Is Germany’s Governing Coalition Splitting Over Foreign Policy?

Is Germany’s Governing Coalition Splitting Over Foreign Policy?

BERLIN -- During the past few months, leading members of the major political parties comprising the German coalition government have expressed widely divergent views on the key foreign policy issues facing Germany. Senior representatives from the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have made conflicting statements on the ballistic missile defense (BMD) issue, how to curb Iran's nuclear program, Germany's role in the war in Afghanistan, and other topics. At some point, these foreign-policy divergences, combined with differences over other policy areas, could lead to the coalition's collapse before its scheduled dissolution at the time of the 2009 German national elections.

Since the beginning of the year, German political leaders have engaged in an extensive debate on the U.S. initiative to deploy BMD interceptors in Poland and a BMD radar system in the Czech Republic. Chancellor Angela Merkel of the CDU has insisted that her government does not want the BMD issue to disrupt Germany's relations with Moscow and has called for extensive discussions on this issue within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, which includes all NATO members and Russia. Nevertheless, she has defended the United States, the Czech Republic, and Poland against charges that the BMD systems are directed against Russia. Merkel and other CDU leaders have praised Washington's recent efforts to address Moscow's concerns on this issue.

The leader of the SPD, Kurt Beck, agrees on the wisdom of an enhanced NATO-Russian security dialogue, but has called on Merkel to oppose the planned deployments because "The SPD doesn't want a new arms race between the U.S. and Russia on European soil. We have enough problems in the world." Beck has also chastised Polish and Czech leaders for not soliciting the views of all EU countries before consenting to such a controversial action. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who also belongs to the SPD, argues that American policy makers should have considered Moscow's concerns more seriously before announcing the planned deployment. He also has argued that, "We have to avoid a situation where the security of a few is achieved at the cost of new mistrust or even insecurity."

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