Germany sends mixed signals about military intervention in Syria
FRANKFURT, Germany: With only two weeks to go before Germany’s general election, the prospect of military intervention in Syria has become a controversial campaign issue.
The first analysis was given in Thursday’s regional daily Hamburger Abendblatt, stating that even though the German government has demanded a response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, it has not made clear how this should be done. The opposition parties, chiefly the social democrat SPD and the Greens, have remained silent.
On Friday, the weekly magazine Focus Online quoted Peer Steinbrück, the SPD’s candidate for the position of chancellor, as saying: “I want to make it clear that for me and the SPD a military intervention in Syria is not an option because we don’t see the benefit for the Syrian people out of this. It will not free the Syrian people nor will it help to solve the conflict in Syria.” Nevertheless, later on he described the US as a “reliable partner” of Germany.
A poll carried out by ZDF — one of the two public television channels — and published in the weekly Die Zeit showed that 58 per cent of Germany oppose military intervention in Syria, while 33 per cent are in favor and 9 per cent are undecided. Nevertheless, in case the US attacks Syria, 41 per cent of those polled believe that Germany should offer financial and material support, while 55 per cent opposed even such support. This reflects the German people’s strong opposition in 2002-2003 to military action in Iraq, which was a factor in then Chancellor Schröder being re-elected. It is not lost on Germany’s current government that becoming involving in military operations may cost it votes.
The German government clearly is hedging its bets. The leading daily newspaper FAZ reports that the mixed comments emanating from Chancellor Merkel, her spokesman Steffen Seibert and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle allow interpretations from outright refusal of military participation on the one extreme, to the prospect of some support if military action is supported by a UN resolution.
The lack of conclusive evidence as to who used the chemical weapons in Syria, meanwhile, gives the German government some breathing room.
The recent disclosure of wide-spread communications surveillance by the USA’s National Security Agency has caused particular concern in Germany, prompting Chancellor Merkel to state in a speech: “In Germany and Europe, it is the right of those in the right that matters, not the right of the stronger”, which was widely seen as a veiled reference to the post Sept. 11 actions of the then US government. Chancellor Merkel also said that Germany supports the US, but not blindly.
The Germany media is also focusing on reactions in other countries. The public TV channels ARD and ZDF covered widely the opposition of the UK Parliament to military intervention in Syria. Similarly, the private news channel N-TV said that disagreements over the Syria question have caused further deterioration in Franco-German relations since President Hollande has already assured the US of his country’s support.
As the main powerhouse in Europe, Germany cannot dodge the issue indefinitely. Thus Development Minister Dirk Niebel of the liberal government coalition partner FDP said to the regional Stuttgarter Zeitung this week that “no military intervention can take place without a UN mandate.”
Either way, the choices for Chancellor Merkel are not easy.