A Post-Afghanistan Germany

We tend to think of the war in Afghanistan in terms of its impact on American power, and even for the implications it will have for NATO as an out-of-theater alliance. But here’s a thought: What if the most significant impact of the Afghanistan War is to soothe Germany’s fraught relationship with the use of “hard power”?

If so, then a major joint operation launched this week — in which 300 German troops supported 1,200 Afghan soldiers with heavy arms and mortar, light-armored vehicles and air support — marked a turning point. The operation is Germany’s first offensive military campaign since WWII. To give a sense of how significant that is, keep in mind that the war in Afghanistan is not even called a war in Germany, and that this week’s operation was carried out with a minimum of domestic fanfare. If you’d like even more background, try Matthias Karádi’s WPR feature article (sub. req.) on Germany’s national identity as the “civilian power.”

Now, this is something that the U.S. has been pressuring Germany to do for a while. And as Karádi’s article makes clear, there are other “tripwires” on any return to German “normalcy,” including its “never alone” posture that has grafted multilateralism onto its strategic culture, and the fact that domestic opinion has yet to fully absorb or approve this shift.

But over the long term, the emergence of a “normal” Germany, comfortable in the use of hard and soft power, would represent a major shift in the global geopolitical landscape, and would probably encourage similar developments, already in the embryonic phases, in Japan. And it would have begun — for both, really — in Afghanistan.

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