Thursday, January 31, 2008

NATO's Future in Deutschland's Hände

The U.S. has asked Germany to honor its NATO committments and provide a battalion of combat soldiers to Afghanistan. Whether Germany agrees to honor its NATO responsibilities will likely have far reaching implications for the future of NATO. An article today in Der Spiegel examines the debate in Germany - and its tenor is shocking.


NATO is at a crossroads, with only a handful of nations meeting their committments in Afghanistan. For extensive background on this issue, see here here, here and here. One nation that has limited its involvement in Afghanistan is Germany. Although Germany has committed soldiers, they have done so on the proviso that the troops remain in the North of Afghanistan where there is little or no combat.

Germany's decision to limit its involvment in NATO's mission in Afghanistan was sharply criticized by German General and former NATO Commander Klauss Naumann. He recently "delivered a blistering attack on his own country's performance . . . 'The time has come for Germany to decide if it wants to be a reliable partner.' By insisting on 'special rules' for its forces in Afghanistan, the Merkel government in Berlin [is] contributing to 'the dissolution of Nato'".

Secretary of Defense Gates has formally called upon Germany to live up to its NATO committments and provide a combat battalion that could be deployed as needed into combat in the south of Afghanistan. At least one nation, Canada, has threated to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan if Germany refuses to meet its committment. The ball is now in Germany's hands and it is far from clear what they will do. Should they refuse to provide these soldiers, it will have significant ramifications for the future of the NATO alliance.

The matter is currently under debate in Germany. This today from Der Spiegel:

A day after NATO formerly requested that Germany send combat troops to Afghanistan and two days after Canada warned it would leave if more help didn't come south, Germans are debating whether sending more troops means more danger.

Germany announced on Tuesday that NATO had made a formal request . . . that it provide combat troops to replace the Norwegian Quick Reaction Force currently stationed in northern Afghanistan and due to end its mission there at the beginning of the summer.

The announcement came one day after Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned that his country would only extend its own mission in Afghanistan if other NATO countries deploy more troops to the more violent south.

Germany will make a final decision in the coming weeks as to whether it will deploy up to 250 combat troops to the country to supplement the 3,500 German soldiers already serving there, primarily in the more peaceful north.

. . . Bernhard Gertz, head of the German army federation -- a kind of union for the armed forces -- warned this weekend that the Bundeswehr had to be prepared to "see comrades coming back in wooden boxes after this type of fighting." On Wednesday, responding to the NATO request, Gertz voiced doubts about whether Germany has the correct weapons and communications devices to equip a rapid reaction force in Afghanistan. Speaking to the Passauer Neue Presse, he said that Jung had to address these issues: "That has to change quickly: the defense minister has to invest here."

Meanwhile, Germany's Green Party warned on Wednesday that the deployment of combat troops to northern Afghanistan could lead to the spread of the German mission to the volatile south of the country. Party defense spokesman Winfried Nachtwei told the Leipziger Volkszeitung that the Quick Reaction Force should not "open the door for the Bundeswehr in the south," and that the government should "guarantee that the limits of the mandate up to now are maintained." Nachtwei insisted that the combat troops should only be allowed to support troops in the north and not be sent to fight the insurgency.

The German media on Wednesday looked at the implications of the NATO request, which could see Germany further embroiled in Afghanistan.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The defense minister is once again having a hard time explaining the decision, which had been made quite a while ago, to a predominantly critical public. Once again he has to hold out as a rationale the fiction of 'NATO's request,' which one can't turn down. This time even a letter from NATO headquarters was ordered. And that it just happened to arrive on the day that Minister Jung visited Kabul can be no coincidence. This unnecessarily defensive tactic for reinforcing your own troops serves neither the substance nor the debate about the deployment in Afghanistan. The Canadians, who have already lost 83 soldiers in the south, are threatening -- and not without due cause -- that they don't intend to stay there much longer, if soldiers from other members of the coalition don't get involved there."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"There's no reason to panic, but there surely is reason to worry. ...The arguments of the critics who are warning of the dangers of the new Afghanistan deployment are justified. The politicians should stop playing them down and allaying them. It is right to not change the German army's basic strategy in Afghanistan and to not go on the offensive against the Taliban. But it is also right that the mission of a 'fire brigade' deployment is differentiated from those of the combat troops working with the regional reconstruction teams, the so called PRTs. 'QRF is not PRT,' said Inspector General Wolfgang Schneiderhan (referring to the Quick Reaction Force), which is exactly the issue."

"The German army is providing the Quick Reaction Force, because no other NATO partner is ready to assume the task. In doing so, Germany is not immune to additional demands by its allies."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Germany cannot turn down the request from Brussels, demanding loyalty and solidarity with the allied partner countries -- the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Great Britain -- who are under constant fire in Afghanistan. There is also no doubt of the rightness of the allied mission against a nihilistic opponent, who -- if it ever got the chance to again -- would impose its totalitarian and inhumane world view on Afghan society. But there must be more truthfulness in the discussions concerning Germany's deployment. Won't the NATO partners just increase their demands on Germany, just as they are indirectly doing with Canada now?"

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes about the "trans-Atlantic relationship's test of endurance:"

"Of course, it's easy for the Americans to point the finger at the other allies. But it's also true that it was in no way the case that all Europeans were convinced of the usefulness of the mission to Afghanistan in the first place. (It) is far away. The overthrow of the Taliban is already six years behind us, and yet the allies are preparing themselves to stay there for many more years. The burdens have already been enormous. There's no chance that voters are going to allow further adventures."

Read the entire article.

I would hate to add up the costs we have paid over the last half century to rebuild Germany after WWII and then defend that country as part of our pledge to NATO. In light of that, the tenor of this debate, at least among the socialist left, is shocking. It is disloyal to an astonishing degree, it is cowardly, and it is incredibly short sighted both as to the ramifications for NATO and as to the refusal to recognize the threat to Germany from the Salafi Islamists should they retake Afghanistan. Indeed, as to European targets for Salafi terrorism, Germany tops the list. In any event, Germany has a choice to make, the ramifications of which will echo far beyond Afghanistan.

As to my own commentary on all of this - a picture is worth a thousand words:

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