Benghazi, Kosovo and Auschwitz


Germany's attitude to military intervention in Libya provides a striking contrast to its attitude to military intervention in Kosovo in 1999. The decision to send German Tornados on bombing missions as part of Operation Allied Force - the first time German troops had taken part in major combat missions since World War II - was a momentous one, which was preceded by a tortuous debate about German identity after Auschwitz that centred on perceived parallels between ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and the Holocaust. At times, the debate seemed somewhat narcissistic. But at the end of it, the centre-left "red-green" government of Gerhard Schröder and Joscka Fischer not only supported the military intervention but committed German troops as part of a humanitarian intervention even though it did not have a mandate from the United Nations Security Council.

Twelve years later, the situation is very different. It's not just that German Tornados are not among the aircraft enforcing the "no-fly zone" in Libya. More striking is the way that the centre-right "black-yellow" government of Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle, alongside Russia and China, also abstained in the vote on Resolution 1973 at the UN Security Council last week. According to an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday, Westerwelle was even trying to build a coalition to stop the resolution.

No doubt part of the reason is that, in this case, there is not such an obvious parallel with Auschwitz as there was in the case of Kosovo and it is therefore harder to make the case to the German public. (However, in the decade since 1999, the collective memory of Auschwitz has receded, so I wonder if it would make much difference even if the parallels were more obvious in this case.) But it also seems to me that the trauma of Afghanistan and the perceived failure of Iraq have led to a shift in German thinking on the use of military force. In the last few years, Germany may have become more assertive in its use of economic power within Europe, but it seems at the same time to have become less willing to use military force than it was a decade ago, even when it is sanctioned by the UN as in the case of Libya.

A decade ago, it seemed that Germany was converging with France and the UK on the use of military force (and in that sense becoming "normal"); its attitude to military intervention in Libya suggests it is now actually diverging (and in that sense becoming more "abnormal"). As James Rogers suggests on his blog, Germany is increasingly a consumer rather than a provider of security.

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