“If you want to see to the heart of the matter,” a British parliamentarian once told me, “put on your political glasses”. That was one half year ago and the discussion was on U.S. steel tariffs. When I think of some of our closest allies’ current reluctance to join the pro-war front against Iraq, I immediately don the prescribed optic wear.
Kanzler Gerhard Schr^eder of Germany declared to the Berliner Zeitung on Thursday, “Our people can count on the German and French governments…to keep the peace, prevent war and maintain security”. Herr Schr^eder has reiterated his dogged opposition to a war against Iraq since our government started propagating the use of force last summer. He has had several political reasons to take the anti-war stance.
First, Schr^eder sits atop an unsteady coalition between the center-left Socialist Democratic Party (SPD) and the extreme left Green Party. When it looked as though that coalition was about to break up before last September’s election, Schr^eder began campaigning on the popular note of bashing American foreign policy towards Iraq. The result was his re-election to the Bundestag leadership post and reaffirmation of the coalition that has made the SPD the most powerful political force in Germany.
Once re-elected, Schr^eder kept up his anti-war stance because he knew that the majority of Germans were for UN weapons inspections in Iraq and against a military campaign. Germany’s preference for moderation and diplomacy is a value shared with most Europeans. Generally, most Germans consider America’s combative approach to maintaining world order outmoded and threatening to their own national security.
Lastly, Germany’s constitution, much like Japan’s, was created under the supervision of the allied powers after World War II. The governing text of the Bundesrepublik states clearly that the country’s military forces can never operate outside German borders, hence the reason why German troops did not play a role in the last Gulf War. Indeed, it was only in the Balkans conflict that German “peace keeping” forces were used in NATO campaigns.
Alas, we must conclude that the interests of politics are what will keep Kanzler Schr^eder and Germany from participating in any future conflict against Iraq. His reasons for withholding are just as political as the Bush Administration’s motives for striking. To maintain his post, and his party’s leadership, it really must be Schr^eder first.
Gunnar Heinrich is a visiting 3rd year politics & international relations major from the University of Aberdeen, King’s College in Scotland.