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30th Jul 2016

Germany signals new self-confidence on military operations

  • Glauck in Munich: 'Restraint can be taken too far' (Photo: securityconference.de)

German President Joachim Gauck has said his country should put aside World War II anxieties and play a bigger military role abroad.

“While there are genuine pacifists in Germany, there are also people who use Germany’s guilt for its past as a shield for laziness or a desire to disengage from the world,” he said on Friday (31 January) at the Munich Security Conference, a yearly meeting of European and US security chiefs.

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“This [guilt] gives Germany a questionable right to look the other way … Restraint can be taken too far.”

He gave the Central African Republic and Mali as examples of overseas crises where use of force is legitimate on moral grounds and in terms of UN mandate.

Germany has in the past played minor roles in EU and Nato missions, in line with public opinion: A poll by Germany’s national TV station, ARD, published also on Friday, said 61 percent of Germans do not want to send more soldiers abroad.

But the President said: “Germany should make a more substantial contribution and should make it earlier and more decisively in order to be a good partner.”

Looking back to Nazi times, he noted: “The post-War generation had a reason to be mistrustful of the German state.”

But he said Germany, over the past six decades, has developed into a society which defends civil liberties and the rule of law at home, so that: “the time for such categorical mistrust has passed.”

“These are good times for Germany … There has never been an era like this in the history of our nation. We have to have confidence in our abilities and we should trust in ourselves,” he noted.

Germany’s new defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, echoed his remarks.

Speaking also in Munich in her first policy statement since taking up the post, she said: “Indifference is not an option for Germany.”

She noted: "The federal government is prepared to enhance our international responsibility. We are ready to support destruction of chemical agents from Syria. We are willing to reinforce our contribution to efforts in Mali and, if needed, to support the European mission in the Central African Republic.”

She added that EU countries should co-operate more deeply on defence.

"I got the impression in these few weeks that I have been on duty that we've lost time in looking at our own forces instead of looking at the whole set of European forces ... We must act together," she said.

Elsewhere in his speech, Gauck indicated that Germany’s role in leading the EU on the financial crisis could be repeated in leading the way on EU military co-operation.

“We’re not calling the alliance with the US into question. But we’ve observed symptoms of stress and uncertainty about the future,” he said of Nato.

“By acting with other countries within the EU, Germany gains influence … Perhaps this could even lead to the establishment of a common European defence,” he added.

Gauck’s reference to “stress” in Nato related to the US’ redeployment of troops from Europe to Asia and to US complaints that it carries too big a burden in conflicts in Europe’s neighbourhood, such as the Libya war in 2011.

But for his part, German interior minister and former defence minister, Thomas de Maiziere, indicated the NSA scandal has added an extra tension.

He said in Munich that US explanations of how and why it spied on ordinary Germans and on German Chancellor Angela Merkel are “not satisfactory.”

“The political damage [that this has done] is greater than the security benefit across the Atlantic,” he noted.

When a US congressman, Michael Rogers, said that all governments do foreign espionage, de Maiziere interjected: “But we don’t target the American government. That’s quite a big difference.”

The original text said de Maiziere is a former foreign minister. In fact, he is a former defence minister

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