Germany’s unhappy abstention from leadership

Leader of Germany

From Constanze Stelzenmüller, the Financial TImes:  The foreign minister [Guido Westerwelle] has manoeuvred himself into a corner. He claimed that voting yes but not sending troops would not have been “honest” and would have put Germany on a “slippery slope”. “Consistency”, he argued, required the withdrawal of Germany’s ships and surveillance aircraft from potential participation in the naval embargo against Libya because they might have to use force. The jets are now being sent to Afghanistan in a desperate attempt to mollify alliance partners.

This may sound odd coming from a man who invokes Hans-Dietrich Genscher as his mentor and role model – a fellow liberal, Germany’s longest-serving foreign minister, and a past master at navigating grey zones, from Ostpolitik to the Balkans wars. Still, he has been faithful to Genscherism in his consistent opposition to foreign interventions, whether in Lebanon or Afghanistan.

But Genscherism is the product of an age when Germany was divided and semi-sovereign, and even eastern Europe was a faraway land of which we knew little. Today’s Germany has been sovereign for two decades. In economic terms, it is to the European Union what America is to Nato: the superpower that gets to call the shots. And north Africa is our neighbourhood.

Germany now has responsibilities Mr Genscher never dreamt of – as the chancellor, at least, is aware. Supporting democratic change in the Muslim world is the challenge of the age for Europe; and Germany does not have the luxury of abstaining from its leadership role.

The writer is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund.  (photo: Reuters)

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