Germany’s Libya Mistake

Back for a moment to Libya. (From Letterman, Top Ten Thoughts That Went Through Herman Cain’s Mind During The ‘Libya’ Moment: 10. “Libya? I remember Lydia, but I don’t remember a Libya!”)

As in any revolution, people were called upon to make a serious choice one way or another: revolt or support Qaddafi? If your side did not emerge victorious, you were sure to be in serious trouble. That was most gravely true for Libyan residents, but other parties had a similar dilemma, especially once the tide started to turn against the rebels starting around March and the prospect of civilian massacres started to arise. Much of NATO – including, crucially, the Obama administration, although the lead was taken by France and the UK – then chose to intervene, and managed to get passed UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to justify (somewhat) that intervention. Others held back – and the most prominent of these was Germany, which made no contribution to that NATO military effort and in fact abstained in the Security Council vote on Resolution 1973.

Well, now Qaddafi is dead and gone, and the winners and losers are clear. Germany is a loser (although not as badly as the regime supporters). In that light, @swissbusiness has come up with a fascinating interview in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

The interviewee is Elke Hoff, Defense Spokeswomen for the FDP, junior party in Angela Merkel’s current governing coalition and the ideological home of German Foreign Minister Guide Westerwelle, while the interviewer is one Andreas Jahn, presumably a journalist or editor at that paper – but in any event, probably Swiss and so with no particularly need to mince words . . .

His very first “question”: “You guys were wrong!” Frau Hoff is gracious enough to admit that that was indeed the case, but quickly gets rather defensive when Jahn follows-up with “So was this Germany’s biggest foreign policy mistake since the founding of the Federal Republic?” Wait a second, she says, there you’re quoting Joschka Fischer (German Foreign Minister 1998-2005)! Not only are out-of-office Foreign Ministers not supposed to criticize the policies of their successors, but Fischer has enough mistakes on his own plate to apologize for – like admitting Greece to the euro! (Oooh, touché!)

It doesn’t take long, though, before this sort of apportioning of blame loses its usefulness and appeal. Luckily, the interview goes on to look forward, namely to possible future humanitarian interventions that Germany might well be interested in supporting – especially now that the possibility for something like that in Syria seems to be growing. So what is Germany’s position? From what one can make out from Frau Hoff, it’s one that may not be entirely coherent:

  • Yes, participating in a NATO intervention in Syria would be justified, she makes clear . . .
  • Except that the sine qua non for that would be an authorizing UN Security Council resolution. Hoff doesn’t think that is likely – Russia and China will never go for it – precisely because of displeasure of what happened with Resolution 1973, which those governments feel was distorted way beyond the “protect the civilians” purpose it initially allowed (and they may well be correct). What if a regional organization asks for intervention instead? – the Arab League is obviously headed towards something like that. No dice, says Frau Hoff: the German Constitution accepts only a UN Security Council resolution. (And let us recall here how strange the very idea of Germany sending any military forces outside of its own country was until a very short time ago.)
  • So what about the emerging international doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect,” which potentially authorizes the violation of a nation’s sovereignty if it starts mistreating its own citizens too severely? Frau Hoff cannot endorse this. There can be no general rule as to interventions; “NATO cannot be the world’s policeman.” Plus, NATO should not intervene – no matter how shocking a government’s abuses – if it can’t be sure that it has the military staying-power to see the intervention through to victory. Frau Hoff strongly insinuates here that that has only been shown to be possible when the Americans are on-board; so no NATO intervention, no matter what, without the USA.

It’s all a bit strange, considering she does openly endorse the concept – in theory, at least – of an intervention in Syria. But the many conditions she hedges that with probably mean that German participation in any further intervention – in Syria, Bahrain, or elsewhere – continues to be unlikely.

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