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It's Time For Germany To Stop Sitting On Its Hands


International Business: COMMENTARY

IT'S TIME FOR GERMANY TO STOP SITTING ON ITS HANDS

When the Germanys reunited last October after 40 years of cold war, Washington cheered. A few weeks later, President Bush visited Chancellor Helmut Kohl and spoke glowingly of Germany's new role as a world leader. Kohl noted that one Germany wouldn't have happened without U. S. support and promised "we'll never forget that." Now, as the U. S. pours money, troops, and energy into the gulf war, the eternal gratitude has faded from view. When war broke out, Kohl mumbled a lukewarm statement of support while demonstrators shouted anti-American slogans in protests from Frankfurt to Berlin.

The most economically powerful country in Europe, with the second-largest army after the Soviet Union, Germany is opting to be a spectator. Bonn is willing to dole out modest checks, but when it comes to prestige and emotion, its own affairs come first. Soul-searching Germans are preoccupied with healing the old rifts between east and west and are reluctant to flex their muscles in the world at large.

But these are dangerous times, too volatile for Germans to be ambivalent about their responsibilities as a Western power. While the world is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of a militarized Germany, Germans could be doing a lot more. Says Helmut Hubel, a Middle East expert at Bonn's Foreign Policy Society: "The U. S. is defending German interests in the gulf. It would be wise for Germany to play a more constructive role."

IRAQ'S ARMORERS. For one thing, in this highly televised war, there are few Americans or Europeans who don't know that German companies supplied many of the ingredients essential to Iraq's chemical and nuclear weapons programs. If Germany waits until such weapons are used to jump on board, it will have lost credibility worldwide. At a minimum, Germany could take the lead in an international crackdown on export sales of nuclear parts and chemical-weapons gear. And the country could head up medical and humanitarian aid efforts across the Continent.

Such actions would steer clear of military involvement, which is constrained by Germany's constitution. As it stands now, German forces can't be deployed outside the NATO area of Europe. Even so, domestic politics are in a tumult. Although 80% of German voters now support the coalition attack on Iraq, three out of every four voters oppose any direct German involvement in the conflict. Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Free Democratic Party coalition partners lost power in elections for the Hesse statehouse in mid-January. A coalition of Socialists and Greens, who oppose engagement in the war, won control by a slim two-seat margin. "There's a general uneasiness about getting into war when peace was the main theme of the 1990s," says Heiko H. Thieme, a consultant to Deutsche Bank in the U. S.

But if the war widens, Germany may have little choice but to take up arms. Unlike Japan, Germany has military forces in the region. Since Jan. 4, 18 German Alpha jets and about 300 men--pilots and ground crews--have been stationed in Turkey. Small in number, they are there on a NATO mission to defend Turkey if it is attacked by Iraq. Still, with the Socialists campaigning to recall the jets, Kohl refuses to discuss publicly the circumstances under which he would order them into action.

'FAIR SHARE.' So far, Germany's main contribution has been financial. Bonn kicked in $ 2.2 billion, about half in aid to frontline states such as Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey, and half in cash, materiel, and logistical aid to the U. S. And on Jan. 23, Kohl offered $ 165 million in emergency aid to Israel. He has also pledged "substantially higher financial contributions" for eventual postwar reconstruction in the Mideast. Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady confirmed he had assurances from German leaders that they "will do their fair share" to support the U. S. war effort. Cash contributions may buy Germany a bit of time. But they won't solve the problem of what place Germany is willing to assume in geopolitics. Neat plans to link German power to new European Community institutions or a Europewide defense strategy may already be in tatters. Each major EC country went its own way in the gulf crisis. Britain and Italy quickly joined with the Americans, and France reluctantly signed on only after its diplomatic initiatives failed. Now, CDU leader Volker Ruhe wants Europe to pull together in a "community of destiny." But Germany has to work out its own destiny first--and the faster, the better.John Templeman


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