German Defense Minister Peter Struck has urged parliament to streamline Germany’s decision-making process for sending troops abroad. The call comes as NATO officials wrapped up a two-day summit on revamping the alliance.
The French and German defense ministers were on hand as NATO discussed its future.
Meeting at a remote U.S. Air Force base in Colorado, defense ministers from the 19-nation transatlantic military alliance on Wednesday and Thursday took part in an informal “study seminar” to discuss restructuring NATO for the security threats of the 21st century.
Besides considering plans to expand NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, the ministers also observed a hypothetical training exercise involving terrorists with chemical and biological weapons, designed to highlight the need for a new rapid-reaction force.
Struck said the scenario underscored how necessary it was for Germany to update the country’s procedures for deploying the military abroad. Currently, parliamentary approval is required to send German soldiers overseas, but many now consider the process unwieldy at a time when Berlin is shaking off its Cold War constraints about taking part in military operations.
“I’m urging the creation of a panel made up of foreign and defense politicians,” Struck told German NDR television. “I don’t want to get involved in the consultations between the (parliamentary) factions. I just believe it would be right to have faster decision making.”
NATO Reaction Force
NATO hopes to have a flexible 20,000-troop force ready to deploy anywhere in the world within days by 2006. The first 6,000 soldiers of the so-called “NATO Reaction Force” unit will be presented next week in the Netherlands.
Aware of the new direction of German foreign policy, the conservative opposition has signaled its support for streamlining parliamentary approval. “Struck’s proposal is along the lines of what we’ve been urging for a long time,” Wolfgang Schäuble, the security expert for the Christian Democrats, told Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.
But Struck’s suggestion has run into resistance from within Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s center-left coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. Left-wing members of both parties have long traditions of pacifism, forcing Schröder in 2001 to tie a decision to send troops to Afghanistan to a confidence vote on his own government.
Schröder hopes a new deployment law would give his and future governments a freer hand in sending German troops to crisis areas, but opposition from his own backbenchers is likely to be fierce. “It can’t be delegated to some committee, it’s a matter for the entire parliament,” Rainer Arnold, the Social Democrats’ parliamentary spokesman for security issues, told the German press agency DPA.
German reliability at stake
Schröder’s junior coalition partners the Greens have also started making their displeasure on the troop deployment plans known, but the Chancellor is likely to push for the measure anyway, since Germany’s reliability within NATO could be questioned without it.
Although American muscle is expected to make up the bulk of the rapid-reaction force, Germany hopes to provide around 5,000 troops, including chemical and biological weapons experts, mine-removal ships and fighter jets.
At a summit in Prague last November, NATO leaders agreed things needed to be reworked following the collapse of communism and the defense alliance’s expansion to include former enemies in Eastern Europe.
NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson
But outgoing NATO Secretary-General George Robertson on Wednesday said the United States’ European allies still needed to do more to improve their own military might.
“We have 1.4 million non-U.S. soldiers in this alliance,” he said. “We have just 55,000 of them assigned to field operations, and the members are complaining that they are overstretched.”