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Pacifists No More

Eric Jansson
March 18, 2002

Germany’s Green Party has officially ditched the pacifist position on which it was founded, alienating much of its core constituency in this election year.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (left) Green party leader Claudia Roth at this weekend's fateful party conferenceImage: AP

In the end, war proved too alluring.

The Greens, Germany’s powerful left-wing party, the organised political offspring of 1968’s protest generation, voted this weekend to amend the uncompromising anti-war plank that has long topped its list of party principles.

Now in its amended form, the plank authorises use of military force as a "last resort" to combat "genocide and terrorism".

The Green party platform remains anti-war in theory. But Greens have learned, since their party entered government in 1998 for the first time since its founding, that theory has a way of losing out to practice.

Party stalwart and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said at the weekend party conference that "reality itself" had called for the change.

Fateful decision

Painful as it is for the many Germans who call themselves pacifists on principle, turning resolutely away from Germany’s modern history as both horrible perpetrator and bitter victim of war, the party that once trumpeted their view has changed its philosophy.

As historians probably will see it someday, it happened overnight, but not without a fight.

The Greens' internal struggle, which at times has involved bitter infighting between party leaders in government and their more liberal supporters, paralleled over the last four years what many see as a critical paradigm shift in modern German political culture.

No party represented more unashamedly the ambitions of a country committed to peace in a denationalised Europe than the pacifist Greens.

Yet it was this very ambition for peace that undermined their pacifist position, as Germany developed a new identity as one state in an increasingly federal European Union, looking more favourably upon military force as a means to achieve "democratic", anti-war goals endorsed by the "international community".

The pacifist Greens were never fully comfortable with such action. The post-pacifist Greens will not be at first, either. But after this weekend, the party leadership can no longer be held firmly to account, by party members, for endorsing military force.

Trigger unhappy

Image: AP

Until now, loyal Greens had every reason to wonder what was happening to their party’s promises.

As the ruling coalition partner of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) since 1998, the Greens came into power promising to bring new ideals and higher standards to the global political scene. Peace would be an unquestioned priority and war, unthinkable. With Joschka Fischer as foreign minister, the principles were safe.

Yet within a year it was Fischer and his Greens in parliament who co-authorised the first use of military force in Germany’s post-War history, committing troops first to NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Then in 2001 came a second authorisation, to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Then a third: 3,900 soldiers for Operation Enduring Freedom in the US-led "war on terror".

German troops are now deployed in forward positions in more international trouble spots than at any time since World War II. It happened on the Greens’ watch, with Green support.

At what price

The weekend decision, coming six months before national elections, may protect Green leaders from campaign charges of day-to-day hypocrisy. They will not again be caught fighting wars in pacifism’s name.

But the change will undermine support, no doubt, from long-time pacifist party faithful whose backing Fischer and his colleagues have jettisoned along with the pacifist plank.

What this means in the electoral math, winning votes, remains to be seen.

Four years ago, 15 years after the Greens entered parliament for the first time, they won 6.7 percent of the national vote – enough to become the SPD's junior coalition partner. But now now the party cannot afford to lose ground.

Party leaders are likely to have calculated that left-wing voters have no viable alternative to the Greens. Moreover, the party's softened stance may lure some centre-left voters who previously gravitated mainly toward the SPD.

In other words, the generation of 1968 is going mainstream.

That’s been no secret. But it still comes as a surprise to many just how much principle they have willingly sacrificed to win power, to exert power, and now to keep it.