Merkel moves to allay criticism over UN abstention


GERMANY:GERMANY HAS deflected criticism over its abstention from the UN Security Council resolution on Libya by offering to boost its military participation in Afghanistan.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said they withheld their support for the resolution as Germany was not prepared to participate in any military operation with “significant dangers and risks”.

German officials insisted yesterday that Berlin’s concerns about the mission would not see it try to block any military action.

In a hastily arranged press conference, Dr Merkel announced she would attend today’s talks on Libya in Paris. She said Germany had offered to boost its reconnaissance responsibilities in Afghanistan to reduce the military burden on its Nato allies.

“We wish our partners success because we follow the same political goals but we are of a different position regarding the chances of success,” said Dr Merkel. “Our hearts are heavy. It is no easy decision but one has to consider what will happen in the end.”

German foreign policy analysts suggest the growing tensions over Libya have exposed the yawning gap between Germany’s foreign policy ambitions and its realpolitik nerve.

When Germany took its seat last January as non-permanent security council member, Mr Westerwelle promised a new era in confident German foreign policy.

Yesterday the German media attacked the abstention as “shameful” and a “new low in German foreign policy”.

“After all the big talk from the foreign minister, this is a disgrace,” thundered the centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung daily.

Leading foreign policy analysts were more circumspect.

“Germany is very good at making plans and sticking to them, building up political capacity and so on, but not at all good at reacting to unfolding events,” said Dr Henning Riecke of the Germany Council of Foreign Relations. “Military power as a tool of policy remains alien to Germany, and Germans remain sceptical of it. Germany remains a country unable and unwilling to take the lead. This might disappoint our partners but it’s the way it is.”

Other analysts expressed surprise at how Berlin had cooled off on Libya after strong support for the opposition forces initially.

Mr Westerwelle was the first western figure to criticise human rights violations in Libya and Berlin diplomats played a central role in pushing for and formulating the first UN resolution against Tripoli.

But after insisting that sanctions alone would not be a strong enough reaction, Berlin declined to back France’s no-fly-zone initiative and, on Thursday, abstained from the security council vote.

“This all has exposed just how much Berlin has overestimated its own foreign policy skills,” said Dr Thomas Hasel, North Africa expert of Berlin’s Free University.

Mr Hamadi el-Aouni, a Middle East analyst in Berlin, suggested the Libyan drama marked the end of Berlin’s ambitions for a permanent seat in an expanded security council. “It shows that Germany is and will remain a second-class power,” he said, “one that continues to see foreign policy not as a military but an economic matter.”