October 2, 2009

Nothing New on the German front? Part II

Having sketched out the security challenges facing Germany and the upcoming decisions that have to be made by the new administration in Part I of this analysis, I will now set out to discuss how Germany’s policy stance will develop under the new leadership.

Having sketched out the security challenges facing Germany and the upcoming decisions that have to be made by the new administration in Part I of this analysis, I will now set out to discuss how Germany’s policy stance will develop under the new leadership.

First off it is important to note that the CDU and the FDP see very much eye-to-eye concerning foreign and security policy. In the run up to the elections Guido Westerwelle explicitly lauded the policy made by the previous government, only criticizing the lack of effort in building up a working Afghan police force. There are only three principal bones of contention between the two parties. The first is Germany’s military mission in Lebanon, which the FDP voted against in parliament. We will therefore in all likelihood see a renewed discussion about the value and purpose of this mission – which has lasted three years already and is regarded as ineffective by many experts. The second issue is conscription. The FDP is very outspoken in its opposition to the German conscription regime, viewing it as unfair – in any given year only 45% of those eligible are drafted (only 13% do actual military service, the rest opts to do alternative social service); the remaining 55% are discharged, often on an arbitrary basis depending how many people the armed forces actually need at the moment. The CDU however, is adamantly opposed to abolishing conscription for mainly monetary reasons, but also because it fears that a purely professional army would lose touch with the rest of society. The final issue on which the two ruling parties are cross is disarmament. The FDP views Germany’s efforts in that respect as inadequate and Westerwelle has promised his voters that the remaining US nuclear weapons will disappear from German soil during the upcoming legislative period. Chancellor Merkel on the other hand, wants to keep these weapons on German soil, viewing this US involvement in Germany as vital in securing German influence in the alliance. I believe that the CDU will put neither conscription, nor the US nuclear missiles on the table in earnest during coalition talks.

The two parties are very much in agreement concerning their transatlantic orientation, which is much more pronounced than that of the SPD. This has several potential consequences. Firstly, the mission in Afghanistan is no longer in question (which it would have been under a left government). Especially reconstruction efforts and police training will almost certainly see additional support from Berlin. The Obama administration does, however, require its allies to also contribute more combat troops and loosen restrictions on their deployment. The new administration will be much more sympathetic towards this request than the previous one (or any other potential governing coalition), but the deployment of German soldiers in ‘war-like’ scenarios is a highly contentious and polarizing issue in Germany.

The current deployment of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan is taking place under the auspices of three different parliamentary mandates: 1) the ISAF mandate; 2) the OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) mandate; and 3) the mandate governing the deployment of German Tornado jets in air-surveillance. The ISAF mandate allows for the deployment of 4,500 German soldiers in Kabul and northern Afghanistan. They can also be deployed in other parts of the country if other NATO forces request emergency assistance. The exact wording here is: “Further, can [the forces] be deployed, for measures limited in time and extend, in other regions, if these measures are crucial to the fulfilment of the overall ISAF mission”.

The OEF mandate, as far as it concerns Afghanistan (it also includes navy deployment to the Horn of Africa and special anti-WMD troops to Kuwait), is the most controversial involvement. It allows for up to 300 German army special forces, the Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK), to be deployed in military missions, ranging from reconnaissance missions, over anti-terrorist operations to combat. KSK forces were involved in several crucial military missions starting as early as 2001. They were involved in the Task Force K-Bar (Combined Joined Special Operations Task Force leading the ground assault into Afghanistan), the battle for Tora-Bora, Operation Anaconda and the tracking and final apprehension of Abdul Razeq. This involvement has raised many question, in Parliament as well as publicly, concerning the legality of such actions in light of the high collateral damage inflicted on civilians by OEF and the US’ illegal detention and inhumane treatment of prisoners (some of which might also have been taken by KSK forces) in secret facilities. While the ISAF mission enjoys some support in the eyes of the Germans, OEF is generally viewed as a ‘bad job’.

The third mandate governs the deployment of German Tornado reconnaissance aircraft to support the missions in Afghanistan. This deployment has also been called into some disrepute, because gathered intelligence was used for OEF combat operations, tainting the operation with the same tarnish the OEF has gathered in German public opinion.

