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The end of German check book diplomacy?

Caroline Schmitt November 27, 2015

On Conflict Zone, we debated the aftermath of the Paris attacks with two German politicians of the two opposing political camps. Now Chancellor Merkel assured France military help. What are the implications?

Jan van Aken bei Conflict Zone
Image: DW

The war against 'Islamic State' (IS) is different this time, although German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen still refuses to call it a war. On Thursday, the German government decided to join the military campaign against IS on the back of what is known as a strictly pacifist society. Or is it?

"We will not only strengthen the training mission in northern Iraq, but also advance our commitment against IS terror in Syria, including the use of RECCE reconnaissance Tornados," the CDU's parliamentary defense spokesman Henning Otto said. These Tornados have already been used in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2010. They are not directly involved in bombing targets, however provide data that can help identify targets.

In international law, there is no difference between bombing and reconnaissance in force. So if the German parliament agrees to the mission, Germany could well be part of the war in Syria from January, along with France, Russia, the US - and now possibly also the UK. So far, Germany has not joined the US and France in air strikes against IS in Syria. After Paris, Germany announced sending 650 soldiers to Mali to support the French-led peacekeeping mission there, and to ease pressure off France.

Left Party politician Jan van Aken said on Conflict Zone that 'Islamic State' terrorists cannot be defeated with military means. An international coalition, which is currently being formed by the French President Francois Hollande now wants to hit the "nerve center" of the terrorists in Raqqa. For Merkel, rejecting her closest political ally in a time of need wasn't an option. Since 2005, Germany has helped train Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq, which spokesman Henning Otto referred to in his statement. Peshmerga have been the most effective force in fighting IS.

No more Pacifist Germany?

In Germany itself, pacifist Jan van Aken is not alone. For more than fifty years after the Second World War, Federal Germany pursued a policy of what became known as checkbook diplomacy, in which money rather than troops was sent abroad to help solve problems. That began to change with NATO's Kosovo campaign in 1999 and popular opinion may now be following suit. At the beginning of 2014, two thirds of Germans opposed the idea of armed forces directly participating in combat missions. A survey from November 27 however suggests that 47 percent of Germans think the country should take part in fighting the jihadists militarily as opposed to 46 percent who are against it.

Bombing problems away?

Whether or not they are for or against military engagement abroad, a large majority (74 percent) of Germans fear their country will be targeted in a future terror attack. While bombing terrorist targets in Syria may provide some short-term relief, it won't tackle the problem at its roots. German conservative Fuchs said on Conflict Zone that France would have to examine why the majority of terrorists had French or Belgian passports. Germany will have to ask similar questions.

The notion of the "imported jihadist" or the claim by the right that the influx of refugees is responsible for the terrorism threat don't hold up any longer with 700 Germans allegedly having crossed the Syrian border to defend "Islamic State". There is also evidence that the weapons used in the Paris attacks were smuggled from Germany.

So, what next? A common argument made by those who support military intervention abroad is that a joint international operation managed to get rid of Hitler in World War II. But perhaps above all, the international community needs to unite and clamp down on oil and weapons smuggling and stop the flow of funding to terrorist groups. This may hurt a lot more and be a lot more complicated than dropping some missiles without a coordinated and targeted international strategy.