German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has reiterated that his government will not participate in any military attack on Iraq, and new opinion polls suggest that a majority of German voters support his position. The opposition parties that will challenge Schroeder in next month's election differ, however, in their response to the chancellor's comments. As RFE/RL reports, the opposition has yet to offer a unified position on German participation in a possible war.
Munich, 12 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was asked by state television this weekend about his recent statement that Germany would not participate in any U.S.-led war against Iraq.
A journalist interrupted a program devoted mostly to the domestic election campaign to say that German soldiers, their families, and their children are curious to know if Schroeder's comments mean that German soldiers will not participate in any attack on Iraq under any circumstances.
Schroeder agreed, saying that his previous statement is still valid and that nothing has changed.
His comments have renewed a debate in Germany that began when he told an election rally in Hannover a week ago that if his Social Democrat government is returned to power in next month's poll, it will resist involvement in any U.S. war to depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Washington accuses Baghdad of pursuing the development of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.
In Hannover, Schroeder said pressure should be put on Saddam to allow international observers to monitor his weapons sites and added: "I can only warn of playing games with war and military intervention. We will not be part of it."
Opinion polls published over the weekend indicate that 62 percent of voters support Schroeder's position. Only 6 percent say Germany should participate in any war against Iraq. Another 24 percent say German soldiers should stay at home but that Berlin could supply military equipment if requested. Six percent say Germany could provide financial assistance if asked but that it should keep its soldiers at home.
In his weekend interview with state television, Schroeder said Germany will always honor its NATO pledge to support its allies when they are under attack. Article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack on one member country is an attack on all members of the military alliance. Schroeder said: "First of all, we take seriously our NATO commitments. That means if our partner is attacked, Germany will come to its assistance. There's no question about that."
But commentators say Schroeder appears to be drawing a distinction between support for a NATO ally under attack -- as happened with the United States on 11 September -- and its approach to other military situations.
Schroeder says he believes the international community should continue to work with the United Nations to put pressure on Saddam to allow international monitors to investigate whether there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as the U.S. alleges. "Together with the United Nations, we developed a policy of restraint. My appeal is that we should continue this -- maintain pressure on Saddam Hussein to allow the inspectors into the country."
Schroeder said this policy is acceptable to moderate Arab governments. He said it is his view that the international community should hold back in regard to military intervention in Iraq. Schroeder also said in his weekend comments that Germany's military capacity is stretched to its limits -- with the stationing of military units in Afghanistan and the Balkans and the deployment of naval forces off the Arabian coast.
Schroeder said that, after the U.S., Germany has the second-largest number of troops committed to international operations. He said Berlin has "reached the limit" of what it can be realistically expected to do.
Germany was quick to offer its support to the United States after the terrorist attacks of 11 September. But as talk has turned this year to a possible U.S.-led military offensive against Iraq, the German government began to signal its misgivings.
In February, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who represents the pacifist Greens party, said the international coalition formed to fight terrorism after the 11 September attacks did not authorize the U.S. to act unilaterally against Iraq. He said the coalition "is not a blank check to invade some country."
A government spokesman said at the time that Fischer's comments had been coordinated with other members of the government.
The Christian Democratic (CDU) opposition has been cautious in its comments on Schroeder's views. The CDU's foreign policy expert, Karl Lamers, has spoken against an invasion of Iraq, saying he believes it would be the wrong course of action. But another senior member of the party, Wolfgang Schaeuble, says German participation cannot be ruled out if there is a UN mandate for such an invasion.
Schroeder's challenger in next month's election, Edmund Stoiber, the premier of Bavaria, has largely remained outside the debate, except to say a UN mandate would be required for any German participation. Stoiber has called for the issue to be kept out of the election campaign.