BERLIN – German chancellor Angela Merkel likes to navigate politically by line of sight – and a very short line of sight at that. But when fog clouds your visibility, you’re not an instinctive driver (as seems to be the case here), and you have misplaced your eyeglasses, you place not only yourself at peril, but others as well.
That scenario sums up Germany’s foreign policy on Libya. The ensuing damage for Germany and its international standing is plain to see: never has Germany been more isolated. The country has lost its credibility with the United Nations and in the Middle East; its claim to a permanent seat on the Security Council has just been trashed for good; and one really must fear the worst for Europe.
UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the current mission to protect Libyans, had the explicit or tacit agreement of the Security Council’s five veto-wielding powers. It also had the backing of a majority of the Council, the support of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the open military participation of two Arab states. So what more did the German government need to endorse the intervention?
What use is vocal multilateralism, what use are German leaders’ lofty speeches about international law being exercised by the Security Council, if Germany refuses to endorse a resolution for the protection of Libya’s citizens from a brutal regime employing all means at its disposal in its fight for survival? Nothing. Empty talk. And that will not be forgotten in the region, in the UN, or among Germany’s friends.
All I can say is that I feel ashamed for this failure of the German government and – unfortunately – also for the leaders of the red and green opposition parties who at first applauded this scandalous mistake!
Foreign policy isn’t just about cutting a good figure on the international stage and otherwise focusing on the next domestic election. It means taking responsibility for hard strategic choices even when these are unpopular at home.
And please spare me mention of the abstentions in the Security Council by Russia and China, which constituted a waiver of their veto and thus a de facto endorsement, clearing the way for intervention. Germany’s abstention, on the other hand, is viewed as a simple “No,” because Germany has no veto and is also a key member of the European Union and NATO.
I don’t know what Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, could have been thinking. He rightly sided with the Arab freedom movements, then – when the matter was decided – traveled to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to receive his applause, and then rightly called for Qaddafi’s overthrow and his rendition to the International Criminal Court, only to chicken out when it came to the Security Council vote. The rationale has nothing to do with an ethical foreign policy or with German and European interests.
The situation in Libya, we are told, is too dangerous; Germany’s government doesn’t want to get caught on a slippery slope and eventually have to commit ground troops in a civil war. Well, if you’re afraid of slippery slopes, stay out of government, because balancing on all sorts of slippery slopes is what the job is about.
Of course, the mission in Libya is risky; it is unclear who the new local players will be and what the country’s future will look like. But, given the alternative – a bloodbath unleashed by Qaddafi to reestablish his control over Libya – this cannot be a serious alternative to action.
Libya is neither Afghanistan nor Iraq. Germany and other European countries went to Afghanistan in solidarity with a NATO partner – our most important security guarantor, the United States – after it had been attacked from there on September 11, 2001. And solidarity within NATO – a term all but shunned these days in official German circles – is mutual: left to its own devices, Germany could one day wake up in a very precarious situation.
And Libya is certainly not Iraq, either, where the dominant Western power, the US, started a war for ideological reasons and against the majority of the Security Council, a war that that had to – and did – end in disaster.
If anything, Libya probably should be compared to Bosnia. It looks as if Merkel’s government today has adopted the position of Germany’s Greens back then! But, while the rejection of humanitarian military intervention had an element of tragedy in that case, Germany’s behavior today is pure farce.
Like the Balkans, the far shores of the Mediterranean are part of the EU’s immediate security zone. It is naive to assume that the most populous EU member state could and should keep out of a crisis situation in a region with immediate manifold European and German security interests. What does the German government believe the consequences Qaddafi’s retention of power would be, both in humanitarian terms and in terms of Realpolitik?
The collateral damage for EU foreign policy is also significant. Of all countries, Germany – which can almost be termed the inventor of the European Common Foreign and Security Policy – has now dealt that policy its most dangerous blow thus far. From now on, the principle of a “coalition of the willing” will also apply in the EU, further weakening Europe.
And if you view Germany’s behavior in respect to Libya in connection with its whining and dithering regarding the consequences for Europe of the financial crisis, you can’t but start worrying about the future of both Europe and NATO. Germany seems to be congealing into an introspective provincialism, and that at a time where its potential, its leadership even, are more urgently needed than ever. Unfortunately, you can forget about that.