It was a big day for Germany. On Jan. 1 of this year, Germany began a two-year stint as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was resolute: "Germany will be a reliable, responsible and engaged partner," he said. "We will do our part to ensure that the world continues to see the Council as the central body for peace and security in the world."
This week, however, his message was a different one. The Council voted on Thursday in New York to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and to take "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in the country from the advancing forces of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The move came as a last-ditch effort to halt pro-Gadhafi forces as they advance toward Benghazi, one of the final rebel strongholds, in a move to crush the insurrection that has gripped Libya since mid-February.
Germany, however, along with China and Russia, abstained from the vote. "It was not an easy choice," Westerwelle said in Berlin on Friday. "But in weighing the decision, including the risks, we came to the conclusion that we will not take part in a war, in a military mission in Libya, with German troops."
The political opposition in Berlin expressed agreement with the decision. Speaking at a press conference in Stuttgart, where he was campaigning ahead of next weekend's state elections, Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel said "I can understand the skepticism, and for that reason the abstention was the right move." Jürgen Trittin, his counterpart from the Green Party added: "It is good that the abstention did not block the resolution."
But the Green Party's co-leader, Cem Özdemir, criticized the government's abstention in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Despite the risks associated with a no-fly zone, Germany should have voted on the side of its European partners like France and Great Britain," he said. "The core of our actions must be the prevention of Gadhafi's war against his own people as well as providing aid for the refugees using proportionate means." Özdemir also said he was relieved by the resolution. "I am pleased by the decision and I sincerely hope that it hasn't come too late."
The immediate results of the resolution remain unclear. French sources told Reuters that action against pro-Gadhafi forces in Libya could begin within hours. NATO ambassadors were meeting on Friday to discuss the alliance's response to the UN resolution and said the group was "planning for all eventualities." France and Britain have been the primary movers behind the passage of a strong UN resolution, but US President Barack Obama spoke with both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday and pledged US support.
Speaking in Tunisia, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that a no-fly zone would include "certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems."
The regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, for its part, has insisted that it is not concerned. In comments on Friday in the wake of the UN Security Council resolution authorizing the establishment of a no-fly zone over the country and military action to protect civilians from Gadhafi's troops, the dictator's son, Saif al-Islam, said that Libya was "not afraid."
His father was more explicit. In announcing plans to advance on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, in northeastern Libya, Gadhafi senior said: "It's over. The issue has been decided. We are coming. ... We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity."
Residents of the Libyan town of Misrata have reported that pro-Gadhafi forces have been bombarding the town with heavy artillery since early Friday morning. In addition, witnesses said that the Libyan air force flew three sorties against Benghazi on Thursday. Gadhafi had pledged to surround Benghazi on Friday ahead of moves to retake the city, which has been firmly in rebel hands for three weeks.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Egypt has begun shipping weapons to anti-Gadhafi forces across the border and that Washington is aware of the shipments. Qatar has said it would join international efforts establish peace in Libya.
The European Union, however, has urged close cooperation among all international partners. In a joint statement, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton, Europe's high representative for foreign affairs, said: "We must ensure that we continue to coordinate closely, together with the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and other international partners."
And Germany, it would seem, is not going to be completely uninvolved. According to government sources, the administration of Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered to take part in AWACS surveillance flights over Afghanistan -- as a way of freeing up US aircraft for the coming operation in Libya.