Senior government officials met in Berlin today to discuss Germany's participation in the proposed NATO operation to send 3,000 troops to Macedonia to disarm the Albanian rebels within 30 days after a cease-fire has been established. A spokesman said today's meeting was part of an ongoing examination of the situation and final decisions would depend on today's negotiations in Luxembourg between European foreign ministers and Macedonia.
Munich, 25 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The coalition government led by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said that Germany will participate in the NATO operation to disarm Albanian rebels in Macedonia, but has declined to discuss the details.
Government spokesmen acknowledged today that groups within the two coalition parties strongly oppose sending more German troops to the Balkans. Seven thousand German soldiers are already serving in various parts of the Balkans, including Macedonia.
"Some groups within the government parties are arguing very strongly against the dispatch of more German troops," one spokesman told journalists today.
He said opponents of the plan believe that Germany should not get further involved in the protracted crisis in the Balkans. He said they doubt that any peace deal between Macedonia and the rebel forces would hold, and they fear that renewed fighting could endanger young German soldiers. Several also doubt the operation could be completed within the 30-day timetable proposed by NATO.
Another opposition spokesman, Otto Prantl, said today that no previous timetable for operations in the Balkans had proved accurate, and that no one should expect this project to be any different:
"Until now, no timetable in the Balkans has proved realistic. One must assume that this operation will also last longer, because it's unlikely that the rebels will voluntarily surrender all their weapons. That would be something new."
Others, however, argue that as a leader of the European Union, Germany cannot fail to participate in an operation aimed at ending a conflict in a European country.
Supporters of German involvement also point out that Berlin is one of the strongest advocates of a European rapid-reaction force, which is intended to operate separately from NATO. Although this force is still in the process of creation, those who support German involvement argue that it would be a poor advertisement for the force if Germany distanced itself from the Macedonian operation.
A German political commentator, Thomas Ott, said today: "Germany cannot say that Europe should play a leading role in international security and then shy away from full involvement in an attempt to settle a crisis in Europe itself."
But the German debate is not driven solely by ideological arguments. In the past few days, several German commentators have said there are genuine doubts about whether the German armed forces are ready to take a responsible role in this operation.
Volker Ruehe, who was defense minister in the previous Christian Democrat government, claimed today that financial cuts by the present Social Democratic government had severely weakened the armed forces. Ruehe said that tanks, aircraft, and other weapons were idling in the repair shops because there were insufficient funds to buy spare parts. Ruehe said that after NATO's operation in Kosovo, the CDU -- as an opposition party -- had stated that Germany should not participate in any more operations until the armed forces were given a stable financial basis.
Both the current and past German governments have been criticized by the United States and NATO leadership for reducing spending on armed forces while insisting that Germany should play a major role in European security.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a European security conference in Munich earlier this year that cuts in defense spending by Germany and other European NATO members meant they were not pulling their weight in the alliance.
The latest German plan calls for cutting the armed forces by 60,000 people and closing 59 military bases. According to Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, this will save the military about $94 million in maintenance costs. That money can then be used to buy more advanced weapons.
The German Defense Ministry said today that keeping 7,000 troops in various parts of the Balkans costs more than 1 million marks -- nearly $440,000 -- a day.
Most commentators agree that Germany will ultimately be involved in the NATO effort to disarm rebel forces in Macedonia. But the exact nature of German participation remains unclear.