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A reliable partner?

Sven Pöhle / sms
August 29, 2013

From refueling to supplying Patriot missiles, there are a number of ways Germany could support a military intervention in Syria. But it's unclear if the United States and other allies are interested in Berlin's help.

The 'Oker' intelligence and reconnaissance ship Photo: Marine dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The United States, Great Britain and France have taken initial steps to start military measures against the Syrian army. Leaders in Germany, however, wonder if they should lend their support to a military intervention and, if so, how the country could do so.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the international community would have to take action should the use of chemical weapons in Syria be confirmed. "Then Germany will be among those who would support consequences," he added.

Germany's 'military toolbox'

Exactly what measures the United States and a so-called "coalition of the willing" would take against the Syrian regime remain unclear. That is one of the reasons the German government has not committed to any steps it would take to support a possible military operation. "We do not comment on speculation about options," a spokesperson from the Defense Ministry said, adding only that Germany possessed a "military toolbox" with possible options.

That "toolbox" has been opened several times over the last 15 years. During the Kosovo war in 1999, German Tornado jets took part in NATO airstrikes on targets in Serbia. In 1992, German troops participated in another NATO mission to monitor a no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. German soldiers have also been stationed in Afghanistan since 2002. Germany has also contributed to France's military efforts in Mali by providing French planes with air-to-air refueling.

Soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr stand next the Patriot system before the arrival of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel at a Turkish military base in Kahramanmaras February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
German Patriot missiles protect Turkey from possible Syrian rockets attacksImage: Reuters

Direct, indirect or no support

Berlin would have a variety of ways it could contribute to a mission against Syria - should the government choose to participate. One of them would be air-to-air refueling similar to the support currently offered to France, said Sebastian Feyock of the German Council on Foreign Relations. Berlin could also offer intelligence information to aid in identifying possible targets in Syria.

The German navy currently has a number of ships in the Mediterranean Sea, including the "Oker" intelligence and reconnaissance ship, which carries equipment to monitor radio and telephone traffic. Intelligence gathered by the "Oker" could be passed on to Germany's allies.

German surface-to-air missiles are also stationed in the region. The Turkish government requested Germany's help in securing the border to Syria in 2013, and Berlin responded by deploying its Patriot air defense system and nearly 200 soldiers to southeast Turkey. The missiles protect the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, located about 100 kilometers from the Syrian border, from possible rocket attacks. Should a no-fly zone be established, the missiles could be brought closer to Syria.

A Tomahawk cruise missile being launched Photo: picture-alliance/dpa
The US and UK could fire cruise missiles at Syrian targets from the Mediterranean SeaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

If NATO were to intervene in Syria, German troops could also monitor Syrian airspace from AWACS surveillance planes.

Who wants Germany's help?

No matter what form it could possibly take, the German government will want to show clearly that it "is on its allies' side," said Feyock. "The thought is that they do not want to be on the outside, which is what happened with the Libya mission." In 2011, Berlin upset its Western partners by abstaining from a UN Security Council vote to authorize an airstrike on Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya.

What also remains unclear is whether German support for military measures against Syria is even wanted. It appears US naval forces are considering firing cruise missiles at targets in Syria. Direct German participation in such a mission, such as with the Luftwaffe's Tornado jets, would be impossible.

Germany's Western allies are not even expecting Berlin to take part in a Syria mission, said Sebastian Bruns of the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University, adding that after abstaining from the Libya vote, Germany lost its status as a reliable partner.

"I think little has changed in this position over the last two years," he added. "That means what's expected is not getting in the way, not pointing moral fingers and otherwise playing a secondary role."

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