In the Bundestag these days, German participation in international interventions is rarely discussed in terms of the fundamental question of whether the Bundeswehr should participate. It is‚ rather‚ viewed in terms of how, when, where, and, in light of the strain on personnel and material resources, increasingly how often.
During these debates some participants occasionally ask for a list of criteria that could facilitate the Bundestag’s decision to send German soldiers into various kinds of stabilizing, peacekeeping, or peace-enforcing missions. Some party delegations in parliament have set out papers and guidelines for interventions. However, a checklist of sorts to determine whether sufficient conditions are met cannot replace a serious full-blown political discussion in a parliamentary democracy. Such decisions have to be based on an informed strategic debate, one that reflects the growing skepticism in Germany about foreign interventions. That said, there are a number of critical questions that must be taken into consideration in such a debate.
The Risks Involved
In preparation for international missions, policymakers should seek strategic and area-specific advice. Among other questions, they should inquire about the specific on-the-ground circumstances of the conflict and local antagonists’ attitudes toward the intervention—and toward the participation of German troops in particular. It must be asked whether this conflict can be meaningfully addressed with a reasonable deployment of military forces. Moreover, what relationship does the mission envision between its military and civilian components? Is the number of soldiers authorized by the Security Council, as well as other personnel and material resources, sufficient to accomplish the mission’s stated goals? Where no obvious deadline for the mission’s end has been set — as has been the case with the 2006 EUFOR mission to secure elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo — has the intended success of the mission been defined by relatively clear goals?
It is often the case that peacekeeping missions last longer than originally envisioned. The necessity of an international military presence in Bosnia a full 12 years after the original deployment, first under NATO and as of 2004 under EU command, is just one example. Nonetheless, it is legitimate to ask from the beginning whether there is a plan, or the scheduled formulation of one, for intervention forces to transfer responsibilities to local security forces, local administrations, and civil society organizations in a timely fashion. Part of this includes building the capacities local actors need in order to take on such responsibilities. Otherwise, the mere presence of foreign troops is at risk of providing reasons for the mission’s extension. Foreign soldiers can be perceived as occupiers — even if they do not see themselves that way — and consequently be confronted with violent uprisings that require yet more troops in order to be contained. At least in some parts of Afghanistan the international mission is patently running the risk of such a development.
More often, however, an international political and military presence causes comfortable dependencies and enables local actors to leave their fundamental political conflicts unaddressed as long as international troops are there to prevent new outbreaks of civil war, or to be held responsible if violence does break out.
Likewise, the question of whether Germany has certain comparative advantages or disadvantages for different kinds of missions in comparison to other states must be considered. This could be Germany’s lack of a colonial history in a given region or its being perceived as neutral by local parties involved in the conflict. It could also be the case that Germany might have especially good relations in the region, while other external parties are in some way compromised (or vice-versa). It could be that the mission in question requires specific competencies that German intervention forces might or might not have. Soft skills play a particular role here, including language skills, cultural sensitivity to the societies concerned, or expertise in coordinating military and civilian components of international missions, such as the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in northern Afghanistan.
On the whole and in comparison to other international actors within the parameters of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), the European Union has at its disposal fairly advanced civil crisis intervention mechanisms, even if they still leave something to be desired. This predisposes the European Union to participation in so-called hybrid missions, which require close cooperation between military battle and stabilization forces on the one hand, and civil reconstruction and administrative authorities on the other. The prioritized development of exactly these capabilities reflects preferences among EU member states in addressing crises and conflicts. At the same time, however, this cannot mean that Germany and other EU states limit themselves to civilian tasks.
Volker Perthes is the director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). His most recent book is Arab Elites: Negotiating the Politics of Change.
This article is presented as an excerpt from a longer essay published in the Global Edition of Internationale Politik, Germany’s foremost foreign policy journal and a collaboration partner of the Atlantic Community.
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:
- GM Roper on Germany Belongs in Afghanistan
- Jan Techau on German Foreign Policy Needs to Grow Up
- Niels Annen on Germany Should Reconsider Position in Afghanistan