The Bundeswehr Abroad Don't Shoot, We're German!

By Eric Chauvistré

Part 2: The Greatest Absurdity in the German Debate

This attitude is key to understanding one of the greatest absurdities in the German debate on military policy: the nearly cult-like insistence on a separation between the ISAF mission on the one hand and the participation in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) on the other. The relationship between these two missions was highly unusual from the start.

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) is the name that the U.S. government gave to all activities that were allegedly directed against "international terrorism" after the attacks on September 11, 2001. OEF's main focus was the war in Afghanistan. In November 2001, the Bundestag approved German participation in OEF in a mandate that included, among other things, the deployment of special forces, the presence of naval units off the Horn of Africa, and the stationing of chemical reconnaissance vehicles in Kuwait. In doing so, it cited the right to self-defense granted every state under Section 51 of the United Nations Charter. By formal definition, Germany has deployed its special forces in Afghanistan and frigates off the coast of Djibouti in order to defend against a military assault on the territory of the United States. Seven years after the attacks in New York and Washington, this link can still be found in Bundestag resolutions for the mandates. Accordingly, the Bundeswehr is still engaged in defending the United States.

In December 2001, the Bundestag passed the mandate for the ISAF. Its objective was not only to defend the transitional government established in the wake of the Afghanistan Conference at Petersberg in Bonn, but also to protect international personnel in Kabul. The mandates of the UN Security Council and the Bundestag were strictly limited to the Afghan capital. This restriction was loosened in 2003, when the Bundeswehr set up an outpost in Kunduz, and was ultimately lifted in 2005. Ever since, the ISAF has operated throughout Afghanistan, and a large number of US and British troops are now under ISAF instead of OEF command. Their operations have not changed.

The parallel existence of OEF and ISAF in Afghanistan has been absurd from the start. On the one hand, ISAF installed a so-called protection force in the country. On the other, many of the same states that took part in ISAF continued to fight the war launched against Al Qaeda in October 2001. The only difference is that they are now under a formally separate command. In other words, the UN Security Council ordered a protection force to be deployed by the very same states that were engaged in an offensive military operation in the country.

The justification presented in the Bundestag mandates for German participation is equally absurd. The OEF mandate cites not only Section 51 of the UN charter, but also Section 5 of the NATO Treaty, which contains the alliance's collective defense clause. Nevertheless, as an organization, NATO has had nothing to do with implementing OEF. After September 11, the alliance invoked the mutual defense clause, but paradoxically, NATO is not involved in waging war. So far OEF has been carried out outside the NATO framework by a loose "coalition of the willing" under US command. The opposite is true of the ISAF, which has been organized by NATO. Unlike OEF, though, no attempt has been made to legitimize the ISAF by citing the mutual defense clause in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. Rather, NATO sees itself here as a sub-contractor of the UN Security Council. Strictly speaking, the ISAF has nothing to do with the "war on terror."

If we accept this extraordinary definition of the Bundestag mandate at face value, the OEF is actually a mission of defense. But even the politicians who routinely pass the mandate every year do not seem to believe this. How else can one explain their verbal contortions and distancing efforts?

And yet, the question remains: what exactly is going on here? The Bundestag approves participation in a mission that has been submitted by the government. So far, so good. A few weeks later the government applies for an additional mission, and the motion also passes the Bundestag. Now, we can be opposed to either mission. That is irrelevant here, and up to this point the government makes a plausible case. But then, whenever the ISAF mandate is up for renewal, Berlin attempts to drum up support by arguing that this mission has nothing to do with the other one -- the OEF -- which was approved by the same government a few weeks apart.

Autoimmune Response

In a kind of political autoimmune response, the executive and legislative are putting a significant amount of their political energy into distancing themselves from a military operation to which they have contributed. The politicians who demand that one mission be distinguished from the other are in reality attempting to divorce themselves from their own resolutions. There are only two possibilities: either parliament supports the objectives and tactics formulated in the OEF mandate, in which case there is no reason to hide behind a supposed difference between the two missions, or it does not, in which case German lawmakers must vote it down.

The problem facing many parliamentarians is that they have read a great deal into the mandates for foreign missions, and they are now confusing this with their actual contents. There is, however, a simple remedy: they could finally take the time to carefully read the resolutions they have passed. After all, the mandate for OEF contains a clear description of the mission: "The goal of this operation is to render terrorist command and training facilities inoperative, to combat, capture and put terrorists on trial, and to keep third parties from providing support for terrorist activities."

A military mandate can hardly go further than the explanations in the Bundestag mandate for OEF. They provide tremendous leeway when it comes to structuring the mission. The only thing they do not impose are restrictions. "Render inoperative" -- this means, in cases of doubt, destroying facilities, and killing enemy fighters. It also means the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. If the armed forces of other nations were to engage in such actions, one would hear criticism in Germany of unacceptable "target killings." But it is apparently acceptable to give such orders to German troops. Bundeswehr soldiers have in fact never been deployed in this manner, but the mandate does make such missions possible. Strictly speaking, the mandate would not be fulfilled if the Bundeswehr did not perform these tasks.

This applies to the rest of the Bundestag resolution as well. After all, "fighting" means exactly that: armed battle. And even the goal of capturing and putting terrorists on trial is described with unmistakable clarity.

When members of the Bundestag vote on mandates for foreign missions, it is "on the record." Such recorded votes are otherwise only used for a small number of parliamentary bills and resolutions. The decision made by every member is clear for all to see and is entered into the minutes. Even if members of the Bundestag cannot be expected to carefully read every single bill they consider in a legislative period, they should certainly be expected to do so for recorded votes. Nevertheless, many representatives have apparently not read the OEF mandate with particular care. In October 2006, Claudia Roth, chairwoman of the Greens, stated: "It is intolerable to me that German soldiers should participate or watch when people are tortured or brought to camps without legal counsel." At this time, media coverage was dominated by reports about Murat Kurnaz, a German citizen who accused members of German special forces of torturing him in a US camp in Afghanistan. One undisputed fact that emerged from these charges is that German soldiers have been deployed in such camps, which is probably sanctioned by the mandate.

Roth's statements reveal the grave illusions that many leading German politicians harbor about Bundeswehr missions. Were there not reliable media reports as early as 2002 describing conditions in the camps run by US forces for those prisoners identified as "enemy combatants" or terrorists? And how can a politician truly be horrified about the deployment of German special forces in such U.S. camps when he or she gave them the mandate to "capture terrorists" in the framework of the OEF resolution? After all, it follows from the parliamentary motion that German special forces would either take prisoners themselves, as is specified in the mandate, or participate in US operations to hunt down actual or suspected terrorists. What other duties were the OEF troops in Afghanistan supposed to have?


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