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22 April 2011, Gateway House

Germany: Charting its own course

Germany’s abstention on the UN Resolution on Libya heralds the mellowing of a nation blamed for last century’s most catastrophic wars. This time, Berlin may determine the history of Europe by choosing to pursue its national interests peacefully rather than subjugating an entire populace.

Director, Gateway House

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While NATO attacks on Libyan forces continue intermittently another debate rages alongside. That concerns why Germany abstained on Resolution 1973 – which authorizes the use of all necessary measures “…to protect civilians “- alongside China, Russia, India, and Brazil instead of with its NATO partners who had moved the Resolution.

The West, led by France, and UK with a more reluctant US introduced the UN Resolution on March 17, 2011, began the bombing of Libya in just two days and passed the baton on to NATO which continues the military action.

The leaders of the NATO countries say that they are acting to prevent a humanitarian disaster and there have been several hundred casualties after almost two months of clashes between Gaddafi’s troops and the rebels centered around Benghazi and Misrata. NATO air attacks have tilted the military balance in favour of the rebels, though not decisively, and efforts to arrange a ceasefire and identify a country willing to give safe haven to Gaddafi are underway. However President Obama has made it clear that regime change in Libya is imperative. But no one really knows who the rebels are and what they stand for. So although there is no time-frame for regime change, the outcome can only be either an East-West division of the country or a unified country making a prolonged and messy transition in which modernist forces will be ranged against deeply religious and possibly Al Qaeda-aligned  movements.

The question of why Germany, a faithful member of NATO and an enthusiastic Europeanist, dealt what the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung says is a “a blow to trans-Atlantic and European unity and security cooperation,” is preoccupying everyone. American analysts have been sharply critical suggesting as Roger Cohen of the New York Times did that the US stands at a “nadir” in post war diplomacy with Germany. In an interview to Der Spiegel, the French author Bernard Henri-Levy, known for his pro-American views, said that “we lost a great deal of time because of the Germans, which is a disaster, mainly for the Libyans, but also for the Germans who will pay bitterly for abstaining.” The more respected Briton, Timothy Garton Ash accused the Germans of having given a “stab in the back to its principal European partners, the US and the Arab League.”

Some German analysts have been even sharper in their criticism. Former German Foreign Minister and erstwhile Green, Joschka Fischer, who while in office did the most amazing transformation to become pro-American over the Bosnian crisis, has argued in the Suddeutsche Zeitung  that Germany’s ambition to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council had possibly been” kicked into the can once and for all.” Freelance journalist, Ullrich Fichtner writing for Der Speigel accused Germany of having read the future wrong and also of being on the “wrong side of history.” He and many others blame the German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle for having acted for domestic political reasons, keeping an eye on elections in Bad Wurttemberg (which Chancellor Merkel”s coalition lost anyway)

While  Foreign Minister Westerwelle is  “blamed” for Germany’s abstention, much more important is for us to understand whether this vote was a one-off or a trend. Since its unification in 1990, Germany has struggled to overcome its post-Second World War pacifism. A Resolution was passed in 1991 after heated debate, under the stewardship of then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to interpret the Basic Law which governs Germanys post war defence posture in such a way as to enable German forces to participate in UN peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, followed by the first invasion of Iraq in 1991 and incrementally in NATO out-of-area missions, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since the end of the Second World War, Germany and France have been the most enthusiastic participants of the European project to deepen and widen the European Union for the same reason – Germany, to restrain itself following the deep shame of the Holocaust, and France to tie down Germany which it fears. Despite the deeply felt and expressed reservations of the German people over relinquishing the Deutschmark and the cost of German unification, Germany has prospered and became the largest manufacturing nation in Europe.

With each European economy that it has been forced to rescue from its own profligacy –Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and so forth – the German people and even the government, have become more and more uneasy and begun to enunciate the unthinkable –to expel countries from the Euro zone or to take itself out.

Although the United States played a major role in the allied victory in World War I, it lapsed back into isolationism and did not make the intellectual transition of seeing itself as anything other than an appendage of Great Britain till after the Second World War The Holocaust became the central motif of the Second World War and ended with the division of Germany and the loss of its colonies in Africa. Asia and Africa were entangled in the battles and politics of the world wars because of their colonial status.

However, more than sixty years have passed since the end of the Second World War and Germany has paid billions of dollars in blood money to Israel. Even more to its credit, it has acknowledged guilt and carried out a huge education campaign for decades. While it can never do enough for some countries and Israel’s supporters, subsequent generations of Germans now chafe at the continual accusations and attempts to, as the first Secretary General of NATO Lord Hastings Ismay put it as the purpose of NATO, “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.”

Perhaps, Germany has come of age. This time it may determine the history of Europe, separate from a relatively diminished US, as it acts like a normal country, in pursuit of its own national interests. Meanwhile, former colonies like India, China and Brazil have grown up enough to chart their own histories and therefore, the history of the world. By abstaining from a doubtful military adventure, alongside the four BRIC countries, Germany may actually be ahead of the curve in its reading of future power balances and how its interests will best be served.

It took two world wars in the 20th century for Europe to address the question of a powerful, unified Germany. The 21st century may well be confronting the same issue.

Neelam Deo is Co-founder and Director, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations; She has been the Indian Ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast; and former Consul General in New York

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