Germany shows willingness to start flexing its military muscle on its own

September 13, 1990|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Paris Bureau of The Sun

PARIS -- As East and West Germany finish erasing their postwar division, the restored Germany is showing an unembarrassed readiness to resume its military sovereignty that is surprising close observers of German politics.

The debate over whether Germany should alter its constitution to allow military action outside NATO territory -- which analysts expected would take years -- appears to have been quietly settled in Bonn in weeks, propelled by the Western mobilization in the Persian Gulf.

"All of the old arguments about whether it was dangerous for Germany to rearm, those reservations dropped away rather quickly," said Ron Asmus, an expert on Germany at the Rand Corp., a California-based research institute.

"It's a real breakthrough in German thinking," said Anne-Marie Le Gloannec of the Bavarian Foundation for Politics and Research. "All Germany, even the Social Democrats, agreed to change the constitution."

On Sunday, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl told German radio that he was "firmly resolved" to alter the constitution to allow for operations outside the domain of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He said he had been prompted by the gulf crisis and by the perception in Western capitals that Germany was not pulling its weight.

"I know there are different opinions here, but we must not allow the situation -- this would severely harm Germany's reputation -- if the judgment around the world was that if there is money to made, they're here, but if the issue is taking responsibility, they evade it," he said.

"As a member of the United Nations, we cannot stand aside when the United Nations calls on us to take responsibility."

It is now expected that Germany, in the first months of 1991, either will change its constitution or reinterpret it in a way that would widen its latitude for military operations.

The rapid conclusion of the debate also signals a deep shift in the way Germans see themselves. No longer are they apparently mired in uncertainty about their country's most basic characteristics -- its identity, boundaries and sovereignty.

"There's certainly a growing confidence in the country's role in global politics as well as the economy, and Kohl's willing to put it on the map," said a Western diplomat.

The Iron Curtain's fall has not only removed the mark of Germany's murderous attempt to dominate Europe half a century ago, observers said. It also has removed the most forceful sign of Germany's subjugation to the superpowers, restoring its freedom of action and with it freedom of independent thought.

Political leaders in Bonn, who had been known for their indecision and endless debates over minor details, have swept away the obstacles to German reunification. It has been less than a year since the first East Germans stepped tentatively through the Berlin Wall that heady last Nov. 9, bearing only their personal identification papers.

Mr. Asmus of the Rand Corp. sees a muted, unlabeled patriotism growing up in Germany on the edge of reunification, along with an unspoken presumption among citizens and their leaders that "we're going to have to stop acting like a self-defeated country."

"It would have been impossible three years ago," he said. "What the Germans are now finding is that the rest of the world is interested in their expertise, their resources."

The deeper debate -- to determine under which circumstances and in what framework a united Germany should dispatch its military on foreign soil -- is only beginning to take shape. Observers expect the opposition Social Democrats to press for more restrictions on the armed forces, perhaps limiting their deployment to U.N. peace missions and operations in the NATO theater.

"I think it's still a sensitive issue," a Western diplomat said, and debate over when Germany should send out its military "hasn't even started yet."

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