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Germany: Kosovo Brings Shift In Attitudes Toward European Security

  • Roland Eggleston

It may be some time before all of the implications for European security stemming from the Kosovo conflict become clear. But RFE/RL's Munich correspondent Roland Eggleston reports that one result is already apparent: The latest Balkan crisis has led to a fundamental shift in German attitudes toward security on the continent.

Munich, 18 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - German political analysts believe the Kosovo conflict may be a turning point in efforts to forge a common European defence policy more independent of the United States. But the role of Russia in such a pan-European policy remains uncertain.

In a television debate this week, several analysts argued that a key factor in this developing policy is the emergence of Germany as a full participant in the Kosovo conflict. Germany contributed reconnaissance aircraft to the NATO bombing operation and has provided about 8,000 troops to the peacekeeping force. As the analysts stressed, it is the first time since World War Two that Germany has played more than a peripheral role in a military action and many experts believe it is now prepared to be more active in seeking a leadership role.

A prominent German foreign affairs expert, Karl Kaiser, says: "until now it was France which took the lead in pressing for a pan-European military force which could be an equal partner with the United States in NATO and which could deal with European interests without having always to call on the U.S. for assistance." He argues that Germany is now moving toward playing a leading role in the initiative.

Kaiser and other experts expect Germany to play a bigger role with France and Britain in creating a pan-European rapid reaction force which can respond to some crises without direct American involvement. The force is expected to be created toward the end of next year, although many of the details about its possible operations remain unclear.

Going beyond troops and weapons, some analysts believe Germany will assume a bigger role in efforts to create a pan-European security system for all Europe, including Russia. Negotiations on such a security charter are underway at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) but those involved in the closed-door talks say a number of obstacles remain to be resolved. Government officials in Bonn say the Kosovo crisis has demonstrated that there can be no real security system in Europe without the full participation of Russia. However, they believe Kosovo has also deepened the concerns of those in the Russian political and military apparatus who are suspicious of NATO and its goals in Europe. Germany sees itself as the European nation best-placed to try to ease these concerns.

For Germany, Kosovo has been a turning point. The previous conservative government, led by Helmut Kohl, believed Germany should not assume a prominent military role because of its responsibility for World War Two and the atrocities committed by its forces. Germany did participate in some international operations, such as the one in Somalia, but mostly limited its share to providing medical units. It did not contribute troops to international operations such as the Gulf war. The Bosnian war was considered particularly sensitive because of the atrocities committed by German troops in the Balkans in World War Two. Only after the conflict was over did it contribute 4,000 men to the international peacekeeping force and that came after a heated national debate.

The new German leader, the Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder, argues it is time the country put the ghosts of World War Two behind it and moved into a full leadership role in the emerging united Europe. Kosovo provided an opportunity to demonstrate this new approach.

There was little opposition inside the country when Germany provided 14 military aircraft to fly daily missions over Kosovo. And opinion polls indicate there is general support for its sizeable contribution to the peacekeeping force. Germany's contingent of 8,000 troops is second only to Britain's 13,000 men and ahead of France and the U.S.

The German contingent has taken an active role in enforcing NATO's responsibilities in the Prizren area, where most of them are deployed. It has shown determination in a number of incidents with withdrawing Serb forces. Overall, the German media has shown pride in the country's soldiers. One newspaper carried a front page report that other NATO forces respected the Germans as comrades and partners.

But most commentators believe the true test for a bigger international role for Germany's armed forces will come when financial decisions have to be taken. A new, more independent, role for Germany -- and for Europe --- requires a bigger defence industry with less reliance on the power of the United States.

To quote the foreign affairs expert Karl Kaiser again: "Europe is still massively dependent on the United States for its defence needs. The United States is prepared to spend the money needed to develop new weapons systems. Until now Europe has been reluctant to do so. Only time will tell whether the new European force is genuinely independent or still dependent on America."

The United States spends about 3.2 per cent of its total output of goods and services on defence -- compared with an average of about 2.1 per cent in Europe. The result is that Europe lags far behind the U.S. not only in creating new weapons systems but also in its holdings of aircraft needed to carry troops and equipment on missions. It now depends on the U.S. for this.

France has long pushed for a pan-European defence industry, partly because its own arms industry is among the most advanced in Europe and would benefit if other European countries adopted a policy of "Europe first" when buying weapons. At present, most of them rely on U.S. weaponry.

France is already pressing Germany to co-finance the development of military satellites and an attack helicopter code-named "Tiger".

But, particularly in Germany, there still remains a large segment of political opinion which would rather spend the money on social improvement rather than weapons. The present German government is struggling to find the funds to cover a huge budget deficit. So, for the time being at least, it appears that Europe may still remain dependent on the U.S. for many of its military needs.