Hence, the situation for the new administration is quite gridlocked. Expanding the OEF mandate will, in all likelihood, be politically costly, due to the negative public impression of the US led operation. The ISAF mandate leaves some room for manoeuvre, but this leeway has, in my assessment, already been exhausted at the moment. Especially the rigidly fixed cap on troop size means that any additional involvement on the part of Germany will require a new mandate from the parliament. The new administration does however have a sufficient majority in the Bundestag to push it through. In my opinion the new coalition will wait for the strategic revision the Obama administration has announced. Once it is clear where the US is going with respect to Afghanistan and what is demanded of Germany, Chancellor Merkel will expand the ISAF mandate, loosening rules of engagement and increasing the size of the German contingent. This additional combat involvement will be modest though. A more substantial boost will be seen in German civil enterprises, such as reconstruction and police training. The other two mandates will not be altered, but only extended for another year.

Moving from Afghanistan to the middle east we find the next two hot-spots for German foreign and security policy. In the spirit of transatlantic cooperation and Germany’s focus on disarmament and non-proliferation Merkel’s new government will go along with a sanction regime against Iran, if negotiations in Geneva fail. However, every effort will be made on Germany’s part to keep the negotiation process alive and bring it to a successful conclusion if at al possible; for ideological as well as economic reasons. Any military solution to the problem, be it on the part of Israel or the US, will remain an anathema, unless the conflict escalates to yet unforeseeable heights.

The next issue on the agenda is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Policy vis-à-vis Israel is an extremely touchy subject in Germany, for obvious reasons. The general sentiment in Germany has swayed towards the Palestinians in recent years; hence, I believe that Germany will follow the US’ lead here, championing neither cause outspokenly. In the meanwhile, the usual diplomatic efforts to mediate between Palestinian groups and Israel, brokering prisoner exchanges, will continue.

As discussed in part one of brief analysis Germany is also facing security challenges on the home front. The main points here are energy security and German-Russian relations, which are or course interlinked. The new administration takes a more rational view on Russia than does the SPD and other German parties further to the left of the political spectrum. This means that the fact that Russia supplies roughly one third of German oil and gas needs is viewed as a problem. Since truly secure alternatives are thin, Germany could resort to nuclear power. Nuclear power is, however, very unpopular in Germany and the government under Schröder has actually agreed on phasing out nuclear energy by 2021. The new administration is sure to at least partially scrap this plan devised by the SPD and the Green party, prolonging the life of German nuclear facilities. Nuclear energy does, however, only provides 23.2% of German energy needs. To truly diversify and gain strategically important leeway, Germany would have to build new nuclear power plants though, which, considering the political climate, is unthinkable. Therefoere, the new coalition does not have this option. We might see an initiative to alter the public’s opinion on nuclear power, but this effort exceeds the term of this administration.

Related to both the energy problems and Germany’s interests in the Middle-East is the EU accession of Turkey. Here, a real effort on the German part could make all the difference. I, however, don’t see this administration opening that can of worms. For one, it is extremely controversial among the German constituency. In addition, the CSU (the CDU’s Bavarian sister party) is adamantly opposed to this. The CDU, hence, has also adopted the ‘privileged-partnership-model’ as its stance. The FDP is unlikely to change this; hence I believe we will not see movement here.

We will also not see much movement on German Russia policy, especially since Washington has ceased its confrontational course towards Russia and seems to act much more in line with what Germany has been preaching all along. Though the new government will take a strictly rational approach vis-à-vis Russia, anything less than cordial relations are not in Germany’s interest. Russia is too valuable as a partner in business, energy and global security. Germany’s core interests (stability in Europe, economic prosperity, the fight against global terrorism and disarmament and non-proliferation) are unattainable without Russia playing along.

So, Germany faces many problems in the coming years. While we will see German fulfilment of its transatlantic obligations – more so than we have before, even though it will be within the specifically German limitations – solutions for the energy problems are still not on the Horizon. Fears that Germany might flip on its western orientation and join forces with Russia are unfounded, especially under Merkel and Westerwelle, but good relations with Russia remain an issue close to Germany’s heart.

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