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Germany

German Political Leaders Square Off over Iraq

As tempers in Washington brew over Berlin's refusal to support a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq, DW-WORLD talks to two leading German politicians at opposite ends of the debate.

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Winfried Hermann (left) and Jörg Schönbohm

Winfried Hermann, a member of the federal parliament from the Green Party, the junior partner in Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's coalition government, shot into the news when he voted against deploying German troops in Kosovo in 2001 -- a move that sparked a major crisis for Schröder's government coalition.

Mr. Hermann, are you happy with Chancellor Schröder’s Iraq policy? And do you think he’s making his stance clear?

I’m quite happy that the chancellor and the whole German government have had quite a clear position for months. We agree that the problem with Iraq is a serious one, and we think that the only way to solve it is through the U.N. Security Council, which can get Saddam Hussein to disarm.

Over the last 12 years, the U.N. has had lots of problems with Iraq, but they were generally successful in getting most of the biological, chemical and nuclear weapons destroyed and the programs stopped. Of course, there are still some left and what remains may be dangerous. But those remains still account for just a small percentage. The U.N. realized at the beginning of the 1990s that most of the weapons were really destroyed.

To go to war now with Iraq would be very harmful to the people of Iraq, destabilize the area and lead to a chaotic situation. A war would also indirectly help terrorists because, in the Arab world and in many poor countries, there is a feeling that the western world, especially the United States is opportunistic, makes indiscriminate use of resources around the world, forces the rest of the world to toe their line, props up government regimes around the world and then wages war against them whenever it likes.

Thus, the poorer countries feel they are the victims of a U.S. imperialist policy and incite young people there to fight against this imperialist power. That’s why we think it’ll be very counterproductive to wage a war against Iraq.

Do you think the chancellor is doing enough to avoid a war?

Both the chancellor and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer are busy trying to avoid this war and are trying to find partners in this endeavor. They have already found a strong partner in France because French President Jacques Chirac is very important in the Security Council -- more so than Germany because of France’s veto power.

Germany is also trying to find allies in the Arab world. But I don’t think we are a strong player in this game. The strongest are the United States and Russia and China and all the other veto powers, and they are the ones who have a chance to stop this war and maybe they will do it. Of course, as a member of the peace movement, I think they have to do more, though I agree that some of them have begun diplomatic measures.

But the real problem will arise if the Americans decide to wage a war without the authorization of the U.N. Security Council.

In Germany we are bound by the constitution not to participate in any aggressive war that isn’t sanctioned by the United Nations. If the U.S. does decide to go ahead without U.N. authorization, it stands in violation of international law, and then Germany has a huge problem on its hands. After all, how can Germany tell its oldest brother and friend that it has violated international law and hence cannot use German bases anymore? That’s more than just a diplomatic problem.

There have been heated debates within Germany on how far it should go in offering support to the U.S. in a military strike against Iraq. How do things stand now?

The Americans have now realized that it’s smarter to work together with the U.N. Security Council on the issue of Iraq, though they want the Council to adhere to their point of view. The German position is clearly against a resolution that says "yes" to a war.

But I’m worried that members of the Security Council could draw up a resolution that wouldn’t clearly state "yes" or "no" to war, but rather simply condemn Iraq. That would then be an open situation which could allow the Americans to go to war without worrying about violating international law. It’s important that the Security Council makes a decision based on facts and the information at hand. The U.S., I believe, is not cooperating with the U.N. Security Council, since it still hasn’t furnished any of the incriminating proof that of Iraq’s nuclear and biological programs it claims to possess.

Germany has been in a difficult situation as far as offering limited support to the U.S. in a war against Iraq. Though Germany wants to be a friend of America’s, it’s been convinced that America is on the wrong path. Germany wants to remain friends and not make enemies with America, and it has made clear that it will uphold important partnerships such as NATO with the U.S. That means that Germany will under no circumstances reduce its soldiers in an AWACS (surveillance plane) as long as the AWACS is in NATO territory. But if an AWACS flies over the NATO borders into Iraq, then German soldiers can no longer be part of such an operation.

