Germany’s reluctance to participate in the French intervention in Mali beyond providing logistical support and humanitarian assistance is hardly surprising. Europe’s “leading power” has been repeatedly absent from its partners’ past military efforts, the most notable recent example being its refusal in 2011 to take part in the operation against Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. Although Germany now hopes to prove itself a reliable partner, it appears to be caught between its reservations about foreign military intervention and its responsibilities as an ally, neighbor and large European power.
Despite every indication that the crisis in Mali is developing into a conflict with grave implications for all of Europe, France currently stands alone among European powers in its military intervention to avert a takeover of Mali by Islamist extremist forces. However, it is likely that the 2,500 French and 3,300 African troops to be deployed in Mali will soon require support from allies if they are to secure any gains made against the militants.
In response to last week’s hostage situation in southern Algeria, the U.K. has now announced that its forces are on alert for emergency deployment to Mali if France requests its support. Germany, by contrast, has ruled out any direct participation of German soldiers in support of French and African combat operations. The only action it has taken so far is to deploy to Mali’s capital two Transall cargo planes, which will be used to transport troops supplied by member states of the West African economic community ECOWAS to Mali. Berlin has further announced that it will contribute personnel to a planned post-conflict European Union training mission for Malian forces. The narrow limits of the German mission are no coincidence, since any operation involving the deployment of military personnel abroad would need to be approved by the German parliament.