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LIBYA: Broad German Consensus Against a ‘Risky War’

Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Mar 19 2011 (IPS) - The decision by the German government not to support the U.N. Security Council resolution adopted last Thursday to establish a “no-fly zone” in Libyan airspace expresses a widespread concern in Germany against military interventions abroad.

The German government abstained, arguing that it was not ready to take part in a military intervention in Libya. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace was tantamount to sending ground troops to the Maghreb country.

Although the German abstention has provoked some criticism, especially by humanitarian organisations, it also represents a broad consensus among all political parties.

The establishment of the no-fly zone aims at stopping the airborne military operations the regime in Tripoli has been carrying out for the last two weeks against the rebels who want to overthrow President Muammar al Gaddafi who came to power in a military coup in 1969.

The no-fly zone, expected to be implemented this weekend, foresees airborne military strikes against Libyan infrastructure, especially airports and landing strips as well as against Libyan military hotspots. France and Britain will carry out the bulk of these strikes.

In the German government’s analysis, such military operations won’t be enough to stop the civil war, and will necessarily lead to the dispatch of ground troops.

Westerwelle condemned the Libyan regime for its brutal repression of the revolt, and maintained that Gaddafi has lost “all legitimacy.” However, Westerwelle added, “I don’t see German troops in Libya; I don’t want Germany involved in an extended war in an Arab country.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel also defended the decision, but said that it should not be mistaken for neutrality. “We share the goals of the U.N. resolution unreservedly,” Merkel said. “Our abstention should not be confused with neutrality.”

Merkel and Westerwelle lead the centre-right coalition government comprising the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP).

During an emergency summit with other heads of government in Paris Saturday to analyse the crisis in Libya, Merkel said that German AWACS aerial reconnaissance could take over additional duties in Afghanistan, and thus reduce the U.S. forces’ tasks there, facilitating them to be deployed in the Maghreb.

Germany takes part since 2001 in the U.S.-led, U.N.-sanctioned International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

Germany’s refusal to support the U.N. Security Council Libya decision has provoked a wave of criticism, both at the national and the international level. In Germany, humanitarian organisations and some opposition leaders called the government’s abstention “a disgrace.”

Former development cooperation minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, a senior member of the leading opposition Social Democratic Party, said during a parliamentary debate on the issue, that “There can be no abstention when it comes to dealing with despots. This decision is a disgrace.”

The German office of the Society for Threatened Peoples is of the view that the government’s decision not to participate in the military operations against the Gaddafi regime was motivated by national electoral motives.

The conservative coalition of CDU and FDP is risking defeat in several regional elections taking place this month.

Westerwelle and Merkel “must decide whether they are making electoral campaign in Germany or representing Germany abroad,” said Ulrich Delius, an expert on Africa for the Society for Threatened Peoples. “For its position on the Libyan question, the German government may win praise from Gaddafi, but it damages German credibility worldwide.”

Delius recalled that only one month ago, Germany was praising the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia as democratic revolts against dictators. “Now, motivated by petty party politics, it is acting as mere witness of the massacres committed by Gaddafi,” he added.

But most opposition leaders do share the government’s position. Former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, parliamentary leader of the SPD, supports the German abstention. “It is right to doubt whether attacks from the air will really help the people of Libya,” he said.

The Left party, a coalition of former Communist and SPD dissidents, also supported the abstention. The Green party leader Juergen Trittin simply suggested that Germany could offer Libyan refugees temporary shelter, but otherwise backed the government.

The broad German political consensus reflects the general opposition of the German citizenry against military interventions abroad. According to reliable opinion polls, more than 60 percent of the German population have always opposed the German military participation in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan.

The German ISAF troops mostly support development policy measures in northern Afghanistan, far from the most conflict-ridden regions in the south and the east of the south-central Asian country. However, the mission has taken a deadly toll: 48 German soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001.

It has also provoked several scandals — German soldiers have been involved in the killing of Afghan civilians, and in other deadly incidents not directly related to the war against the Taliban.

The German opposition to military operations abroad was also documented by the country’s opposition to the U.S. intervention in Iraq.

Besides, the German abstention is a consequence of the military assessment of the situation in Libya. In an interview with the German media, deputy Defence Minister Christian Schmidt described the situation in the Maghreb country as “extremely complex.” He said: “We have found out that most of the Libyan military continues to be loyal to Muammar al Gaddafi.”

This assessment supports Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s warning that a foreign military intervention in Libya would lead to a long and risky war, which could also provoke terrorist attacks against targets in European territories.

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