Germany Struggles with Military Role

Article excerpt

GERMANY, watching the postwar era fade into history, is struggling to redefine its role in the world.

Reunification started this process. But lawmakers, journalists, and political analysts here say that it is actually coalition criticism of Germany's nonparticipation in the Gulf war which is speeding it up.

Now that Germany is reunited and fully sovereign, it must take on more responsibility internationally, especially in global security, says Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

But becoming a nation among equals is a difficult transition. It means a sea change - dropping the postwar status of Germany as "economic giant, political dwarf, and military worm," as Wilhelm Hortmann wrote recently in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

Professor Hortmann's nearly full-page article, "What it means to be German," is just one among a multitude in the press as Germans try to sort out what Germany's responsibility to the world is.

In another leading conservative newspaper, Die Welt, political scientist Hans-Peter Schwarz warns against German "isolationism." He says the "big debate" has begun on how long, and at what price, the Germans can afford isolationism.

Meanwhile, the leading newspaper on the left, Die Zeit, argued in mid-March that the Gulf war victory was "dubious" and that Germans were thankfully not military participants. "Let them call us dodgers," wrote Marion Grafin Donhoff. "What do we care?"

The national debate on Germany's world role is also taking place in the Bundestag, or parliament. The issue there is how to change the German Constitution to allow out-of-NATO-area deployment of German troops. In the Gulf war, the Germans said their Constitution prevented them from deploying troops to the region.

Far from being a merely technical question, say lawmakers, military policy is the last hurdle on the road to German normalcy in international affairs.

"It's the last difficulty," says Bundestag member Rupert Scholz, a former defense minister under Mr. Kohl. Germany is complete in all other ways, he says, describing it as reunited, sovereign, and an economic and political motor in Europe.

The issue is also seen as a litmus test for Bonn vis-a-vis its allies. "A lot of German credibility rides on this," says Thomas Kielinger, editor-in-chief of the weekly Rheinischer Merkur. Aligning Germany's security policy with that of its European partners is essential if Europe is going to follow through on political union, says Mr. Kielinger. In the next conflict, Germany's allies will expect more than a check.

The responses to the out-of-area question reflect the degrees to which Germans are prepared to launch into new waters.

The Social Democrats (SPD), the opposition on the left, have the most limiting approach. For the moment, they agree that the German Army could take part in United Nations peacekeeping missions, but only under UN command and control.

The centrist Free Democrats, Kohl's junior coalition partner, go a step further and support UN-sanctioned excursions, even if they are not under UN command. …