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Germany: Coalition Risks Split Over Troop Deployment Issue

Germany's coalition government is in danger of splitting over the deployment of military forces to support the U.S. in the war against terrorism. Enough members of the left-leaning Green coalition partner oppose the offer of military assistance to endanger the government's chances of winning a majority in its own right. The dispute has intensified as parliament prepares to vote this week (15 November) on the deployment of German forces.

Munich, 12 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The approval by the German parliament this week of an offer of military assistance to the U.S.-led antiterror coalition is not in doubt. The major opposition parties have said publicly they support the military deployments proposed by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder last week and approved by the cabinet.

With few exceptions, members of the governing Social Democratic Party are united in their support of the offer. But it will be a psychological defeat for the chancellor if his coalition partner, the Green party, fails to back him.

Leading Social Democrats today played down the significance of any coalition disagreement and said a government majority is not essential.

The general secretary of the Social Democratic Party, Franz Munterfering, tells RFE/RL it is more important to have a "broad degree of support across parliament." Munterfering says the Greens have strong roots in pacifism and it is not surprising that some in the party opposed Germany's involvement in the war.

Those comments were echoed by Schroeder, who said: "Of course, I am interested in having our own coalition majority. But above all, I want widespread approval by the Bundestag (parliament)."

The Green leadership met through the weekend but did not work out a common position. The lines were drawn on 10 November when seven party members issued a statement saying they "oppose any direct or indirect participation of German forces in the Afghan war." The seven will vote against Schroeder's offer to provide 3,900 soldiers and military support to the U.S. The vice president of the party, Antje Vollmer, indicated in a television interview today she would also vote against.

The eight votes alone would prevent the government from achieving its own majority. At least two, and possibly as many as four, Social Democrats are also expected to vote against their own government.

Schroeder's offer to the U.S. does not include combat troops or combat aircraft. It is limited to warships, transport aircraft, and 30 "Fox" armored vehicles that are equipped to detect nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Under Schroeder's plan, active military participation would be limited to about 100 commandos for behind-the-lines operations in Afghanistan.

Chancellor Schroeder has argued repeatedly that Germany has an obligation to give complete support to the United States. In a speech over the weekend, he said the U.S. had stood by Germany for decades and helped it in many ways. Germany could not turn its back when America itself was seeking support.

"Alliance solidarity is not a one-way street. Germany cannot benefit from the alliance solidarity of the U.S. and the help it has given us for decades and then refuse its own alliance obligations when asked."

A senior Green official, Rezzo Schlauch, responded by telling reporters the Greens are not turning their back on America. However, he said many believed in what he called "critical" solidarity with the U.S. instead of the "total" solidarity pledged by Schroeder. He said most Greens respected the right of the U.S. to hit back at those who had attacked it. But many questioned the continuation of the heavy bombing campaign in Afghanistan and wanted to know more about U.S. goals there. Some are also disturbed at the lack of precise information about the role to be played by German forces.

The government has broadly defined the deployment area as "the Arabian peninsula, Central Asia, northeastern Africa, as well as the surrounding sea areas." Some Greens are concerned this could allow the German forces to be sent to Somalia, which is considered to be a dangerous area with no internationally recognized government.

The co-leader of the Greens, Fritz Kuhn, told reporters today the Greens are faced with a fundamental issue it had never envisaged when it joined the government in 1998. "Our party was founded more than 20 years ago on a platform of peace," he said. "Should we now endorse German participation in a war?"

Kuhn continued: "This is probably the most difficult question the Greens have had to decide, and it is not easy to answer. We need a lot of discussion."

Another prominent member, Andrea Nahles, said she believes the debate within the Green party is a good thing: "I would find it disquieting if there was no debate in Germany. I believe also that the soldiers would have no understanding if we simply said: 'Well, it does not make any difference to us. We'll simply go along with it.'"

Many Greens continue to demand that the daily bombing attacks on Afghanistan should stop during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, although Schroeder has rejected a pause in the bombing.

Supporters of a temporary bombing halt are encouraged by a recent Forsa poll indicating 69 percent of Germans favor a pause and only 28 percent oppose it.

At the center of the coalition conflict is Foreign Minister and Green party member Joschka Fischer. He told one heated meeting that if the Green party was not willing to support the deployment of military forces to assist the U.S. the party should withdraw from the government. Fischer has also said he will resign if a substantial number of Greens vote against the deployment.

Fischer said his left-leaning party should understand that America is not an aggressor but the victim of aggression: "It is not America that attacked. It is America and the American people who have been attacked. If we do nothing, there will be more [terrorist] actions. One cannot hope that by waiting something positive will happen."

In a television interview last week, Fischer said critics of the deployment should understand that being a partner in the search for international security requires not just expressions of solidarity but active participation.

He said Britain, France, Italy, and Spain understand this and have committed military forces. He argued Germany could not be considered a serious partner if it did not do the same.