The situation in the Central African Republic remains chaotic. An EU mission, including a German contingent, is to support French and African troops already in the country, but it will take some time before they arrive.
"The international community failed the people of Rwanda 20 years ago," United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki Moon said during a visit to the Central African Republic on April 6. "And we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of the CAR today."
Ban has been calling for more international policemen and soldiers to be sent to the country for some time now. The CAR has been sinking ever deeper into chaos since a March 2013 coup, after which 6,000 African Union (AU) and 2,000 French troops were deployed there.
The European Union mission EUFOR RCA, operating in neighboring Chad since 2008, is meant to relieve these troops in the meantime. It includes a contingent of German soldiers.
The German parliament on Thursday (10.04.2014) approved Germany's participation in the CAR mission, with Berlin contributing 80 troops to an operation that will consist of 800 to 1,000 men. The UN Security Council also green-lighted a further 10,000 soldiers and 1,800 police officers to form a blue-helmet force meant to bring peace and stability to the country.
Germany's key capabilities
The EU mission is the result of a drawn-out process. For weeks, a final agreement was nowhere in sight after the bloc's foreign ministers had agreed on January 20 that European troops would take part.
There were all of four conferences on the issue, the last one in mid-March, but all the European nations were reserved about the number of troops and transport vehicles they were prepared to contribute.
The EU only got close to its target of 1,000 soldiers thanks to the 150 offered by Georgia - a country that is not even a member of the bloc.
The European soldiers are to be detailed to secure parts of the capital, Bangui, and the airport, though a UN mandate has given the soldiers permission to use "all necessary means" to protect civilians.
The German contribution is principally confined to providing air transport in the form of two Antonov air-lift planes, and if required, a German military hospital plane will also carry wounded soldiers. A handful of troops will also be on duty at the mission's headquarters in the Greek city of Larissa and in Bangui, but Angela Merkel's government has ruled out the use of German forces in combat.
A token contribution?
Harald Kujat, former Inspector General of the German Armed Forces, criticized Berlin's commitment as the wrong signal to send to the country's European partners, especially in limiting its scope by refusing to send troops into combat.
"It's important to be part of operation planning from the beginning," he said. "But that also means avoiding unilateral limitations and announcing them publicly before the planning is even complete." In addition, there is the effect it has on partners: "In the long run our allies won't accept us sending our soldiers into the field and flying home the wounded, but then not participating in the actual mission itself."
"I think that despite the modest personnel contribution it's still a clear signal on how Germany takes on responsibility within Europe's security policy," said political scientist Yvonne van Diepen of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). "Germany is concentrating on its key capabilities, and these are on the basis of strategic air transport of wounded personnel, not necessarily an effective use of armed force."
Michael Gahler, MEP in the center-right EPP faction in the European Parliament, admits that much is expected of Germany generally. "When it's about EU engagement, then a lot of partners expect us to at least contribute something equivalent to what we bring financially to the EU," he said.
Germany already contributes financially to the African Union mission in CAR, and it is the largest contributor to the European Development Fund (EDF), out of which the so-called African Peace Facility is paid, which co-finances African Union missions.
"We have the opportunity to help," said Development Minister Gerd Müller when he became the first representative of the German government to visit Bangui following the 2013 coup.
His visit prompted the German government to re-start its development cooperation with the country after a decade-long hiatus.
In addition, Germany pledged 8.5 million euros ($11.8 million) for immediate aid, plus 1.5 million euros of support to CAR refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Waiting for the blue helmets
The Central African Republic desperately needs the immediate aid. Hundreds of thousands of people have had to flee their homes. Out of a total population of 4.6 million, 2.5 million people are dependent on humanitarian aid. But peace is a prerequisite before more can be done for them.
The EU troops are meant to reinforce the military already on the ground, which could well be weakened soon. The government of Chad announced the withdrawal of its 850 soldiers from the AU mission, after the UN accused them of killing 30 CAR civilians.
A German Defense Ministry spokesman said the first German troops could reach mission headquarters in Bangui within five days. The mission was originally meant to begin its deployment at the end of March, but according to diplomats it could take weeks for it to become fully operational. The blue helmets, meanwhile, won't be able to begin their operations until September.