Thomas Fischer reports from Frankfurt on the rehabilitation of German
Back in the family
'From now on, we Germans are back in the family', said Major Georg Bernhard
as he arrived at Mogadishu airport. For the first time since the Second
World War, armed German soldiers had been sent abroad. From July more than
1700 German blue helmets arrived in Somalia to join the United Nations'
The rebirth of German militarism is an important step for a government seeking
to play a major role in shaping the New World Order. It has provoked a lot
of controversy in Germany. Should German troops be involved in foreign interventions - and
if so, as peacekeepers or as peace-enforcers? Should the Bundeswehr only
be allowed to fight under a UN mandate, and should the opposition parties
in parliament be asked before troops are sent abroad? The debate around
these questions has created the appearance of a big gap between the government
and the opposition.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) has argued against the military objectives
of the governing coalition - the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the
Free Democratic Party (FDP). The SPD attacked chancellor Helmut Kohl first
for sending German warships to the Adriatic to monitor the embargo against
Serbia, then for deciding that Germany would participate in the Awacs flights
over Bosnia. Finally, the Social Democrats handed an urgent complaint to
the German constitutional court in Karlsruhe against the intervention in
It might appear that the SPD wants to stop the rise of German militarism.
But, in fact, there is not very much of a debate. The Social Democrats only
have unconvincing criticisms of the government's objectives. Their main
objection is not to the interventions themselves, but more to the procedures
by which the government has launched them. The SPD wants to have a say in
parliament before troops are sent abroad, and argues that a change in the
constitution is necessary to legitimise military operations.
The debate about the intervention in Somalia revealed the opposition's real
aims. Only after UN soldiers were shot in Mogadishu and the USA started
hunting for General Aideed, did Social Democrats try to stop German participation
in the intervention through an urgent complaint at the constitutional court.
The SPD argued that the intervention had now changed its character because
German soldiers could be shot. The court decided that the German soldiers
should stay in Somalia, but that there should be another debate and a vote
in parliament. The SPD celebrated that as a success.
During this debate in early July, Social Democrats objected again to the
sending of German troops to Somalia because the government had not spelled
out the real reasons for doing so. The government won the vote. Then the
chairman of the SPD MPs, Hans-Ulrich Klose, rose and wished the German troops
good luck and a healthy return. It looked as if the SPD had a split personality.
The exchange in parliament highlighted the true character of the disagreements
between the government and the opposition, and explained the divided soul
of the SPD. It showed that the debate about German militarism has two aspects
which cannot be separated.
First of all, a consensus has been established in Germany, as in other Western
nations, in support of the Western powers' moral right to intervene wherever
they want in the world. All sides agree that the West, far from being the
problem, is the only solution for the third world and Eastern Europe.
The second aspect of the debate is the discussion about the practical consequences
of these assumptions for German foreign policy. In other words, as soon
as the idea is spelled out, that Western interventions are morally justified,
the question has to be answered: what does this mean for Germany?
The SPD and CDU have no differences regarding the West's right to interfere
in other countries' affairs. The Social Democrats have never opposed the
moral rearmament of Western imperialism. Indeed they have actively supported
all recent Western interventions - from Iraq to Bosnia and Somalia-- and
even endorsed the principle of Germany taking more responsibility in international
The disagreements between the CDU and the SPD are only about what this practically
means at home. While the CDU is not afraid of taking the second step, demanding
that German troops join the Western interventionist camp, the SPD doesn't
seem to want to do so. Interventions yes, but not (or not yet) with German
soldiers, has been the party's line.
In fact there is not very much of an option, since if you agree that interventions
are a moral responsibility for the Western powers, the logical conclusion
is to agree on Germany's participation. This is why the SPD has got the
image of being confused on the subject of Germany's new military role. It
tried to avoid the practical consequences of the ideas which it supported.
Helmut Schmidt, the most recent Social Democrat chancellor of Germany (until
1982), is very telling on this dilemma. In an article in the weekly Die
Zeit he opposed the military intervention in Somalia while at the same
time asking for a new consensus of support for the German army:
Schmidt is more concerned about what could happen if a German soldier is
shot and the public reacts against the intervention, than about the rise
of German militarism.
- 'Our soldiers need the confidence that their tasks are morally legitimised.
They need the confidence that their tasks are strategically necessary. They
need the confidence in the army leadership and its legitimacy. The forces
need as well...the fundamental backing of public opinion.' (16 April 1993)
Behind the rhetorical disagreements about Germany's military role, relations
between the CDU and the SPD look more like a division of labour than a debate.
The Social Democrats concentrate on preparing a new moral legitimacy for
German interventions around the world. Meanwhile, the Christian Democrats
get on with the job. Both parties are helping to clear the decks for the
rehabilitation of German militarism in the Western adventures of the near
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 58, August 1993