LM Archives
  1:38 AM BST
LM Commentary Review Search
Comment Current LM Web review Mailing
lists Discuss Chat Events Search Archives Subject index Links Merchandise Overview FAQ Feedback Toolbar

Thomas Fischer reports from Frankfurt on the rehabilitation of German militarism

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' military intervention.

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 Somalia.

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 affairs.

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:
'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)
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.

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 future.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 58, August 1993

Subscribe to LM




Mail: webmaster@mail.informinc.co.uk