German Defense Review Leaves Key Questions Unanswered

The German government recently completed its first major defense review in twelve years. The "White Paper 2006 on German Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr" stresses the German government's commitment to work with the United States, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and other "networked security structures" to promote international peace and stability. In particular, the document highlights Germany's role in helping solve a "broad" (i.e., predominately non-military) range of security challenges outside the North Atlantic area.
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Despite its bold vision and comprehensive assessment, the White Paper fails to resolve three major problems that constrain Germany's ability to manage international security problems. First, it does not indicate how the country will overcome the tension that has arisen with its allies over the restrictions Germany has placed on its foreign military operations, especially in Afghanistan. Second, the White Paper reaffirms the country's policy of conscription, which complicates the deployment of forces abroad in operations more demanding than simple peacekeeping. Disputes over the conscription issue delayed the White Paper's publication for many years. Only the advent of the new German government broke the logjam. Third, the document does not explain how Germany can become a world power without increased defense spending.

During the weeks preceding the late-November NATO summit in Riga, other member governments complained that the German military was inadequately contributing to the NATO-led stability operation in Afghanistan. At present, almost 3,000 German troops operate in the country's northern regions. Along with certain other foreign countries, they have adamantly refused to operate in large numbers in other areas where the fighting is more intense. As a result, American, British, Canadian, Dutch, and other NATO forces have had to counter the Taliban's resurgence in southern Afghanistan without direct German military assistance.

The German government justifies its policy by noting that its northern sector encompasses 40 percent of the country. Less vocally, German officials complain about the overly militarized approach towards the Afghan conflict. The German public widely prefers that German soldiers engage in civic reconstruction and other non-combat missions. The White Paper, reflecting Germans' continued reluctance to employ force, clearly prioritizes non-military solutions to security problems.

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