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Opinion: German Troops in Lebanon -- an Unavoidable Decision

August 19, 2006

There are no good reasons why Germany should not be involved in the UN's peacekeeping mission to the Middle East, but it should not send ground troops to a buffer zone between the fronts, according to DW's Heinz Dylong.


Even 10 or 15 years ago, sending the Bundeswehr to foreign countries was a touchy topic, and the public only hesitantly got used to German soldiers being deployed away from home. It is a hesitation that is fundamentally positive and beneficial as nothing offers better protection from all sorts of the disastrous, overboard patriotism of the past.

Additionally, Germany is interwoven in a thick mesh of international connections that make the country an equal partner in the political landscape. But this role brings responsibilities with it that the country with Europe's largest population after Russia cannot avoid.

This also applies to the possible and foreseeable deployment of Bundeswehr soldiers in Lebanon as part of the United Nations' peacekeeping force. Its mission would be to prevent hostilities in southern Lebanon by making use of the relevant UN resolution. The positioning of troops and the direct involvement of Israel in the conflict mean this would be new territory for Germany, since its relationship with Israel requires a special course of action due to the effects of history.

It is simply intolerable to imagine that a situation could arise in which a German solider could shoot an Israeli solider. The deployment of only the navy to Israeli and Lebanese waters and a lightly armed police force on the Lebanese-Syrian border could provide a certain degree of assurance that it does not come to such a confrontation.

Legitimate concerns

Of course, there are also legitimate objections in Germany to a German deployment to Lebanon. Pragmatic objectionss that point out the Bundeswehr's stretched capabilities, and, more fundamentally, that the Middle East has been declared a downright taboo area for German soldiers.

A deployment to Lebanon does indeed lie within the Bundeswehr's capabilities. At least that is what people who know are saying while pointing out that there were times when more than 7,700 Bundeswehr soldiers were deployed in foreign countries at once.

And calling the Middle East a taboo area is also out of the question. The agreement of the Israeli and Lebanese governments on a UN resolution as well as the expressed wish of Ehud Olmert that Germany participate in a peacekeeping force make a case against the taboo argument. Furthermore, the Middle East is one of Europe's neighboring regions. That Germany has interests in peaceful conditions there is at least as important as in other regions of the world where the Bundeswehr is already stationed.

It is true that the deployment of a peacekeeping force is not a replacement for a political concept that would clarify the role of the radical Islamic Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and secure Israel's right to existence. That contribution is Germany's larger foreign policy challenge.

Heinz Dylong is one of Deutsche Welle's chief political editors. (sms)