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Friday, March 18, 2011

What conclusions should we draw from Germany's abstention on no-fly zone?

Last night's UN resolution authorising the creation and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, and Germany's abstention in the Security Council's vote in particular, is stirring quite a debate.

Iain Dale has been quick to denounce the German abstention as "shameful" and an act of "cowardice".

The Spectator's Alex Massie has countered that:
Having doubts is not shameful and I don't see why we are supposed to think that Germany should have supported the resolution simply because Britain, France and other countries were doing so.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but if sovereignty means anything it must permit sovereign, friendly nations to disagree on matters of major international importance. (And if the Germans are bad europeans for preventing a common EU approach doesn't that just mean they're fulfilling the traditional British role? Which in turn means they must, from the eurosceptic position, be the Good Guys in this instance.)
Germany's aloofness when it comes to matters of foreign policy and military action can be extremely frustrating. Take its unwillingness to get fully involved in Afghanistan, despite providing the third largest contingent of NATO troops, as an example. The legacy of the Second World War still looms large in the German psyche and that is somewhat understandable.

But, whatever one's views about the merits of Germany's perceived pacifism, Massie makes surely the most important point: that countries should be free to make up their own minds and, if they disagree with each other, so be it.

The real problems arise when you try to force these different views through the funnel/sausage machine that is the EU in the hope of a single common position.

At last week's summit, we should remember, it was Germany that blocked EU endorsement of a no-fly zone. This, in the words of the Independent, left France and the UK "isolated" in their call for intervention. This was, of course, nonsense because, as we have seen, it was never going to be the EU that decided on the use of force. The Franco-British defence pact, agreed last year outside the auspices of the EU, was an admission - however small - on the part of France that to get things done militarily, the EU is just too slow, indecisive and unwieldy.

And it was the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that today noted "the tensions in foreign policy between France and Germany are remarkable," adding that the lack of Franco-German consensus was "paralysing the EU".

The Franco-German relationship will always be the most important in the EU (they share a border, a turbulent history and the same currency), but on more and more issues, be it defence or the future of the euro, as France and Germany get up close and personal, the more they start to grate with each other. The FAZ article started by noting that newly appointed French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe's first visit to Berlin was cancelled, albeit with the "plausible excuse" that he had to fly to the UN in New York.

Alright, it's only in one area, and hopefully it won't come to the use of force, but if France begins to see the benefits of a flexible approach to European cooperation, sometimes outside the EU, this could prove to be important in breaking down the EU's monolithic approach to many other issues.


Unknown said...

The problem is a statement Van Rompuy & Catherine Ashton issued yesterday

"We welcome Resolution 1973 approved tonight by the United Nations Security Council." Who is we? Surely not just two individuals. If on behalf of the EU, where does that leave Germany.

Martin Marprelate said...

Taking Germany's 20th Century past into account I would say they are showing a lot of commonsense by abstaining on this issue. Unlike Cameron they do not wish to involve their armed forces in this matter which is not their fight and I admire them for that.

FTP Topcliff said...

The wider question here is reform of the UN Security Council.

Germany, India, Brazil and Japan are touted as new Permanent Members. But when has any of them ever pulled their weight when it comes to the heavy lifting in the spehre of international security?

Avoiding paralysis is hard enough at the moment. What use could be achieved by adding counties with feeble militaries and no resolve permanently into the mix?

I think Germany's disinterest on this occasion casts very serious doubt over its fitness for a permanent Security Council place. The candidate counties may have strong or growing economies but they are military and moral pygmies.

Robert Snare said...

German abstention from supporting UN Resolution goes some way to underline the unsatisfactory nature of the coalition of forces cobbled together to establish and enforce the no fly zone over Libya. Everything was dependent on having the Arab League to sign up to the Resolution.
So far no one seems to have questioned whom the Arab League is representing, or questioned its membership. It does not present a very wholesome picture when you become aware that Libya itself was a member and that among the other states are Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.
Saudi Arabia has sent its troops over the causeway to help suppress the Shia uprising in Bahrain. Iran, which is predominantly (65%) Shia majority has already called this act an “invasion”.
Syria is currently suppressing uprisings in Deraa and Yemen is now in a state of flux as the President desperately tries to cling on to power.
It would appear that the Monarchies ranging from Morocco, through Saudi Arabia to Bahrain (Al Khalifah) and Qatar (Al Thani) are the principle supporters. Sunni vs Shia conflict is centuries old. So where will the will to make Saudi Arabia withdraw from Bahrain come from? There is so much hypocrisy around, it is not impossible that support for the Resolution will simply mean a quid pro quo for not enforcing redress of the Bahrain situation.
It was a a very difficult decision to make to try and stop the complete conquest of Benghazi, the humanitarian situation was desperate, but this really should have been left to the Arab nations to resolve. Britain in particular has now become embroiled in a bleak situation for which there is no easy solution, or exit strategy.
The real flash point will be Bahrain if steps are not taken urgently to stop the killing immediately.