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Schröder Reiterates Pledge to U.S. on Use of Bases

Despite legal questions, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will allow the United States to use its bases in Germany if it attacks Iraq. The war opponent says Germany must live up to its NATO obligations.

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Waiting to fight: U.S. soldiers in Kuwait on Tuesday.

Hans-Christian Ströbele, an anti-war member of the Green Party, does not like one direction that the country's anti-war chancellor has taken as the United States and its allies prepare to launch their invasion of Iraq.

The matter that troubles Ströbele is actually a pro-war stance that Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has assumed -- his promise to the Americans that they can use their bases in Germany and the airspace over Germany to conduct the war.

Christian Ströbele in Hannover

Hans-Christian Ströbele

"If the German bases are used as a launching pad for air raids on Iraq or if the war is supported in Germany in any fashion, then that would be prohibited under the constitution," said Ströbele (photo), whose party is the junior coalition partner with Schröder's Social Democrats.

Constitution bars wars of aggression

In mentioning the constitution, Ströbele was alluding to Article 26 of the German Constitution, which makes it a crime to support a war of aggression.

"One cannot simply say that there are international treaties to which Germany is bound. The German Constitution is actually the higher authority," Ströbele said on the public television station ZDF on Tuesday evening.

Schröder, having heard similar arguments in recent weeks, appeared before the German parliament on Wednesday to make his position clear.

"There may indeed be different opinions on international law," the chancellor said. "But because of our obligations to (NATO), we will permit the use of the bases, will not ban the use of German airspace, and we will naturally provide security for the facilities of our friends."

The United States has about 75,000 servicemembers scattered around the southern half of western Germany. Facilities of particular importance in the pending war could include the Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases, which could play roles in supply and fighter operations.

Germany supplies air crews

Also as a result of Germany's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Germany has provided 46 Patriot air-defense missiles to Turkey, the only alliance member that borders Iraq, and sent about 30 crew members who serve in NATO's airborne warning and control aircraft that are watching over Turkish airspace.

Questions about Schröder's promise to the Americans grew this week as the Iraq crisis peaked. First, the United States, Britain and Spain gave up efforts on Sunday to win U.N. Security Council backing of a resolution authorizing a war against Iraq. Then, on Monday, President George W. Bush issued Saddam a deadline of 2 a.m. Central European Time on Thursday to leave the country or face an invasion.

To many specialists, Bush and his allies will breach international law if they invade Iraq without a U.N. resolution that covers the operation. "A new development is now taking shape," said Michael Böthe, one of these specialists in Frankfurt. "Accordingly, the United States plans to intentionally reshape international law to suit its own hegemonic world order."

Another specialist also recently questioned whether the obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would actually apply to Germany if the United States and its allies attacked Iraq. "The NATO treaty speaks specifically about an armed attack on one of the NATO members," said Bardo Fassbender of Berlin's Humboldt University. "That is not the case here."

Lawmakers demand chance to vote

Given these legal questions, members of the German parliamentary opposition called on Schröder to have the lawmakers vote on the deployment of the aircrews on the AWACS planes. Such votes are required to be held before Germany deploys troops abroad.

"We still doubt where the deployment of AWACS planes is legal," said Michael Glos of the opposition party Christian Social Union. Those doubts stem from the planes' ability to watch over Turkey's airspace and simultaneously look deeply into Iraq's, Glos said on Tuesday.

A day later, Schröder rejected the call for a vote, saying the planes were under the control of NATO's supreme allied commander Europe and not the United States. "Therefore, no vote by the parliament is necessary," he said

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