And a German Dispute Eastwards . . .

Once again Iraq is causing divisions within NATO. This time it’s between the Poles and the Germans. In one respect, this is nothing new: Chancellor Schröder’s SPD-Green administration had always made it clear that it would not support a war in Iraq, in any way, even if it were given official United Nations approval – e.g. if the so-called “Second Resolution” had passed the Security Council. On the other hand, Poland was one of the few nations (the others including only Australia and Albania) to actually send troops to contribute to the military effort of the War in Iraq. In fact, Polish commandos did some rather good work in securing Iraqi oil platforms offshore in the Persian Gulf once hostilities got under way.

But the war phase is now over, and the occupation phase has begun.

There are now plans for a “Polish” zone of occupation in Iraq, and this of course is a tribute to the Polish military contribution. But the sticking points are 1) Money, and 2) Troops: Poland feels it doesn’t have enough of either to really take charge of that “Polish” zone.

We won’t deal with the money question here – that shouldn’t be any problem in the end, Poland should be able to “get by with a little help from its friends” – but where to find the troops? Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski thought he had the answer in the joint Polish-German-Danish NATO army corps based in Szczecin, in northwest Poland, which after all has an existing headquarters and planning staff that should be able to execute this mission. But now it seems the German authorities are saying “Not so fast!”

And the Poles are highly annoyed. Niemcy mówia: nie! (“The Germans say: No!”) reads the headline in the main Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza: “The German government excludes due to technical and political reasons the taking-part of the joint Polish-German-Danish corps in the stabilization forces in Iraq,” it quotes German government spokesman Bela Anda as saying. And Rzeczpospolita, in an article entitled Zalezy nam na Niemcach (“We depend on the Germans”), has Szmajdzinski all the more embarrassed because this was the plan he arrived at with the authorities in Washington, when he was there last weekend accompanying Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on a visit. (Strangely, German Defense Minister Peter Struck was also there at about the same time.)

(Strange, there is no mention in the Polish press of anyone asking the Danes their opinion about whether they feel like sending their troops to Iraq to help “stabilize” in the Polish zone, although I do know that they have offered to send troops to Iraq generally. Maybe it’s time for a EuroSavant visit to the Danish press!)

Rzeczpospolita also does it part to illuminate this contretemps by including in today’s editions interviews both with Minister Szmajdzinski and, if not with the German Defense Minister himself, then with the German “shadow” Defense Minister, opposition politician (and former actual Defense Minister) Volker Rühe.

Szmajdzinski: It would be better to undertake the “stabilization” mission in Iraq using the Northeastern Corps [i.e. the joint Polish-German-Danish NATO Corps], since the Germans have an excellently-organized and schooled military. But we could do it ourselves if we had to. Still, I’m counting on the Germans’ changing their minds. After all, it’s also in their interest to participate in the stabilization mission. For decades their foreign policy has been built around the German-American relationship, but in the past few months that fundament has been somewhat broken-up.
Interviewer: Don’t you think the Germans would find it somewhat of a dishonor to serve under the Poles?
Szmajdzinski: I don’t think so. Anyway, it’s time to put dignity [Polish: ambicje] to the side, for there are serious interests involved here. And it’s not so strange these days for the forces of one country to serve under the command of another – the Germans have recently commanded others in Afghanistan.

And the Volker Rühe interview. Nothing on the current disagreement over the Polish zone of occupation in Iraq, but he does say some interesting things about last week’s “mini-summit” on defense of France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg, in Brussels (covered previously by EuroSavant – just page down the weblog):
Polish interviewer: Do you think that, after the recent Iraq crisis, American and Europe will grow apart, or will they again come closer together?
Rühe: A coming-together is in the cards, because this has to happen. But first Europe must show itself worthy of such a coming-together. It must show that it can speak with one voice on essential issues.
Polish interviewer: The EU doesn’t yet have a common foreign and security policy, nor true rapid reaction forces, but recently there was a new initiative from Belgium, France, Germany, and Luxembourg – a so-called avant-garde for a common EU defense. What do you think of that initiative?
Rühe: That was no avant-garde. That was a mistake. Even more so due to the anti-American tinge that it had. Great Britain did not take part in the dreaming-up of that initiative. For now this much is clear: if Europe wants to seriously address the military question, the question of security policy, that intention will only take shape when the English, Dutch, Italians etc. also take part.

But maybe it’s not too late to find some solution to the latest German-Polish misunderstanding, perhaps through the intervention of Jacques Chirac: The heads of state of France, Germany, and Poland – the so-called “Weimar Three” – meet tomorrow in the Polish city of Wroclaw. Interested in getting a report on that – from the perspectives of the French, German, and/or Polish press? Then just drop a line to (drumroll, please) EuroSavant!

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.