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Sticking to his guns

March 21, 2011

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has dismissed criticism of his country's decision not to take part in military strikes against Libya, insisting that Germany was not alone in its cautious stance.

Guido Westerwelle
Westerwelle faces harsh criticism from the oppositionImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Germany on Sunday defended its decision not to deploy troops as part of a UN-mandated mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.

"The impression that Germany is isolated in Europe or the international community is completely wrong," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told a news conference.

"Many other countries in the European Union not only understand our position, not only respect it, but also share it," he said and cited Poland as an example.

Germany is one of the five countries that abstained from a UN Security Council vote on Thursday that saw a resolution passed to establish and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. China, Russia, India and Brazil also abstained.

Germany warns of lengthy mission

Danish airforce personnel stand on the tarmac next to F-16 aircrafts
Germany will not be part of the UN-mandated mission in LibyaImage: dapd

"It is not because we have some sort of lingering soft spot for Gadhafi's system that we decided not to send German troops to Libya, but because we also have to see the risks of a lengthy mission," Westerwelle said on Sunday.

Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere chimed in with that view. "Although the heart says yes [to a military mission], the cool head says: leave it alone," he said on German public television.

Widespread criticism

Opposition parties, however, slammed the government for their decision, raising fears of international isolation for Germany.

The head of the Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, said the decision to abstain was a sign of weakness and a cop-out, giving the impression that Germany has no clear stance on the situation in Libya.

"Even worse - it looks as if Germany is knuckling under the power of this oil Mafioso [Gadhafi]," he told the daily Tagesspiegel.

The chairman of the parliamentary human rights committee, Green politician Tom Koenigs, accused the government of not being committed to human rights in Libya, calling it "not worthy of Germany" to deny solidarity in this situation, he told German public radio.

The government also drew criticism from its own ranks.

"You can show solidarity with the alliance without being right up at the front line," the chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, Ruprecht Polenz, from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party, told German public radio.

But the government argues that a yes-vote on the resolution without subsequent military involvement would have been inconsistent.

According to a poll by the Emnid Institute, commissioned by mass circulation daily Bild, 62 percent of Germany are in favor of military intervention, but 65 percent are opposed to German involvement.

Author: Nicole Goebel (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer