The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Friday, 28 May 2010

Current developments in German defence policy I

The last couple of days, some interesting developments took place in the German defence policy. To begin with, the German president, Horst Kohler, said in an interview that the German participation at ISAF is also due to economic and trade reasons.

In an interview with a German radio station, Kohler made a statement that stirred up the political establishment. He said:

"I guess that we are making good progress to understand that a country such as ours with its export driven economy and, therefore, dependency on exports has in emergency situations to rely on military force to protect its interests, for instance trading routes or prevention of regional instabilities that could have a negative impact on trade, employment or income."

This statement that would hardly even be noticed in other countries, opened a Pandora's box in Germany. Most of the German politicians claim that we are in Afghanistan to bring peace and stability. In her speech to the parliament, Chancellor Angela Merkel stated the fact that Afghan children can return to school as a first reason for our engagement.

Stating that national economic interest is also a reason for the deployment of the BUNDESWEHR, poses two major problems: first, we Germans don't this kind of stuff. We Germans want to help others and altruism is our primary motivation. Taking of national interest always has a taste of something that we thought we left behind 65 years ago. The reasons for our engagement vary from enabling Afghan children going to school to solidarity with the NATO alliance. The economy as a reason has never been mentioned before by any prominent politician.

Second, there is a legal problem with this statement: according to the German constitution, the armed forces cannot be deployed for economic reasons. Also, the mandate of the German parliament for the participation at ISAF does not cover for economic interests, but only security reasons.

The German president has only representative functions. He is nominated by the parties and elected by the federal assembly, a body where the parliament and representatives of the local governments are represented. He has no political power. However, he can influence the political discourse with speeches, as he did with this latest interview.

NB: For the first time, a German warship has been integrated into a US Carrier Strike Group (CSG). The Frigate HESSEN is currently part of the HARRY S. TRUMAN CSG, which is on its way to the waters off the coast of Iran. The German government did not release any statement concerning the reasons for this deployment, yet.

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