First Time going it Alone

TRIPOLI/PARIS/BERLIN | | libyenfrankreich

TRIPOLI/PARIS/BERLIN (Own report) - After several days of Libya being heavily bombarded, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is defending the German abstention in the UN Security Council vote on the current attacks. There is "always a division of labor in the international arena," is how Merkel explained the non-participation of the German Bundeswehr. There are also other countries that do not get involved in some UN interventions. But in fact, with this step, the German government has again refused to participate in a military operation being particularly sponsored by France, one in which Paris is hoping - and not without reason - to attain clear advantages in North Africa. In the stronghold of the, now militarily supported rebels, Benghazi, France is being cheered. Berlin, which in February was still signaling its willingness to undertake military steps, was making clear at the same time that it was placing its national interests above its solidarity with the alliance. The German government has "dared to go it alone for the first time since 1949" concluded a high-ranking German officer.

"A Mistake"

In Berlin, the controversy is continuing over the German government's refusal to support the western aggression against Libya in the UN Security Council. Whereas prominent members of the government are defending this move, politicians from nearly all of the other parties are sharply criticizing it. The former Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of Defense, Friedbert Pflueger (CDU), called Germany's abstention a "serious mistake". The foreign policy spokesperson for the CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group, Philipp Missfelder, dissociated himself from it.[1] The SPD and the Greens also expressed their disapproval. The abstention was "a mistake" said the SPD Chairman, Sigmar Gabriel. The same conclusion was drawn by the Chairman of the Green Parliamentary Group, Juergen Trittin,[2] which was also the appraisal expressed in the media by the former Inspector General of the Bundeswehr, Klaus Naumann: it was a mistake to refuse to vote in favor.[3]

Intervention Plans

The German abstention was preceded by hefty international disputes. At first Berlin had considered a military intervention. At the end of February, Germany had been one of the first countries to send its naval forces off the coast of North Africa.[4] At that time, Foreign Minister Westerwelle was not explicitly ruling out the possibility of active military intervention.[5] Above all, it was those in the US military as well as the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who were expressing doubts. The likelihood is great that a military operation cannot be limited and could escalate into a third war in a Muslim country and, in light of an imminent defeat in Afghanistan, this cannot be afforded.[6]

Vive la France!

Then, about two weeks ago, Paris became a loud supporter of the Libyan rebels and a proponent of military attacks against the Gaddafi regime. Since the beginning of the year, France has suffered a dramatic loss of influence in North Africa, especially in Tunisia, but also in Egypt, while Germany has sought - not without success - to use the upheavals to its own benefit.[7] On March 10, Paris surged forward with the recognition of the Libyan rebels as Libya's legitimate representatives, simultaneously declaring itself strongly in favor of the no-fly-zone and possible military attacks. France is consistently seeking to establish itself as the closest partner of the rebels, so that after victory it could strengthen its position in North Africa. Still last weekend, France was speaking out against involving NATO in the attacks on Libya. It wanted to take over military command as soon as possible from the USA.[8] France has won the exclusive sympathy of the rebels in Benghazi. Witnesses report of pro-French graffiti ("Vive la France!").[9]


At the beginning of the week, the German government began to position itself as an opponent of military intervention in Libya. A war effort that, in the end would enhance the situation of its French rival is, in principle, out of the question. For years, German government advisors, have been warning against military over-stretch in Africa in France's interests,[10] which is why the Congo intervention was the last French-sponsored intervention in which Germany participated - and not a day longer than was scheduled. In the years that followed, Berlin has successfully sabotaged the French-sponsored EU intervention into Chad,[11] as well as France's non-military attempt to use the EU to reinforce its position in North Africa (the "Mediterranean Union").[12] The decision to not intervene in Libya was also in line with this reasoning. Berlin believed that it was still in step with the US military, which had to yield to the White House's sudden change of course in the middle of last week. President Obama effected an about face clearing the way for the current attacks on Libya.[13] This caught Berlin off guard.

First Time Since 1949

The fact that the German government has refused to follow the US government's about face to the benefit of France, sticking to its refusal of the intervention, is now being mainly criticized by Berlin's dyed-in-wool transatlanticists, according to whom, Germany is becoming isolated from the West. As the chairman of the Bundestag's Internal Affairs Committee, Wolfgang Bosbach (CDU) put it, the abstention in the UN Security Council caused "irritation to many". One should, under no conditions, have isolated oneself from the partners.[14] Bundestag President, Norbert Lammert (CDU) and Theo Waigel (CSU) as well as high-ranking political figures of the Greens (Juergen Trittin, Cem Oezdemir) have raised similar criticisms. According to the transatlantic-oriented press, Chancellor Merkel has not had success in "convincing her detractors, who had warned against Germany's isolation within NATO and the European Union."[15] The Bundeswehr's ex-Inspector General, Klaus Naumann, was even more explicit: "Germany has dared to go it alone for the first time since 1949 - and has isolated itself internationally."[16]

Better Alone?

As a matter of fact, the German abstention in the UN Security Council shows two things: On the one hand, it shows that Berlin is no longer prepared to make foreign policy concessions to European rivals, such as France. Paris' reactions were accordingly sharp: the abstention was a "mistake with unforeseeable political consequences."[17] On the other hand, it has become clear that Berlin is not only prepared to go it alone at the "European" level - as in the case of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 - but also to go it alone at the national level. This fact takes on more significance, when it is taken into account that, in Berlin, it is being repeatedly discussed whether Germany would not "advance faster, further and better, alone" than in the European Union. ( reported.[18]) Berlin's Libya policy could provide the first clues. In fact, numerous countries around the world, ranging from the members of the African Union, to the majority of the Latin American governments, influential Arab forces and extending all the way to Russia, are criticizing this military aggression against Libya. In the long run, this could provide Berlin a new margin of maneuver - even in the case that the EU is seriously damaged by the current Euro crisis.

[1] Deutsche Politiker zwischen richtig und falsch; 21.03.2011
[2], [3] Harte Kritik an der Libyen-Politik der Bundesregierung; 21.03.2011
[4] see also The Collapse of a Partner Regime (II)
[5] Gaddafi wird zum Diktator ohne Land; 27.02.2011
[6] Obama Determined to Stay Out of Libya; 09.03.2011
[7] see also Die alte Fremdbestimmung and Einflusskampf am Nil (II)
[8] Putin wirft Westen Kreuzzug gegen Gaddafi vor; 21.03.2011
[9] Die Flugabwehr schießt jetzt vor Freude; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 21.03.2011
[10] see also Schrumpfende Spielräume and Vorposten
[11] see also Hegemonic Rivalry and Transatlantic Front
[12] see also In the Shadows and Kein Gegenpol
[13] Über den Kurswechsel heißt es, es habe sich die prinzipiell interventionistische Fraktion um US-Außenministerin Clinton durchgesetzt. Obamas Krieg; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 21.03.2011
[14] Bosbach kritisiert deutsche Enthaltung im Weltsicherheitsrat; 21.03.2011
[15] Kanzlerentscheidung; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 21.03.2011
[16] Harte Kritik an der Libyen-Politik der Bundesregierung; 21.03.2011
[17] Frankreich freut und ärgert sich; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 19.03.2011
[18] see also The New German Question (I)