For Germany, New U.N. Role Means Muting Anti-War Tone
Schroeder Government Could Endorse Use of Force Against Iraq
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 2, 2003; Page A14
BERLIN -- As Germany takes a U.N. Security Council seat that will give it a major voice in any decision to sanction war against Iraq, the government has begun a nuanced effort to bring the country more in line with its allies' views by blunting the edges of the anti-war policy that got it reelected in September.
Political analysts here say Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his ministers are preparing the public for the possibility that Germany could endorse military action at the United Nations and assist participating allies, though no German troops would join in battle. The tabloid Bild has dubbed the evolving policy Jein, a combination of ja and nein, the German words for yes and no.
Germany began a two-year term on the Security Council yesterday and will chair it in February, a month when critical issues regarding Iraq may be brought before the council. In a New Year's Eve address to the nation, Schroeder suggested that Germany would not automatically vote against war. "We Germans know from our own experience that dictators sometimes can only be stopped with force," Schroeder said. "We also know what bombing, destruction and the loss of one's home mean for people."
The balance in that statement contrasts sharply with Schroeder's "no-way" pronouncements against war during the campaign. He said then he would oppose intervention in Iraq even if the Security Council voted for it, an outcome that he called inconceivable. Infuriating the Bush administration, he condemned any military strike as an "adventure."
But since its electoral victory, which came at the cost of strained relations with the United States and consternation among some of its European allies, the government has been parsing its stance.
The German softening of its position, analysts here suggest, may also be motivated by ambition to become a permanent member of the Security Council. That goal would be seriously undermined if Germany balked at an otherwise collective decision of the U.N. body. As Germany seeks a larger role in world affairs, it is not eager to stand apart from its post-World War II allies. Yet no domestic politician wants to be perceived as being pushed around by the United States or European allies. So many of the statements have been tentative and tempered by denials that any policy has changed.
Over the weekend, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer inched further toward a yes vote at the United Nations. "Nobody can predict the German vote at the Security Council," Fischer said in an interview with the weekly Der Spiegel, "because nobody knows how and under which circumstances the Security Council will deal with" the Iraq issue.
Leading members of Schroeder's Social Democrat Party said this week that Germany would never be a lone dissenter. "I can't imagine that happening," said Hans-Ulrich Klose, spokesman on foreign affairs for the party, in an interview in Sunday's Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper. "It would be a setback for Germany's position in the world."
The ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens has pushed Germany's global role further than any of its predecessor governments. Germany did not participate in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, but under Schroeder, the German military flew missions over Yugoslavia during the 1999 Kosovo conflict.
In February, Germany will assume co-command with the Netherlands of the international peacekeeping force that patrols the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the surrounding area. About 10,000 German troops are stationed abroad, including in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
Last month, in the first sign of a retreat from its electoral plank, the government announced that Germany would allow the use of U.S. bases in the country and would grant overflight rights for any allied operations against Iraq. Schroeder also agreed to provide security for U.S. bases in Germany during any wartime operations.
The government also promised to provide equipment to Israel to help protect against any Iraqi biological or chemical attack. It has stepped back from a threat to pull out special military vehicles that have been deployed in Kuwait to detect nuclear, chemical and biological hazards. Defense Minister Peter Struck said such a pullout would be diplomatically "fatal."
Such moves are often controversial domestically. The German public, already disillusioned with the Schroeder government over its economic policies, remains overwhelmingly opposed to war, opinion polls show. And the ruling coalition faces important provincial elections in February.
The government's slender majority in Parliament leaves it with little ability to contain dissent within its own ranks. Almost immediately after Fischer's statement, Hans-Christian Stroebele, vice chairman of the pacifist Greens, publicly disagreed.
"We reject war and say no," Stroebele said in a radio interview. "And we should also do that in the U.N. Security Council." Later, Stroebele said there was no need to discuss a U.N. vote now, but his first response indicated that the government could face the kind of internal revolt that nearly brought it down when it committed forces to the war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The government continues to state that there is no change in policy. "Fischer made the position of the German government clear: that we won't take part in a military action," said Schroeder during a visit to China. "Therefore, we can't speak about a change in the German position."
An opposition spokesman said, however, that the government was preparing the population for an endorsement of war. "This is another small step," said Wolfgang Schaeuble, a parliamentary leader of the Christian Democrats, about Fischer's statement. He said he had predicted their shift weeks ago -- and would approve of it.