Fears of German military role


By Catherine Brown

On July 22, the Bundestag overwhelmingly endorsed the German government's decision to send the destroyer Bayern and three reconnaissance planes to join allied forces in monitoring the trade embargo against Serbia and Montenegro.

The country's 1948 constitution has until now been interpreted as preventing the German military from any offensive operations. But legal experts support the view that no amendment is necessary to allow German troops to take part in United Nations "blue-beret" peacekeeping operations, and even Nato or Western European Union "peace-making" operations.

Luftwaffe helicopters were involved in relief flights for the Kurds in northern Iraq; German military medical units are operating with UN forces in Cambodia; and now the German navy is on the way to the Adriatic Sea.

There are reported divisions within the Social Democratic Party (SPD) opposition, and even within the ruling coalition, over

Germany's military role and what the constitution allows.

The SPD forced a recall of the Bundestag from its summer recess over the decision. In particular the SPD objected to the lack of discussion in the parliament.

The SPD has lodged a Supreme Court challenge, charging that the decision is in defiance of the constitution. Yet the party's legal advisers support the view that the executive has such authority. The challenge may be more about appearing to the public as though it is doing something to prevent an expanded German military role.

A clear two-thirds of Germans are opposed to any military intervention in Serbia or any other crisis area. This antiwar sentiment is particularly high among young people.

Even Volker Ruhe, the defence minister, has conceded this in private. After four decades of "military caution" explained Ruhe to a Tory MP during a recent visit to London, antiwar feeling "is in our hearts and in our blood".

But some Christian Democrat MPs are openly saying they would like to see a full-scale German military attack on Serbian positions. Gerd Schmuckle, the former deputy commander in chief of NATO forces, dismisses such calls as wild fantasies. Simply creating a land bridge between Split and Sarajevo, he says, would require 250,000 allied troops, who would be exposed to aerial and land attacks by Serbian forces. There would be no swift victory as in the Gulf War.