Germany in a muddle over war
Gerhard Schröder's government is losing credibility over its confused policy
on Iraq, reports John Hooper
Tuesday December 31, 2002
Cunningly prodded from Washington, Germany's centre-left government is
slipping gradually into a ludicrously - and perilously - inconsistent
position on Iraq.
As of last weekend, Gerhard Schröder's government was against military
action - even if it had the backing of the United Nations security council.
Yet it would not rule out the possibility that its own representative on the
security council might cast a vote in favour of war.
On January 1, Germany begins a two-year stint as a non-permanent member of
the security council. In an interview published at the weekend, the foreign
minister, Joschka Fischer, said it was impossible to predict which way
Germany would decide on the Iraq issue because "No one knows the
circumstances under which the security council will deal with [it]".
His stance has since been backed by the chancellor, who claimed that this
foreign minister's words had been "over-interpreted". Strictly speaking, a
vote for war would not break the pledges that both Mr Schröder and Mr
Fischer gave during the general election campaign in the summer not to
involve Germany in an invasion of Iraq.
But it would be manifestly against the spirit of those undertakings, and
light years in tone from the rhetoric used by the chancellor - though not
his foreign minister - on the hustings. During the election campaign, Mr
Schröder consistently described a possible US operation as a "military
It was this, as much as his opposition to war as such, which so infuriated
the Bush administration and led to a crisis in US-German relations that is
still far from over.
Washington has since been able to take sweet revenge by playing on the
inherent contradictions in his situation - that of a head of government who
is genuinely sceptical about US policy, but who is inextricably tied
militarily to the US both through Nato and America's bases on German soil.
Step by step, the US has lured the Schröder government into an ever-greater
connivance. It has wrung an undertaking from it that it will be able to use
its bases and Germany's airspace for operations against Iraq. It has secured
a pledge that the government not to withdraw German crews from Nato's early
warning and control aircraft if they are brought into play. And it has asked
for German manpower to protect the bases in the event of an invasion,
effectively freeing American troops to take part in the fighting.
Though such moves run counter to the letter, and not just the spirit, of Mr
Schröder's campaign promises, his party and its coalition allies, the
Greens, have been able to put up with them as representing inevitable - and,
ultimately, marginal - concessions.
But the prospect of a 'yes' vote for war in the UN is proving different. It
has stirred outraged reactions from the left wing of the Green party. And
small wonder: the Greens are meant to be pacifists. In this instance,
moreover, they risk a double blow to their credibility.
The confusion over the government's stance on Iraq comes against background
of other government u-turns. During the campaign, Mr Schröder said that tax
increases would not make sense. Since being re-elected, he has imposed a
raft of tax rises to plug a hole in the public finances that he omitted to
mention to the voters before polling day.
A vote for war in Iraq by a government that is notionally opposed to
fighting one would inevitably be seen by electors - and particularly Green
supporters - as the latest in a string of cynical betrayals. As at least one
Green legislator has hinted this week, it could put an unbearable strain on
relations both between the rank-and-file and the leadership and between the
Green party and Mr Schröder's Social Democrats.
Not that that would cause many tears to be shed in the state department, let
alone the Pentagon.