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Germany

Bundeswehr deployments still need parliamentary approval

The German parliament will continue to have the last word when deploying the country’s military in armed conflicts abroad. That’s the recommendation from a commission headed by former Defense Minister Volker Rühe.

After a year's work, Volker Rühe is satisfied. The recommendation from his committee of experts doesn't just strengthen parliament's rights, but also Germany's ability to act as part of an alliance, the former defense minister said. "From our point of view, there was absolutely no reason to impinge on parliament's rights," he said.

That is exactly what the opposition feared might happen when the group of politicians, military personnel and other experts convened in early 2014 to begin its work. The Left Party and the Greens decided against cooperating in the coalition's commission, which presented its conclusions to Parliamentary President Norbert Lammert on Tuesday.

Army under parliamentary control

It's a sensitive topic in Germany. If the government wants to send troops abroad, it first has to ask parliament for permission. That takes time, and can also lead to heated debates. This extra level of control was introduced as a result of history's painful lessons in the wake of the Third Reich. It has always been seen as untouchable, and now it will remain so.

Deutschland Volker Rühe Ex-Bundesverteidigungsminister

Former Defense Minister Volker Rühe headed the commission

This parliamentary power was recorded as law in 2005. That law, in turn, is based on a 1994 verdict from the Constitutional Court – when Volker Rühe served as defense minister and sent soldiers on their first foreign mission since the Bundeswehr was founded.

Germany not always reliable

Parliament has never once withheld permission for a deployment abroad. Still, the commission wanted to examine whether the pertinent law was still up to date. Would it be extensive enough to handle the increasing integration of the Bundeswehr in the defense structures of NATO and the EU?

No, decided the experts, who visited various multinational organizations and command centers in the course of their research. Among them was the AWACS base in Geilenkirchen. There, it had not gone over well at all that German crews had to twice be pulled out of NATO surveillance planes because the federal government had decided not to take part in a NATO mission. "We make up a third of the crew, and if we leave, it means we impair the others," said Rühe.

Multinational military in future

In future, parliament will receive an annual report from the government about such military alliances. The commission hopes that, in this way, the government will feel more strongly bound to its duties to an alliance. "The Bundeswehr is not just Germany's army, rather it has capabilities on which other countries rely," said Rühe. "We can't just say, sorry, we're not available."

Bundeswehr KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte

German special forces on patrol in northern Afghanistan

KSK: Less secrecy

One proposed change affects the missions of Germany's elite special forces, the KSK. The force is currently subject to such secrecy that even experts in parliament are given very little information. Unlike in the United States, for example, Germany "hides very noteworthy missions," said Rühe. "I don't see any reason for that." If the commission gets its way, the foreign and defense committees in parliament will be informed about KSK missions - once they are completed of course, and without revealing operative details.

The commission also wants to create more clarity on Bundeswehr training missions. In the past, these always sparked discussion about whether or not they were subject to parliamentary approval or not. In future, parliament will be working on the assumption that such missions do not involve armed conflict situations and are therefore not subject to parliamentary approval.

But the opposition is not convinced. The Greens have objected, saying such an assumption is not workable in practice. And Alexander Neu, defense expert for the Left Party, said that making such an exception is like turning the parliamentary proviso into Swiss cheese.

On the whole, the opposition is relieved that the commission has largely upheld parliament's powers when it comes to military missions abroad. Rühe also reported that NATO delegation members in Brussels reacted positively to the commission's conclusions. They had already experienced the vacillation of Germany's support in foreign missions when Berlin abstained on the 2011 UN resolution for intervention in Libya.

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