Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung (right) in Berlin.
The 2006 White Paper is aimed at upgrading the national security policy for an era of "assymmetrical threats" like terrorism and providing peacekeeping or security-building forces in Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere. In the wake of 9/11 Germany is also part of that assymetrical threat. In one of the more controversial points, the paper cites "the need to expand the constitutional framework for the deployment of the armed forces," including on home soil in exceptional cases where police authorities alone cannot overcome a threat. The new White Paper also affirms Germany's international commitment in particular to NATO and the European Union, and mentions the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as a potential threat, and defines keeping sea channels clear for international free trade and "secure access to energy resources" as primary national interests.
On Wednesday, the country's commentators seem split over the propsed security overhaul.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung is surprised by the "indifference with which the public passes over issues of the armed forces." The center-left daily sees the fact that few people are paying attention to the White Book debate as a sign that "the armed forces have become an integral part of everyday life" -- a positive development in the eyes of the paper. It lauds the armed forces, which "in general are doing a good job." Contrary to recent accusations that the German army is under-funded and poorly equipped, the paper even believes that as far as Germany's new international commitments are concerned, "the armed forces certainly still have the capacity to meet these expectations." In sum, the center-left paper is fully supportive of Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung's new White Paper, which "describes the Bundeswehr as an instrument of a comprehensive and forward-looking security policy, thereby assigning the armed forces their due place in society."
Die Welt is less jazzed about the White Paper. Like most commentators, the conservative daily also observes a kind of public indifference about the raison d'être of its armed forces. Far from seeing this indifference as a positive sign, the paper offers a grimmer assessment: "People are barely aware of the dangers that surround them." The paper warns that "this lack of communication and ideas is not without risk," since one and a half decades of "unfocused interventions" could lead to a new "era of isolationism." The newspaper does not repudiate the post-9/11 consensus that former Social Democratic Defense Minister Peter Struck immortalized with the phrase, "Germany's security is also defended in the Hindu Kush." However, it laments the lack of clear guidelines for international missions, and claims that the White Paper's "vague formulations" do nothing to remedy the problem. "Is the Navy required to combat piracy in the Straight of Malacca in order to secure the trade routes for the German export nation?" the paper asks somewhat facetiously. While no one is willing to deal with these questions at the moment, the paper says, "reality may soon ask them."
And SPIEGEL ONLINE's Severin Weiland concurs that the White Paper is full of "woolly phrases about Germany's global interests." He writes that "the grand coalition (of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats) eschews a clear definition" of Germany's interests in the White Book. Instead, its "readers have to piece them together from trace elements interspersed at various places in the book." Weiland points to a major policy shift for Germany's armed forces, manifest in the White Paper's list of priorities: "It is not national defense which takes first place, but rather 'the capacity to act in foreign affairs.'"
Meanwhile, the mass-circulation Bild newspaper indirectly expresses its own doubts about Germany's role in international missions. The Wednesday edition of the paper shows pictures taken in 2003 of German soldiers in Afghanistan amusing themselves in obscene ways with a human skull. Alongside that report, a commentary strongly condemns the soldiers' "repulsive activities," and says that these revelations raise new questions: "Are soldiers of the Bundeswehr sufficiently trained and prepared for foreign assignments? Are their superiors always aware of their great responsibility? Does the selection process for these missions need to be reviewed and revised where necessary?" The military leadership "owes the answers to these questions to the German soldiers risking life and limb in Afghanistan and other parts of the world," the paper concludes.
-- Alex Bakst, 3:30 p.m. CET
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