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Germany

Calls for diplomacy drown out 'war cries'

There was a sigh of relief in Germany when the US announced efforts to find a political solution in Syria. The opportunity for diplomacy is there, Germans believe - and the screws should first be tightened.

Confronted with the prospect of military engagement, Germany's 80 million citizens tend to react with skepticism. Most reject the idea of taking part in a military mission in Syria. Support for foreign military ventures has waned ever since the deployment of German soldiers to Afghanistan, where 54 Bundeswehr troops have died.

That's something German Chancellor Angela Merkel is well aware of. And so she made clear from the beginning: "Germany will not take part in a military operation against Syria." Nevertheless, were it to emerge that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was indeed responsible for the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, she demanded tough consequences.

For Ruprecht Polenz Merkel's colleague in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), there is "no reasonable doubt" that Syria's head of state was behind the gas attacks said to have killed upwards of a thousand people. Polenz is the outgoing chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Germany's Bundestag, or lower chamber of parliament. He is pleased that an American military strike has been averted for now, with diplomacy once again underway.

"Really, it's about such poison gas attacks never happening again," he told DW, and Polenz would prefer it if that can be accomplished through diplomatic means. "Between doing nothing and a military strike," he said, "there are still other possibilities that would prevent further poison gas attacks, and that would contribute to punishing those responsible."

A Middle Eastern family carrying their belongings in textile sacks walks across a bleak, brown desert with nothing growing on it Photo: Emrah Yorulmaz

An estimated 10 percent of Syrians, or two million, have fled the civil war

Crime against humanity

Middle East specialist Werner Ruf, a professor emeritus in international relations, welcomes the proposal that Syrian chemical weapons be placed under international supervision before being destroyed altogether. This, he told DW, would be an "immense step toward a halfway-peaceful solution." Such a proposal could also be agreed upon by the UN Security Council, thereby re-establishing the credibility of human rights laws.

For Ruf, military intervention is not part of the equation. "That would be a clear violation of Article Two, Paragraph Seven of the Charter of the United Nations," he said, where the UN categorically forbids military intervention in the domestic affairs of another state.

Memories of Kosovo

Over the last few days, former Green Party politician Ludger Volmer has also joined the debate about military intervention. The one-time minister of state in the German Foreign Ministry now teaches at the Humboldt University of Berlin. He has also just published a memoir about his time in office, entitled "Battle cries and the perils of German foreign policy."

He says the debate about Syria reminds him of 1999, when Germany participated in the NATO-led war against Kosovo. At that time, the pacifist Green Party, the junior partner in coalition with Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), had to endorse the military action against the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - without a UN mandate.

A group of shabbily-dressed people walk toward the camera on a stone path dividing a grass area. Photo: Eric Feferberg

Albanian refugees fled before NATO strikes ultimately stopped the war in Kosovo

"It was a self-destructive process that almost tore us apart," Volmer told DW. "The Kosovo war was the first German deployment since the Second World War. At that time, the issue was taboo, and the SPD and Greens - the two parties that most stood for military restraint - had to break that taboo."

Taking responsibility

Since reunification in 1990, Germany, as Europe's foremost economic and political heavyweight, has no longer been able to shirk its international responsibility, Volmer says.

"Promoting responsibility and deal-making is not the same as military policy," he said, and he regrets that today the word "responsibility" is nearly always a synonym for military engagement. Violence should always be the "ultima ratio" only, he says - the last resort when all other possibilities have been exhausted.

That's exactly how the CDU's Polenz sees it. "That which is military in nature is the ultima ratio," he said. "That is, the option one must have in order to never have to use it." Before one invokes military means, politicians have an entire spectrum of influential diplomatic and economic tools, he added.

Battle cries in the media

There seems to be little dissent among German politicians: a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis is much more preferable to a military attack.

An elderly man wearing glasses and a black blazer smiles at the camera in front of a gray background. Photo: Tanja Hochreuther

Werner Ruf feels the UN can still help to eliminate Syria's chemical arsenal

German journalists, however, see things differently. Numerous editorials and op-ed articles over the last few weeks espoused the idea of an American attack on Syria. Those writing in the pages of renowned German magazines have called for punishing the Syrian dictator with air attacks and protecting the Syrian people with a no-fly zone.

Political scientist Werner Ruf is outraged, accusing the German media of lapsing into "battle cries." "Everyone is just talking about war. No one is talking anymore about the fact that we actually have an obligation to peace, and that one must use any and all means in order to find a peaceful solution," he said. "That is diplomacy."

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