Germany's relations with the United States are under new pressure following a change in the leadership of the pacifist Greens party, a junior member of the governing coalition. The new leadership has raised doubts about Berlin's promise to allow the United States and its allies overflight rights if there is an attack on Iraq without a mandate from the United Nations. Relations between Berlin and Washington had already been strained following German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's campaign promises not to participate in any U.S.-led war against Iraq.
Munich, 10 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Greens party's questions focus on the use of airfields in Germany by the United States and its allies if they attack Iraq without a specific mandate from the United Nations.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said on 27 November that he would grant the United States unrestricted freedom to fly in German airspace, as well as to shuttle troops in and out of its military bases in Germany. Schroeder said at the time that Germany could not ignore long-standing legal agreements that give the United States broad latitude in moving its forces around Germany and making military flights over the country.
But Angelika Beer, the new, left-leaning leader of Schroeder's coalition partner, the Greens party, said any use of airfields or other military facilities in Germany by the United States without a specific UN authorization for an attack on Iraq would violate the German Constitution. "According to our constitution, a military action against Iraq without a UN mandate would be a violation of international law. Under Article 26 [of the constitution], we cannot participate [in such an action] in any form," Beer said.
Beer emphasized that this was not only her position but the official position of the Greens party, on which the government depends to remain in power. The policy was adopted when a new executive board was elected in Hanover on the weekend with Beer at its head. German commentators say her position is not a surprise. In the previous parliament, she was the defense spokeswoman for the Greens party and was well-known for taking pacifist positions.
Beer's statements contradict the views of her party's best-known member, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who has said frequently that Germany has no legal right to stop the United States' use of its Ramstein air base and other military facilities if it goes to war with Iraq.
German commentators say it is unclear how many of the parliamentary members of the party support the official party position as expressed by Beer.
Beer's statements were criticized by Olaf Scholtz, the secretary-general of the governing Social Democrats. He described them as "sheer speculation" and said they are based on unrealistic theorizing about "what happens, if something else happens first."
Scholtz said the German government's position on Iraq is based on United Nations Resolution 1441. This requires another meeting of the UN Security Council to decide what to do if Iraq does not cooperate fully with the UN weapons inspectors and fails to provide an adequate report on its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq filed an almost-12,000-page report on its weapons programs on 7 December.
Wolfgang Schaeuble, the security spokesman for the opposition Christian Democrats, said there is no reason to believe that the United States will ignore the United Nations in regard to Iraq. U.S. President George W. Bush has said the United States will work together with the UN, and Schaeuble said he believes the United States will do so. "The American president has always said the United States wants to work within the framework of the UN. So the Greens do not need to worry. The Americans will honor their own position," Schaeuble said.
In her comments, Beer also discussed the possibility that the United States might seek the use of NATO's fleet of AWACS surveillance aircraft. Seventeen of them are based at Geilenkirchen in the German state of North Rhine-Westfalia. The crews are supplied by 11 countries, but one-third are German.
Beer argues that allowing German crews to participate in military surveillance missions over Iraq would violate the government's pledge that it will not support any military action.
German government spokesman Bela Anda said today the possibility of using the AWACS planes over Iraq was raised by Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz during a recent NATO meeting in Brussels. But Anda said no formal request has been received from the United States.
He declined to speculate on government reaction until such a request is received.