COIN in Berlin

In a WPR Briefing from earlier this week, Nicolas Nagle discussed some of the tensions Germany’s Afghanistan deployment is causing within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new coalition government. This Der Spiegel article offers some further detail, and suggests that there’s essentially open warfare between Foreign Minister Guido Westerwalle, who is hostile to any troop increase, and Defense Minister Theodor zu Guttenberg, who is pushing to add up to 2,000 more troops. This goes a long way to explaining why Germany insisted on waiting until the Afghanistan Conference in London later this month before responding to President Barack Obama’s call for more NATO troops. But there’s no guarantee it will have an answer by then, either. The article suggests that a compromise figure of 1,000 troops is possible, but far from certain.

For an American perspective long primed by disparaging assessments of Germany’s contribution to the Afghan war, it helps to try to understand the view from Berlin. Merkel is essentially trying to balance the German government’s commitment to NATO and the U.S., a pillar of its post-war foreign and defense policy consensus, with the German people’s aversion to engaging in warfare, a pillar of its post-war politico-cultural identity. (For an insightful discussion of this dichotomy, I highly recommend the WPR feature issue, Germany: The Reluctant Power.) Combine that with popular opposition to the Afghan war in particular, and it becomes clear why any measures Merkel takes can only be token at best.

The irony here is that Germany — and NATO allies in general — are being asked to support a mission that aims, among other things, to install democracy in Afghanistan, at the cost of democracy, or at least democratic principles of consent, in Germany.

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