Newspaper article International New York Times

Germany Rethinks Its Foreign Policy ; Spurred by Global Crises, Officials Ask for New Focus in Diplomacy and Military

Newspaper article International New York Times

Germany Rethinks Its Foreign Policy ; Spurred by Global Crises, Officials Ask for New Focus in Diplomacy and Military

Article excerpt

Some leaders are suggesting that the country should no longer reflexively avoid some military deployments, as it did in Libya almost three years ago.

German leaders are pushing a vigorous new case that it is time for their nation to find a more muscular voice in foreign affairs, even suggesting that Germany should no longer reflexively avoid some military deployments, as it did in Libya almost three years ago.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to weigh in on the use of the military, and it is not clear how willing the German public is to embrace a more assertive posture. But a variety of senior officials are urging a rethinking of the country's assumptions about its diplomatic and military role. They are driven partly by alarm about crises from Ukraine to Africa, but also by unease about the strength of Germany's partnership with the United States after revelations of American spying, and about American officials' increasing reluctance to take the lead in interventions.

President Joachim Gauck sent the strongest signal yet of a possible change in direction with a speech late on Friday at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering that attracts an array of world leaders and defense experts and has historically been a forum for sharp policy debates.

Germany's Nazi and Communist pasts are no excuse for ducking international duties, Mr. Gauck said. He argued that the current Germany -- "the best we have ever known," he said -- was well established as a democracy and as a reliable partner and ally, and that it should step out "earlier, more decisively and more substantially" on the world stage.

The president has no power to make policy under Germany's Constitution, but is expected to guide debate.

Gunther Nonnenmacher, co-publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a center-right newspaper, wrote after the speech that Mr. Gauck "may well have spoken the authoritative word in the debate over German foreign and security policy."

In his widely covered speech, Mr. Gauck, who was a Lutheran pastor in Communist East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell, told his 80 million compatriots that stepping up to the demands of a fast- changing world was "the greatest challenge of our time."

Without mentioning Libya -- Germany abstained from a United Nations vote endorsing military intervention therein 2011 and refused to take any part -- Mr. Gauck signaled that such behavior should not be repeated. International airstrikes against Libya helped lead to the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

German troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001 and in the Balkans since the 1990s. But, particularly during Ms. Merkel's second term, the country has shied away from other military action, in part because the euro zone crisis has consumed its attention. France has taken a more active role in policing conflicts, including sending troops to Mali. …

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