Troop Supplier to Syria

PARIS/BERLIN | | frankreichsyrien

PARIS/BERLIN (Own report) - The German government does not preclude a Bundeswehr mission in Syria. According to government circles in Berlin, German military intervention to monitor a future ceasefire in that country is "conceivable," as was confirmed Wednesday. However, the German government rejects military support for France's airstrikes against the "Islamic State" (IS). In the aftermath of last Friday's attacks, Paris has expanded its offensives against IS bases in Syria, and evoked the "EU Mutual Defense Clause" - an unprecedented measure, obligating all EU member states, Germany included, to provide fundamental support. The French government insists on the Bundeswehr joining its offensive against IS, not merely as retaliation for Germany's EU domination. With military offensives against the IS - in which it is already playing a significant role - and by rallying the EU to support its campaign in Syria, under its command, Paris seeks to recuperate at least some of the influence it lost in essential economic and foreign policy areas, over the past few years. Berlin refuses to grant its French rival a strategic advantage.

Two Options

There are two options in the current discussion of a possible Bundeswehr deployment in Syria. On the one hand, there is the question of how to gain control of the country, following a possible cease-fire agreement; on the other, the option of the German armed forces' participating in air strikes against the "Islamic State" (IS), as is being demanded, particularly by France. With this dispute, Berlin and Paris are pursuing their struggle for EU hegemony, a fierce struggle, they have been engaged in for years.

Militarily Up Front

Following last Friday's terrorist attacks, the French government has not only imposed a state of emergency and initiated a massive counter-attack on alleged IS sympathizers. It has also taken drastic measures in regards to domestic repression and militarization. It is planning to beef up security within the next two years, by creating 5,000 new jobs on its police forces and in the gendarmerie, 2,500 new posts in the justice system and 1,000 in the customs department. It will not cut 34,000 posts in the military, as was previously planned, but rather increase significantly its military budget. The French Air Force has also considerably expanded its attacks on IS controlled areas in Syria. In the field of diplomacy, France seeks to play also a leading role in the international fight against IS. Next Tuesday, President François Hollande will fly to Washington for talks with President Barack Obama. Negotiations with Vladimir Putin are set for next Thursday in Moscow. According to reports, France is aiming to have the UN rapidly adopt a resolution, which should serve as a basis for merging and coordinating the war on IS that is being waged by western countries and Russia respectively.

Fighting IS

For the first time in years, these measures may place the French government in the leadership of a central field of global policy - and simultaneously position itself at the helm of EU foreign policy. Economically, France lags hopelessly behind Germany and has suffered one setback after another in the course of the Euro crisis.[1] For the past two years, the Ukraine conflict has been center stage in the foreign policy spectrum, wherein Paris has had to play second fiddle to Berlin.[2] For quite some time, it has been trying to have an impact on global policy with its bombing raids in the fight against the IS. Following the January terrorist attacks in the French capital, the French government undertook new initiatives in the international "war on terror," including offensively soliciting a comprehensive cooperation in monitoring international financial traffic, as was, in fact, adopted last weekend at the G-20 summit.[3] The fight against the IS is now considered the terrain, in which Paris can enhance its international prestige - particularly since the USA has announced that it has no intention of indefinitely expanding its military intervention in Syria and Iraq.

The EU Mutual Defense Clause

To rally the EU behind its leadership in its fight against the IS, Paris has now evoked the "EU Mutual Defense Clause" in accordance with Article 42, Paragraph 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, according to which all EU member nations are obligated to come to France's aid. The political results are obvious. Whereas, over the past few years, EU foreign policy has been focused on the struggle around Ukraine - under German predominance and leadership - the new set of priorities for fighting IS would be predominantly under France's leadership. Paris, at least, would be able to relativize Berlin's predominance. Therefore, the French government has leaked its wish to have the Bundeswehr participate in this fight against IS - of course, under French command - i.e. German support with aerial refueling of French fighter bombers and German air freighters. Berlin, however, is not disposed to submit to a French command, and made it clear that it will not participate in France's attacks on IS in Syria. According to Germany, "there are already enough participants intervening with their fighter bombers."[4] However, they would gladly come to France's aid by sending the Bundeswehr to Northern Mali to relieve French troops operating there. In fact, the basis for an operation in Northern Mali had been adopted already months ago. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[5])

Vienna Negotiations

At the same time, Berlin is waiting in the wings for a different Syrian engagement, with which it will not have to operate under Paris' command, thanks to progress being made during the negotiations in Vienna to find a political solution to the Syrian war. Now that Russia's intervention has made it clear that the western powers will not be able to overthrow the Assad government,[6] they - contrary to three years ago [7] - now seem prepared to reach an agreement on the basis of an alignment of forces with Russia. According to the "roadmap," agreed upon in Vienna last weekend, a negotiating group of the Syrian opposition will begin talks with the government by early 2016. The formation of a transitional government is expected within six months, and elections within 18 months. Simultaneously, a ceasefire should be negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations, whose implementation will also be monitored by the UN.

Similar to Afghanistan

This is where Berlin sees a possibility for enhancing its influence in Syria. Within the framework of the UN negotiating processes, Volker Perthes, a German government advisor, has been named head of the "Working Group Military, Security and Defense against Terrorism," which will moderate the talks between the government and the opposition in this essential domain. There is every indication that "an international peacekeeping mission" for Syria is imminent, Perthes concludes. "Germany should not stay on the sidelines, when the United Nations begins looking for troop contingents." (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[8]) Yesterday, German government circles explicitly confirmed that Berlin does not exclude a Bundeswehr mission in Syria to monitor a ceasefire - rather than in support of French bombing raids on IS.[9] However, given the situation, this would be a long-term stationing of German ground forces with a "robust mandate" - similar to Afghanistan.

For more information on this theme see: War, a Mission of Generations.

[1] See Descent into the Minor League and Der Juniorpartner.
[2] See Like in the Cold War.
[3] Michael Martens: Gegen Terroristen und für Flüchtlinge. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 17.11.2015.
[4] Lieber Mali als Syrien. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 18.11.2015.
[5] See Ins nächste Kriegsgebiet.
[6] See Consistencies in Western Hegemonic Policy.
[7] See Cynical Options.
[8] See The Radius of Germany's Governance Policy.
[9] Bundesregierung schließt Syrien-Einsatz nicht aus. www.spiegel.de 18.11.2015.