Germany has also refused the American request for weapons. But of course we cannot do the same with the question of security for American soldiers. For instance, in the case of a terrorist attack, the German government will naturally help protect American soldiers and bases. Germany will uphold all the pacts and treaties that it has signed with America and fulfill its responsibilities when the need arises. But nothing more and nothing less.

However, one crucial point here is that if America carries out a war in violation of international law, the German chancellor will face a dilemma on providing support to the U.S., because the German Constitution will not allow it.

How will Chancellor Schröder’s stance affect Germany’s international standing and the transatlantic relationship in the long run?

There’s a taboo in international thinking that one mustn’t strongly oppose one’s own partner. But sometimes there are exceptions when you have to oppose your friends if you see that your friends are making big mistakes.

I think the political class in America and the mass media in the Anglo-Saxon world are unfortunately unable to analyze Germany’s actions positively. But, at the same time, there are people who recognize that the German government has the courage to say "no" and not blindly go along with America.

What happens in the long run to the transatlantic relationship depends on developments in America. We shouldn’t forget that President Bush is just one American president, he’s been in power for two years and obviously stands for a new international American policy, which in my opinion is dangerous. This kind of policy justifies the Americans looking out for their own political and economic interests in the world. I don’t think Bush will be very successful with this policy in the long run. In a few years from now, this period will be looked upon in America as a phase when the U.S. tried to become the greatest power in the world, but in reality that’s when its power began to decrease.

History teaches us that all superpowers come to the point where they flex their powers too much and incite resistance all over the world against them.

Bush, after all, won with only a thousand voters more than Gore, and it’s a pity that such a nominal sum of voters will lay the course of history. I hope that American society will revert to a more civil-oriented international policy.

Do you think there’s any personal animosity between Chancellor Schröder and President Bush which has led to the present souring of relations?

Yes, there is some truth to that. I think that the American security and intelligence services are huge, the CIA alone gets twice the money that the regular German army gets!

They have networks all over the world and don’t even hesitate to listen in on their own friends. That’s why I believe the American administration is well-informed about what we’re thinking and saying about them. President Bush is so angry with the Germans because he knows through his intelligence services what the Germans really think about him!

Do you think American hostility has also to do with the fact that the U.S. believed that Chancellor Schröder used the Iraq issue as an election ploy last September to gain more pacifist votes?

The general public may have perceived it that way, but as someone who was involved in the process, I can tell you that Chancellor Schröder made it clear right from the time that Germany decided to assist the U.S. in Afghanistan and participate in the international coalition against terrorism, that he believed in using military means to fight terror. But that didn’t mean extending those means to other cases such as a war against Iraq.

Afghanistan was a special case. The chancellor made it clear long before the election and long before the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, that Germany would not be on the U.S. side in a war against Iraq. At that time it wasn’t clear what America would really do. Now I know that the American government had told the Germans as early as September 2001 that they were planning to fight against Iraq. And, as parliamentarians, our reaction was, "Why are they talking about Iraq? This is about Afghanistan!" I really don’t think Iraq has anything to do with the terror issue.

We know from information gathered by German intelligence services as well as international agencies that Iraq's is a national problem -- they terrorize their own people, but they are not international terrorists, they’re not part of the international network of terror.

How much of a role does the Green Party's pacifist ideology play in Schröder’s Iraq policy?

Well, of course, the Green Party is historically a peace movement party, and we do play a big role in the chancellor’s stance (as his junior coalition partner). But, at the same time, there is no big difference between the Social Democrats and the Greens on this point.

Both agree that the risks of waging a war against Iraq are too high, and in both parties there is a big majority that is against a war. The chancellor has also learned from past experience that it is dangerous to go in for a vote of confidence on this point a second time.

NEXT PAGE: "The chancellor's position is undermining German-U.S. relations," says Brandenburg State Interior Minister Jörg Schönbohm.

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