The World from Berlin Tornados in Afghanistan, Political Twisters in Germany

Germany's highest court has rejected a petition from a left-wing party to have reconnaissance jets withdrawn from Afghanistan. Editorialists, however, fear the court, while making the right decision, may have given the government overly broad freedom for NATO missions abroad.

German soldiers watch a Tornado jet fighter in Afghanistan

German soldiers watch a Tornado jet fighter in Afghanistan

Germany's high court on Tuesday ruled against a suit filed by the pacifist Left Party claiming that the deployment of "Tornado" reconnaissance jets to southern Afghanistan had violated the country's constitution.

In March, Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, voted to send six Tornado reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan to support the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there. They are being used to scout Taliban positions in order to provide indirect support for US and allied troops on the ground in southern Afghanistan fighting the insurgency.

In its complaint, the Left Party claimed that NATO had gone beyond its mandate of defending the alliance's member countries. Left Party members fear that German troops could eventually be dragged into the deadly fighting in the south, which has caused heavy casualties among NATO troops engaged there.

But in their ruling, justices at the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, said the government had not violated the country's 1955 law stipulating the conditions of NATO deployments. The court said that the deployment, which had been approved by the United Nations Security Council and is being led by NATO, is constitutionally kosher.

Its aim is to provide security needed to rebuild Afghanistan and to prevent the restrengthening of the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Islamist Taliban. And even though Afghanistan is geographically distant from the NATO alliance, the court affirmed that German troops were deployed in a country that -- as former host to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden -- had in fact attacked a NATO member country on Sept. 11, 2001, and that the deployment "serves the security of the Euro-Atlantic area."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The justices have given the government, NATO and the Bundeswehr (Germany's military) carte blanche. They haven't set any kind of limits for these types of military actions. The Karlsruhe ruling, the third and most generous in terms of the Bundeswehr's foreign deployments, provides blank check authorization for foreign policy and just about any strategy NATO comes up with. It's also a defeat for parliament, whose calls to reopen the NATO treaty have been ignored."

"Few Karlsruhe rulings have been as clear in their meaning and function: If someone does something that is legally controversial for long enough, without anyone tapping him on the shoulder, then eventually it will become the norm. In this case, the controversy is the 'out of area' deployments -- in other words those that go outside of the Euro-Atlantic zone described in the NATO treaty."

"This hackneyed ruling mainly says: As long as NATO merely claims that its actions are intended to provide security, then they fall within the scope of the 1955 NATO treaty. And wherever NATO intervenes militarily, the connection to the Euro-Atlantic region is given by virtue of this intervention, since NATO would not intervene if there were no connection to its geographic area and to its interests. So what's left? The Constitutional Court has accepted a self-legitimation of the political and military executive -- and it has pushed parliament's right to co-determination in the reform of the NATO treaty into the margins."

The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The court saw as proven that ISAF's 'crisis reaction deployment' in Afghanistan had a 'time and space' connection to the original aggression, the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. But even this assessment is factually inaccurate. Even if one is of the opinion that the US had acted permissibly and in self-defense, today's war in Afghanistan no longer has any connection to that. If the necessary time and space criteria context is stretched as far as it has been in this case, then any warlike NATO action in the future will be considered legitimate defense."

"The court took care to separate the NATO's operation, ISAF, from the US anti-terror mission Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in order to underscore ISAF's peacekeeping character. That's because only peacekeeping missions are permitted by the German constitution. But (calls in Brussels and Washington for) the merger of OEF and ISAF easily contradict the court's conclusions."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"In other democratic countries, it would be unthinkable for a high court to take up a case from a party in parliament claiming that a NATO deployment of a country's troops had violated the rights of parliament -- especially a deployment that had already been approved by parliament. But in other countries, such war-time deployments are first and foremost the business of the executive. In Germany, nothing is possible without approval from parliament -- and, if necessary, every single deployment of the Bundeswehr will also be monitored by the Constitutional Court."

"The justices only activate themselves (on security policies) when petitioned, and the Left Party appears prepared to have every possible deployment be reviewed by the judiciary. But they will have limited success. At the same time, even in an era of assymetrical threats and the kind of military responses they require -- and the indisputable changes happening at the UN and NATO (and also in the EU), not to mention the obligations Germany has there -- Karlsruhe has again confirmed: German soldiers can only be deployed with a parliamentary mandate and under the precepts of peacekeeping."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"The Left Party is now even further from its goal of withdrawing the Bundeswehr from Aghanistan. At the same time, the German government is also far from achieving its goal of establishing security in Aghanistan. Six years after they were driven out, the Taliban are now advancing. And if one is to believe Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, then the jihadists also threaten to attack Germany. The Afghanistan deployment has gotten out of control. ... Still, the Constitutional Court is not the appropriate place to solve the growing problems. Nor is the Bundestag. It is only German participation in the mission that is decided in Berlin. The total political and military strategy is being determined by NATO in Brussels and the US government in Washington."

"What is happening there, should certainly give the Constitutional Court justices reason for pause. Brussels and Washington are currently considering the merger of the NATO ISAF mission with the US-led OEF. OEF falls under neither the NATO defense clause nor the UN mandate. If the two are truly merged in deployments, then the ensuing mission could indeed violate Germany's constitution."

-- Daryl Lindsey, 3 p.m. CET


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