German defence minister Peter Struck this week came out in favour of a stronger involvement of German troops in future peace-keeping missions on the African continent.
Struck would like German soldiers to play a role in Africa
Currently on a summer tour of German military bases, German Defense Minister Peter Struck is gathering information on the progress of the biggest-ever restructuring of the Bundeswehr.
While the number of troops will be reduced to 240.000, a considerable proportion of those remaining are being trained to fit better into NATO and EU defence strategies which also envisage the build-up of rapid response units capable of being deployed quickly in crisis areas across the globe.
Changing with the times
German Defense Minister Peter Struck
This week Struck told a Berlin local radio station that the current restructuring of the national armed forces was also aimed at better preparing Bundeswehr units for rapid out-of-area deployment missions as the old military doctrine centred on the defence of the homeland became obsolete after the end of the cold war and collapse of Communism.
He said that the national armed forces should be prepared to play a larger role in future peace-keeping or peace-enforcing missions on the African continent.
At present, 290 German troops are still in action at the Horn of Africa within the framework of the US-led anti-terror campaign “Enduring freedom”. In addition, German officers are accompanying the UN-mandated missions in Ethiopia and Eritrea as observers.
Refugees at the Abu Shouk camp near El Fasher in the Darfur region of northern Sudan.
While there have been frequent calls from various German policy-makers to also consider contributing troops to other crisis areas in Africa, government officials in Berlin have so far primarily rejected any bigger involvement, saying that the armed forces’ capacities were being stretched to the limit because of large-scale military engagements in Afghanistan and in the
Facing up to historical responsibility
However, Struck made it clear that with Germany seeking a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, it could no longer hide behind such arguments and that it must face its historical responsibility for Africa as a former colonial power.
“Our national armed forces now comprise 270,000 troops," Struck said. " Only about 8,000 of them are currently involved in missions abroad. Looking at that ratio, I cannot seriously claim that we aren’t capable of other out-of-area missions. Nobody would buy that line of thinking anyway.”
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, left, and Sudanese state minister Nagieb Al-Khier meet in Khartoum, Sudan in July.
Struck has the backing of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who’s openly criticised those who claim that the situation in Africa doesn’t affect Germany’s interests.
Fischer warns against Africa exporting its own instability to Europe, which he says would have a direct impact on Europe’s own security in the 21st century. Hence, Germany and other European nations would have a shared responsibility for helping resolve conflicts on the African continent, which are largely the legacy of colonial times, according to Fischer.
Struck added, though, that there were currently no concrete UN requests for Germany to step in.
"For the time being, we’re only debating a theoretical question. Nobody is requesting us to get involved more on the African continent," Struck said. "What I’m saying is that if the United Nations wants us to get involved in a peace-keeping or peace-enforcing mission there, we must live up to our responsibility together with our partners in the European Union.”
Aid groups want more funds
Members of the Red Cross in Geneva load a cargo plane with humanitarian supplies for Darfur, Sudan.
Non-governmental organisations see a different priority, though. They point out that efforts should be stepped up in the field of crisis prevention in Africa.
And the best way for the German government to contribute to this goal, they argue, is not to send soldiers, but to considerably increase development aid so as to help eradicate the root causes of conflict on that continent.
Story originally published on Aug. 28, 2004