Germany's Global Policy Aspiration

BERLIN/TEHRAN (Own report) - German military experts have presented their first concrete plans for an EU naval operation in the Persian Gulf. According to the draft of two well connected government advisors and a Bundeswehr professor, warships should be cruising at the two entrances to the Strait of Hormuz. Supplementary warships should escort oil tankers through the strait with armed troops on board to ward off possible attacks - depending on the disposition to escalate. This would necessitate "between 10 and 30 percent of the EU's naval capacities," and Berlin should be in command of the deployment to demonstrate its aspiration to shape global policy. Whereas sectors of the SPD and the opposition reject the operation, the chancellor and foreign ministry are promoting the plan also within the EU. Previously, Foreign Minster Heiko Maas had rejected the US demand for Germany to deploy warships in a US-led naval mission in the Middle East. Berlin is positioning itself to be an independent power in global politics.

Washington's "Operation Sentinel"

In the western powers' haggling over the policy toward Iran, the German government recently rejected the Trump administration's call for Bundeswehr participation in the US-led naval operation in the Persian Gulf. The military deployment in discussion under the working title "Operation Sentinel," is not only planned for the Strait of Hormuz, but also for the Gulf of Oman and the strait between the Horn of Africa and Yemen (Bab el Mandeb). Officially, the operation aims at protecting oil tankers from possible Iranian attacks while in route from the Persian Gulf to their countries of destination. In the case of real or alleged attacks, military means should also be used against the attackers.[1] Washington is currently trying to persuade allies to participate in the operation. Great Britain initially favored an EU naval operation. ( reported.[2]) Under the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson it is changing course toward participation in an operation under US command - a clear indication that in the event of a hard Brexit, Berlin's desire to integrate London and the British armed forces into the EU's foreign and military policy is threatened to fail.

"No Support for US Policy"

Already in late July, in response to the Trump administration's demand, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had unambiguously declared, "the German government will not participate in the naval mission being suggested and planned by the USA."[3] Berlin considers Washington's strategy of exerting "maximum pressure" on Iran to be "wrong." Several leading German foreign policy experts have already expressed similar views. "If Germany or even the EU decides to participate in a US-led military mission, we would, belatedly, be supporting and justifying US policy in the region," declared, for example, former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD). "We should not do this, but rather self-confidently maintain our independent stance."[4] The "independent stance" refers particularly to safeguarding the nuclear deal with Iran, which the Trump administration had revoked. Gabriel recently took office as Chairman of the Atlantik-Brücke (Atlantic Bridge), an influential network promoting transatlantic policy.

Berlin's "European" Intervention

Rather than participate in a US operation, the German government continues to push for an EU naval deployment in the Persian Gulf. "We want a European mission," declared Foreign Minister Heiko Maas about a week ago, however it will "certainly take time ... to convince the EU."[5] Prior to this declaration, Norbert Röttgen (CDU), Chair of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, was also calling for launching a "European" military intervention at the Strait of Hormuz.[6] Germany should initiate such an operation "in cooperation with the European partners," suggests former Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, adding that this would send "a strong signal regarding Europe's effectiveness."[7] Back at the end of July, Omid Nouripour, the foreign policy spokesperson for the Green Party in the German Parliament, had called for the German navy to participate in an EU military mission in the Persian Gulf.[8] The debate continues. The most contentious aspect of the debate is whether the mission should merely consist of an observation of the maritime route in the Persian Gulf or whether it should include the escort of merchant vessels and, if necessary, secure their passage militarily - the latter being referred to as an "escort mission."

Mission Plans

The first concrete plans for an EU military operation at the Strait of Hormuz has been presented by two military experts at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and a professor at the Bundeswehr University in Munich. Thus, in an "observer mission" a ship would always be cruising at each of the two entrances to the Strait of Hormuz. Other ships would be necessary to escort tankers through the strait or for a show of presence. In addition, Maritime Reconnaissance and Patrol Aircraft must be "in international airspace with a wide view" to reconnoiter the Strait of Hormuz.[9] This would call for five frigates or destroyers with deck helicopters, three Maritime Reconnaissance and Patrol Aircraft, as well as up to two supply vessels. An "escort mission" would also require an additional two corvettes, as well as so-called Vessel Protection Teams (VPT). VPTs are troops stationed on the escorted tankers for the purpose of repelling any form of attacks as well as militarily fending off any attempts to board the vessel. This seems programmed for dangerous skirmishes with Iranian forces. If maintenance and repairs is calculated into the operation, this would amount to "between 10 and 30 percent of the EU's naval capacity" for the currently discussed naval intervention in the Persian Gulf, the authors write. Thus, they suggest that non-EU allies be involved - Norway, eventually Canada, and possibly Australia and New Zealand. Great Britain, as well, should participate, even if it is fully integrated into the US naval operation.

Under German Command

As outlined by the authors, an EU military operation in the Strait of Hormuz would, in practice, have to be "closely" coordinated with the US operation. This, of course, does not mean "being part of the US initiative" [10] - not even if there is a certain level of cooperation with the US operation. However, "which rules apply to this cooperation" must be determined "at the outset," and "that the cooperation will be terminated if there is a military escalation by the USA." Germany would be well-advised, the authors write, to participate in the planning of the EU's military mission in the Persian Gulf, to demonstrate its aspiration to a global policymaking role and to safeguard its interests. Therefore, Berlin should eventually even be "in command" of the operation. This would be the first military mission, where the Federal Republic of Germany would be engaged alongside a US intervention, without sharing the same objective: officially cooperating, while practically in open rivalry to Washington.


[1] Christian Meier, Majid Sattar: Sicheres Geleit. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.08.2019.

[2] See also EU-Mächte planen Marineeinsatz im Persischen Golf.

[3] Berlin hält europäische Mission im Golf für "weiter erwägenswert". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 01.08.2019.

[4] Sigmar Gabriel plädiert für europäische Mission im persischen Golf. 01.08.2019.

[5] Großbritannien nimmt an US-Mission im Persischen Golf teil. 05.08.2019.

[6] "Wir sollten solidarisch handeln". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 01.08.2019.

[7] Sigmar Gabriel: Europas Verantwortung für sichere Seewege. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05.08.2019.

[8] Südkorea beteiligt sich an US-Militäreinsatz. 29.07.2019.

[9], [10] Carlo Masala, Christian Mölling, Torben Schütz: Ein Schiff wird kommen? Deutsche maritime Optionen in der Straße von Hormus. O.O. 10.08.2019.