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Public Opinion

After unification, Germany soon became confident about its greater responsibility in international relations. According to a 1991 Rand Corporation survey, 62 percent of the population said they thought that Germany should pursue a more active international role. Some 77 percent voiced the opinion that their country was best suited to play the leading foreign policy role in Europe. There were even signs that Germans were coming to terms with the idea of international military intervention. In 1992 about 53 percent of Germans (compared with 43 percent the previous year) said they believed that the use of military force is justified when principles of international law and human rights are violated.

The reluctance of Germans to think in terms of their country's involvement in multilateral military actions remained high, however. Although 53 percent supported participation of the Bundeswehr in peacekeeping operations after unification, barely 33 percent favored German military involvement in NATO operations outside of German territory. Only 20 percent were sympathetic to the idea of German forces participating in collective security actions such as Operation Desert Storm. A 1994 follow-up study by the Rand Corporation found increasing support in German public opinion for a German defense role beyond the country's borders. But data also reflected uncertainty about what that role should entail.

In the aftermath of communism's demise, Germans, especially Germans living in the old Länder , continued to believe that NATO was essential to their security. They did so even though the contours of a distinct threat had not emerged and even though Germany's new international role remained very much in question. A 1990-91 study by the Rand Corporation commissioned by the United States Air Force discovered that 85 percent of the German populace supported membership in international alliances in general, with two out of three western Germans considering NATO essential for their security. (A West German Emnid poll in the autumn of 1988 had shown 86 percent favoring NATO membership.) By contrast, only 35 percent of eastern Germans considered NATO indispensable. The fact that western Germans made up roughly four-fifths of united Germany's population and that western Germans dominated the united country's policy establishment led most analysts to conclude that the addition of eastern Germany would have a minimal impact on the Federal Republic's foreign policy.

The German position on the presence of United States troops remains one of ambivalence. According to the Rand study, 57 percent supported a complete withdrawal of United States troops from the territory of the Federal Republic. Western Germans were divided in their view--43 percent favoring and 49 percent rejecting the sustained presence of these troops. Eastern Germans demonstrated greater consensus on the issue of United States troops, with 84 percent opposing a future United States military presence.

When asked why one should support NATO in the post-Cold War era, western Germans gave as the primary reason the fact that the defense organization had become a fixture on the political landscape over the course of previous decades and had done a good job in maintaining peace on the continent. Few respondents felt that NATO should have more military responsibilities, however. In fact, 42 percent voiced apprehension that NATO could be used in the future to draw Germany into conflicts where its interests were not represented. The impressions from these results were roughly aligned with the findings from polls conducted by German institutes during the same time frame. In 1991 a majority of Germans regarded Switzerland--a neutral although not demilitarized state--as an appropriate model for the new Germany's role in international affairs.

The Out-of-Area Debate

Immediately after unification, the prevailing interpretation of the Basic Law allowed for the Federal Republic's participation in systems of collective security but precluded its armed forces from any activity not specifically attributable to the country's defense, unless explicitly authorized elsewhere in the constitution. Article 26 of the Basic Law forbids any act of war or aggression, and Article 87 stipulates that German military forces are permitted to become involved only in defense actions. The question of German participation in out-of-area operations played an important role in German foreign policy debates of the early 1990s.

The interpretation that combat missions outside the traditional area covered by NATO are not permitted under the constitution had been ratified by a decision by the SPD-led government of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (1974-82) in April 1981. This view was reconfirmed in 1983 by the new Kohl government soon after it took power.

The debate on out-of-area operations during the Persian Gulf War led to a consensus by the major political parties--although for varying reasons--that rather than reinterpretation, the constitution was in need of amendment to allow German forces to assume a new role in collective security. Amending the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. Conflict arose, first because the opposition SPD rejected the idea of an amendment, then later because neither the SPD nor the other parties could agree on the precise provisions of such an amendment.

