Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Rethinking German Pacifism

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Rethinking German Pacifism

Article excerpt

The country's catastrophic military history has become an excuse for not doing the right things today.

Would the Germany of today help liberate the Germany of 1944? You don't need to tap Angela Merkel's phone to find the answer: It's no.

Germany is Europe's unrivaled superpower, its largest economy and its most powerful political force. And yet if its response to recent global crises, and the general attitude of its leaders and citizens, are any indication, there appears to be nothing that will get the German government to consider military intervention: not even a clear legal basis for action, not even an acknowledged security interest, not even an obvious moral duty.

Such adamant antipathy is actually a source of pride in Germany. The departing foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, likes to talk of a "culture of military restraint," knowing that he describes a mainstream sentiment.

What does this "culture" mean? Has Europe's strongest nation really chosen to become the world's biggest Switzerland?

Consider its impressive recent record of inaction. The 2011 conflict in Libya met all the requirements to justify a textbook humanitarian intervention: Civilians striving for freedom were attacked by the air force of a psychotic dictator. The United Nations Security Council approved an intervention, as did the Arab League. Yet even though the military action required, a no-fly zone, was limited and low-risk for the participating states, the Germans not only sent no jets, but they withdrew their personnel from NATO's Awacs radar planes above the Mediterranean.

Then, during the Islamist takeover in northern Mali, Germany even identified the prevention of an "African Afghanistan" as being in the European interest -- and wished the French Army best of luck in its endeavor.

And in Syria, not even President Bashar al-Assad's gassing his own people provoked a debate in the Parliament of the very country that otherwise (and rightly) never tires of accepting historical responsibility for the Holocaust.

Defense-minded politicians in Berlin rail against this picture, arguing that postwar Germany has participated in major military operations. Take Kosovo! Take Afghanistan! Big missions!

Don't be fooled. It is perfectly clear by now that these interventions hardly represent the rule; rather, they are two exceptions from a convenient and holier-than-thou foreign policy attitude, one the Germans have cultivated over the past 70 years.

Germany should always remember its catastrophic military history. But the Germany of today is a different country from the one of 1914 or of 1939. Instead, that history has become an excuse for not doing the right things today.

As Germany dwells on that past, the rest of the world has moved on. None of our European neighbors are calling for a militarily constrained Germany anymore. …

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