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Germany

Germany Debates Kuwait Mandate

Germany’s defense minister has announced that German soldiers and tanks will stay in Kuwait for six more months. The Greens are against such an extension and demand the troops’ removal in the event of a war on Iraq.

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Six "Fuchs" tanks and 52 soldiers are stationed in Kuwait

Despite a warming in recent weeks, German-American relations are still not ideal. But Germany’s red-green government of Social Democrats and Greens are intent on improving things. In their recently-formulated coalition agreement, the two parties stressed the importance of improving ties with the United States.

A central focus of the transatlantic relationship is Germany’s continued participation in the war on terror. In November, the mandate for the deployment of German troops – including the controversial stationing of soldiers and tanks in Kuwait – is up for review in parliament.

Contrary to the hopes of the SPD, the Greens may present the government with a stumbling block, especially when it comes to the issue of keeping troops in Kuwait. Germany’s Defense Minister Peter Struck (SPD) said this week that the military mandate will be extended for six more months. But the Greens are not in favor of the extension, and instead demand removal of the 52 soldiers and six tanks stationed there in the event of a war on neighboring Iraq.

Enduring Freedom

A year ago the German Bundestag passed an anti-terror mandate in reaction to the attacks on September 11. The mandate, which allowed Germany to participate militarily in the international campaign against terror, called for the deployment of 3,900 German soldiers in various locations around the world, including Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Kuwait. The controversial decision to send troops abroad was Germany’s contribution to the American operation "Enduring Freedom," and was meant to demonstrate the country’s solidarity with U.S. efforts to root out terrorism.

On November 7, parliament will vote on the continuation of that mandate. The SPD is confident it will receive the endorsement to extend the deployment for another six months. Earlier this week, Peter Struck said it would be "fatal" for Germany’s international relations not to continue with the mandate. He conceded, however, that the extension should be limited to just half a year as opposed to 12 months, so as to "more easily convince the doubters in parliament."

A limited mandate

German participation in the war on terror has its limits. As the SPD stated over and over again in the months leading up to September’s election and in the weeks since, the German mandate does not cover German involvement in a war on Iraq. Just a month ago, the defense ministry was unequivocal in its insistence that troops stationed in Kuwait be removed in the event of a U.S. attack on Iraq.

Last week, Struck himself said the soldiers and Fuchs tanks would not remain in the country if the U.S. launches a war on Baghdad. The tanks, which are used for detecting atomic, biological and chemical weapons, were positioned in Kuwait to protect American installations against terrorists, not to be used in an offensive war on Iraq, Struck said in Deutschlandfunk radio.

Slipping resistance

But now it seems as if Struck and the SPD are sliding a little in their unequivocal stance. On Wednesday Struck was less resistant to the presence of German troops in Kuwait during an eventual war on Iraq. He described such discussion as that coming from the Greens as "theoretical" and "at the moment not very helpful."

During their party congress in Bremen this weekend, the Greens called for a clear governmental position on the deployment of German troops in Kuwait. The junior coalition partner insisted that the SPD hold to its pre-election stance against involvement in an Iraq war and remove the soldiers and tanks from Kuwait.

As it stands now, the German government is faced with two choices if war erupts on the Persian Gulf: remove the troops or change the mandate. The SPD is clearly in favor of extending the mandate.

"Subtle preparations"

For Jens-Peter Steffen from the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the continuation of the mandate is indicative of a changing attitude regarding a war on Iraq. "It fits in a long line of statements, all which lead in the same direction," the peace activist told DW-WORLD.

"We’re seeing subtle preparations for the third Gulf War, and therefore we demand the removal of German troops from Kuwait and the Horn of Africa," Steffen said. In the event of a military conflict, German personnel and material is positioned in exactly the right location for involvement, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it were actually used, Steffen insisted.

When asked about its intentions, a spokesperson from the German defense ministry told DW-WORLD that it was only interested in the fulfillment of the Enduring Freedom mandate. Although the mandate expires in November, the ministry said it needed to signal that it would continue with the deployment.

Friendly gesture

Struck’s announcement that the mandate would be extended could be interpreted as a friendly gesture to the United States, the ministry spokesperson said.

The adamant German "no" to an attack on Iraq and various statements made during the election campaign, namely from former justice minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin, had damaged the ties between Washington and Berlin. The German government is now busy patching up the relationship, and such gestures go a long way to help make amends. In the same context, Germany has offered to take over the direction of the United Nations peacekeepers in Afghanistan together with the Netherlands.

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