The SPD insisted that an amendment to the constitution allow for German participation in UN peacekeeping operations only. This position was reached after heated debate at the party's convention in May 1991, and even then, only with the strong push of SPD leader Björn Engholm and the party's moderate faction. The measure passed by the relatively small margin of 230 to 179. The SPD stopped short of supporting German participation in combat missions sanctioned under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which means that in the future, operations such as Desert Storm would not mandate German involvement.

Citing special constraints stemming from German history and fears that Germany, against its own interests, would be drawn into conflicts by other powers (notably the United States), the SPD envisioned a narrow set of circumstances for the deployment of German forces. These included a mandate by the UN Security Council; a cease-fire; consent of the warring parties; operational control by the UN; and the participation of other European countries. The SPD's position also reflected the party's devotion to the idea that diplomatic and economic means, and only rarely, if ever, the military, could provide for Germany's defense and security.

The FDP followed the lead outlined by Genscher, its dovish foreign minister, and, like the SPD, agreed on restricting the Bundeswehr's activities to blue-helmet peacekeeping missions. An amendment to the constitution would explicitly require UN authorization for out-of-area deployments, even when Germans were participating within NATO and WEU units. In an attempt to further limit the opportunity for actual combat involvement and to stress the European character of the new German state, the FDP also stipulated that fighting missions be permitted only when other EC members were present.

The CDU was predictably not satisfied with restrictions that provided exclusively for blue-helmet missions. Members of the CDU and the CSU had initially argued that an amendment to the constitution was not necessary in order for German troops to cooperate in multilateral military operations abroad. They pointed to Article 24(2), of the Basic Law, which empowers the Federal Republic to participate in systems of collective security such as the UN. Proponents of this argument rejected the idea that the term "defense," as applied in Article 87a(2) of the Basic Law, should be interpreted narrowly and tied exclusively to the defense of Germany or of an alliance partner.

Nevertheless, Kohl's party had agreed that the constitution must be amended in order to permit German troops a role in peacekeeping and peacemaking missions abroad. Kohl's party wanted not only UN missions mandated by the constitution but also NATO and WEU out-of-area missions. In the view of leading defense experts in the CDU, these were the only organizations capable of providing defense. Neither the UN nor the CSCE, favorites of the FDP and the SPD, were considered viable instruments of military action. Some more outspoken members of the CDU and CSU favored a reduction of all constraints on the exercise of German power in an attempt to equalize the Federal Republic's room for maneuvering with Britain and France.

Minister of Defense Volker Rühe strongly argued in favor of Germany's assuming full and normal responsibilities in peacekeeping and peacemaking operations within the Alliance. But he also frequently stressed that German public opinion would only gradually adapt to its new international circumstance.

In an attempt to sensitize the German public to changes in the international climate and the united country's emerging responsibilities, the Kohl government had been incrementally enlarging German military participation in operations abroad, arguably within the confines of the constitution. Bonn allowed German minesweepers and their crews to operate in the Persian Gulf from April through July 1991 after the war had ended, justifying the mission on humanitarian grounds. The German government used Bundeswehr personnel to supply transportation and to assist in the establishment of refugee camps in Iran and Iraq for Kurds, who had been persecuted by Iraqi forces. German military medical personnel were assigned in May 1992 to participate in the UN mission in Cambodia. German military units joined in the UN's humanitarian effort in Somalia in 1992-93, but only after arduous parliamentary debate. German forces also were involved in the Adriatic when UN forces monitored compliance with the internationally imposed arms embargo by parties in the Yugoslav conflict. In an important decision of July 12, 1994, Germany's highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court, ruled that German troops can take part in both UN peacekeeping and peacemaking missions, as long as the Bundestag approves each operation by a simple majority. The court also stated that Germany can assign forces to NATO and WEU operations directed at implementing resolutions of the UN Security Council. Thus, the decision cleared the way for a German military role beyond the country's and NATO's current borders, and German fliers subsequently participated in NATO missions over Bosnia.

The conduct of foreign policy continues to belong to the domain of the executive branch of government in Germany. But the highly controversial and emotional debate concerning German participation in peacekeeping and peacemaking missions abroad has meant that the Bundestag will continue to be directly involved in the actual decision-making process.

Data as of August 1995

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