Why did Germany abstain at the United Nations?
Germany was the only NATO/EU member to abstain together Russia, China, Brasil, India. Result: no common EU foreign policy (Ashton being absent from the wider debate anyway) despite the good opportunity for an interesting ESDP mission. The US seems to support the resolution but does not want to use own military capabilities. At the same time there is an agreement between France, the UK and Italy. It is a missed opportunity for ESDP and EU foreign policy in general. And the reason, strangely enough, is Germany. Moreover, Germany is partly to blame why the it took so long to agree on a UN resolution.
(Sorry for the lack of links and background info and the lack of any sophisticated writing, just think of it as a draft blog post – bit in a hurry at the moment…)
So what is the problem with German diplomacy? A quick explanation:
1. There are a couple of important regional elections in the coming weeks. Hugely important for Merkel’s CDU and it does not look very good. Merkel seems to be inspired by Schröder who won elections with swift decisions and a “no war” attitude. So, Merkel’s decision perform a u-turn on nuclear energy (albeit only for 3 months!) and the the “no” to war in Libya seem to follow that idea. However, I think Merkel completely misjudges the situation. The u-turn on nuclear energy lacks any credibility and does not seem to help the CDU (and first opinion polls do support this view). Libya is not Iraq. Libya is quite an easy narrative, and not as controversial as Iraq so you can’t win popular opinion with it. Afghanistan is unpopular, so the idea to do more in Afghanistan and not support the intervention is Libya is counterproductive.
I think the German population would rather support an intervention in Libya than to abstain as the only Western country. Moreover, supporting a UN resolution would not necessarily involve a commitment to military engagement. Germany could have supported the resolution without contributing (citing the real(!) lack of military capabilities). Support: yes, military involvement: no – that would have been a more successful strategy…
Maybe Merkel/Westerwelle were not sure how people would react to an involvement of the Bundeswehr – or even to a formal endorsement of the intervention in Libya. However, judging on trends in popular opinion at the moment it is easy to come to the conclusion that any controversial decision (i.e intervention) could become a hot issue in German politics. The prospect of defending a war in the three upcoming election campaigns might have been a contributing factor that explains the German position.
2. Foreign Minister Westerwelle is not up to the job. He lacks the political feeling for situations, foreign policy is not really his field of expertise. He often seems uncomfortable with foreign policy. After the elections he should have taken over the ministry of finance and/or economics. And he is the most unpopular foreign minister ever. In Germany, Foreign ministers are always among the most trusted and popular politicians – with the exception of Westerwelle. Is Libya an attempt to become popular again? Oh, and it seems that the Chancellery is the main foreign policy player at the moment. So, the abstention could be a sign of the internal problems of German foreign policy, a disagreement between Merkel and Westerwelle is quite likely.
3. “No war” as a foreign policy principle. Not very convincing after Kosovo & Afghanistan but it might have some influence in the thinking on foreign policy among German diplomats. Especially the rather bad experiences in Afghanistan might have shaped the “no intervention” stance of the German government. A more serious point is that German decision makers are convinced that this “no fly zone” will basically result in a war which might last for quite some time. And nobody in Germany wants to send soldiers on Libyan soil. Not only is it unpopular, there are quite some risks attached to it. Especially after Afghanistan and Iraq the danger of a getting into a conflict that last for several years should not be underestimated. Moreover, there has been very little talk about what constitutes a “success” of the intervention. German decision makers are naturally reluctant without having a clear exit strategy and general strategy what to do after the air strikes! I think these ideas are crucial in understanding the German position.
A last chance for German diplomacy?
The Libyan government just announced a ceasefire (a real chance or Gaddafi trying to buy time?). If implemented (which is doubtful anyway) there might be some negotiations about the future of Libya. Maybe a mediation to discuss an acceptable exit strategy for Gaddafi or some power sharing mechanisms; there might be a UN backed peacekeeping force – everything in flux as Gaddafi seems to be determined to stay in power as long as possible. So, any diplomatic negotiations will mostly happen in the background. Germany could be seen as the only ‘credible western country’ to negotiate between the Libyan government and the opposition/international community. If the German government wants to restore trust and credibility it might a good idea to get involved now. However, it is probably not very likely to happen…not with Westerwelle and Merkel.
Update: Germany rejects Libya ceasefire monitoring role