention and they should be given the opportunity to adress this regional conflict on their own. France's involvement is not surprising due to the colonial history but guilty-talking other countries into joining the military manoeuvre is not diplomatic at all, especially coming from Britain.
3.
Jim Sherman 01/24/2013
This situation is a bit like being the frequent guest at the dinner table who never offers to cook. Germany benefits from the collective action by the West (U.S, UK, France) to support global peace and security, while putting itself rarely in harms way. This is no way to demonstrate leadership. The position on Libya was most regrettable (shocking actually), and this recent recalcitrance to stepping up to the plate (even with transport aid) when needed in Mali makes one wonder whether Germany needs a Foreign Minister. If the Minister wishes to avoid foreign entanglements, then he best take a job as Interior Minister.
4. Irrelevant Criticisms
stevej8 01/24/2013
In a world in which Germany has no real say in what goes on, in terms of the UN for example, where it has no more status or power than tiny island nations of a few thousand people, and is subject to a constant barrage of abuse over the period of the 'World Wars', often on the basis of ignorance and falsehood (such as that Germany started WW1 when it most certainly did not), but also in light of the actual legacy of that time, Germany is quite right to be very restrained in its involvement in foreign military action, and highly suspicious of attempts to embroil it in such situations merely to take some the the load off others who have commenced those actions and determined their scope and purpose. Merely trying to ingratiate itself with allies who do not reciprocate the necessary factors (such as according Germany an equal say on the world level and support truth in history regarding their own very substantial roles in the calamities of the 20th century) is a naive mistake unlikely to result in anything more than German troops and money being used to support and enforce agendas determined by others for their own perceived interests primarily, in practical reality if not rhetoric, with Germany being subject to even more abuse for 'revived militarism', especially when anything goes wrong as it always does in these situations. Westerwelle is quite right in this matter, if not for identical reasons.
5. Misplaced accusation
stevej8 01/29/2013
In a world in which Germany has no real say in what goes on, in terms of the UN for example, where it has no more official status or power than tiny island nations of a few thousand people, and is subject to a constant barrage of abuse over the period of the 'World Wars', often on the basis of ignorance and falsehood (such as that Germany started WW1 when it certainly did not), but also in light of the actual legacy of that time, Germany is quite right to be very restrained in its involvement in foreign military action, and highly suspicious of attempts to embroil it in such situations merely to take some the the load off others who have commenced those actions and determined their scope and purpose. Merely trying to ingratiate itself with allies who do not reciprocate the necessary factors (such as according Germany an equal say on the world level with respect for a different approach where appropriate and support truth regarding their own very substantial roles in the calamities of history) is a naive mistake unlikely to result in anything more than German troops and money being used to support and enforce agendas determined by others for their own perceived interests primarily, in practical reality if not rhetoric, with Germany being subject to even more abuse for 'revived militarism', especially when anything goes wrong as it always does in these situations. Westerwelle is quite right in this matter, if not for identical reasons. A 'mealy-mouthed foreign policy' is quite right for Germany, where it is just another term for a cautious and prudent one, however this may irk certain nations (or more properly certain individuals thereof) used to throwing their weight around on the world stage, a luxury Germany clearly does not any more possess.
Show all comments
    Page 1    
Keep track of the news

Stay informed with our free news services:

All news from SPIEGEL International
Twitter | RSS
All news from Germany section
RSS

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH



  • Print Send
  • Feedback
  • Comment | 6 Comments
From DER SPIEGEL

Photo Gallery
Photo Gallery: Mobilizing for Mali
Photo Gallery
Photo Gallery: Extremism in the Maghreb


European Partners
Presseurop

Politiken

Corriere della Sera

A&F Guilty of Age Discrimination

Berlusconi Given Community Service


Facebook
Twitter