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Opinion: Germany isolates itself with Libyan vote abstention

The UN Security Council has approved a no-fly zone and military intervention against Gadhafi's troops. But Germany's abstention from the vote is a missed opportunity, writes DW commentator Christina Bergmann.

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The Security Council acted correctly. In light of the violence against the Libyan people by Colonel Moammar Gadhafi and his henchmen, stronger sanctions, more asset freezes and an arms embargo are not enough anymore. Every hour counts, as mercenaries and weapons are already in the country. Gadhafi has announced that his forces would storm the rebel stronghold of Benghazi overnight, "house by house, room by room" and "without mercy."

The international community had to take action, and quickly. And it did so with the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya, in which member states were empowered to use "all necessary measures" to protect the civilian population. The United Nations, often denounced as a spineless debate club, negotiated this resolution faster than it ever has before. The Security Council has lived up to its purpose. As the Libyan deputy ambassador said after the vote, "The Libyan people now know they are not alone."

Christina Bergmann

Christina Bergmann is DW's Washington correspondent

But a shadow fell over the decision in that it was not unanimous. Five of the 15 countries in the Security Council abstained from the vote. That Russia and China are among them surprises no one. Both countries have their own interests and want to avoid setting precedents. Those who trample human rights in their own countries and refuse to tolerate any foreign intervention naturally shy away from holding others accountable for their atrocities. But Germany's abstention places it among these countries, which is regrettable.

Germany has been a non-permanent member of the Security Council since the beginning of the year. There was doubt that the country was up to the challenge. Not due to finances or personnel - Germany is a diligent contributor to the UN and has competent diplomats that know how to navigate the maze of UN politics. The question was rather about military decision-making. Is Germany ready to send its soldiers into battle for the sake of peace, freedom and human rights? We now know the answer: no.

Delay not an option

The warnings read out on behalf of the German government by ambassador Peter Wittig were legitimate. There is the danger that the measures will fail, that the conflict will widen and that many will lose their lives. But that does not mean that delay is the right alternative. Without the decisive action of the international community, many more people would surely be killed by Gadhafi's mercenaries in the coming hours and days.

Those countries who have committed to action must now proceed with tact, making sure the burden is shared by as many partners as possible. The impression that the West is just pursuing its own interests here must be avoided. United States President Barack Obama has already phoned his British and French counterparts, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, in order to discuss how to proceed.

The European Union welcomed the Security Council resolution and pointed to the important role played by the Arab League countries, which had called for the no-fly zone. Italy has already offered to make its airbases available.

But German soldiers will not be taking part in the international aid efforts for the Libyan people, that much was made clear by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Thus Germany has excluded itself from an international action that is above all about one thing: solidarity.

Author: Christina Bergmann, Washington, (acb)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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