1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Ready to help, but not militarily: Germany's Syria stance

April 12, 2018

Chancellor Angela Merkel has shed some light on Germany's position as tensions flare in Syria. She said Germany stood ready to assist its allies, but that Germany's military would not be involved.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen in Berlin on April 12, 2018.
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

Angela Merkel twice stated during a press conference on Thursday that Germany's military "will not participate in possible military actions" in Syria, but she stressed that Berlin supported the need to "send a clear signal that the use of chemical weapons" is unacceptable. 

"Just doing nothing at all is also difficult," the chancellor said, adding that if the US, the UK and France were to take military action, Germany would seek nonmilitary ways to help. 

Merkel also criticized Russia, albeit gently, saying that Moscow blocking a full OPCW investigation into the alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack "does not cast Russia in a positive light."

The chancellor's comments followed a bilateral meeting with her Danish counterpart Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who said that Denmark's stance on the issue was comparable with its neighbor to the south. 

Read more: 'America will not engage in a huge military entanglement'

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said earlier on Thursday that neither France nor the US had yet asked Germany for any assistance in Syria. 

"But if we want to maintain the pressure on Russia, then Western partners cannot start going their separate ways," Maas said.

Trans-Atlantic communication 'a development that concerns us'

Twice, Merkel was also asked about the language of US President Donald Trump's tweets, and whether these made diplomacy more difficult. She sidestepped the question in both instances.

But Germany's new government coordinator for trans-Atlantic relations, Peter Beyer, told DW that Trump's unusual style of presidential communication posed "new challenges" for Germany. 

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war 

"First of all, the United States remains the most important partner of Germany and Europe as a whole on a global scale," Beyer said. "On the other hand, we see in the past a development that concerns us, that brings a change to how we communicate across the Atlantic as compared to former times. So we're facing new challenges." 

Peter Beyer, government advisor on transatlantic relations, talks about Germany's view of potential US action on Syria.

Beyer described military intervention in Syria as the "ultima ratio," but said that the "barbaric, inhumane" gas attacks in Douma "need an answer." 

Read more: Donald Trump tells Russia missiles fired at Syria 'will be coming'

White House steps back, saying all options on table and nothing decided

Trump on Thursday rowed back somewhat from Wednesday's explosive tweet telling Russia to "get ready" for "nice and new and 'smart'" missiles.

"Never said when an attack on Syria would take place," Trump said. "Could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

Middle East analyst Guido Steinberg told DW he suspected that officials in the Pentagon would have rushed to brief Trump after Wednesday's threat. 

"Probably after [Trump] tweeted this message, his counselors told him about the dangers of what is happening there," Steinberg said. "The situation is not like last year any more. There are Russians, there are Iranians, there are Shia militia on many Syrian bases, so the dangers are a lot higher than in the past." 

"I think that's part of the reason why the United States seems to hesitate right now, simply because Mr. Trump is surrounded by professional soldiers. They know about the dangers if you hit the Russians in any place in Syria."

German left and right oppose intervention, albeit choosing different champions

Most politicians and parties in Germany voiced some form of opposition to a major military intervention. Prominent Social Democrat and foreign affairs expert Ralf Stegner on Thursday elected to retweet defeated Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who had posted a video saying that Congress, not Donald Trump, must decide on the US going to war. 

Meanwhile, the right-wing AfD politician Beatrix von Storch turned instead to the former champion of the libertarian right in the US, Ron Paul, sharing a message from him saying: "Peace. NO TO WAR."

A map showing approximations of who holds which territory in Syria, as of April 11, 2018

Retired general Harald Kujat, once the German Bundeswehr's special advocate in parliament, took one of the toughest lines on Thursday. Kujat claimed that a "hot war" between the world's two nuclear superpowers was becoming a possibility, even arguing that it was up to Germany to rein in the US, the UK and France — especially given the three countries' current leaders. 

"We have an inexperienced French president, who's contributing to the escalation; a British prime minister who's under severe domestic pressure; and an erratic US president who's not only threatening nuclear power Russia, but announcing an attack," Kujat argued on German news channel Phoenix, saying it was reminiscent of the way world powers "sleep-walked" into World War I. The retired general's critics have accused him of toeing the Kremlin line, especially in the recent past since becoming a private citizen.

Hallam Mark Kommentarbild App
Mark Hallam News and current affairs writer and editor with DW since 2006.@marks_hallam