Bonn not likely to send troops to Persian Gulf

December 13, 1990|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

BERLIN -- Despite pressure from U.S. congressional and diplomatic circles, it appears unlikely that Germany will alter its constitution in time to send Bundeswehr forces to join the American-led military coalition lined up against Iraq, analysts and other sources said.

"I would be very surprised" if German forces ended up fighting alongside American, British and French troops in the Persian Gulf, a Defense Ministry source in Bonn said.

Despite declarations by Chancellor Helmut Kohl several months ago that Germany must not shirk its international responsibility, the popular mood appears solidly against Germany's joining any potential military confrontation.

"It's your, American war," a Foreign Ministry source said.

Perhaps the most open indication of German feelings came during the recent federal election campaign.

Just a few days after persuading his European Community allies to issue a declaration discouraging private hostage rescue missions to Baghdad, Mr. Kohl raised protests in European capitals by giving former Chancellor Willy Brandt his "best wishes" in seeking the release of German captives.

Later, Mr. Kohl's statements opposing a military conflict were followed by the release of all German hostages from Iraq and Kuwait -- for which Mr. Kohl claimed credit in his campaign literature.

There apparently was no fear of a popular or international backlash, something French President Francois Mitterrand, for example, had to consider when all of his country's hostages were released this fall.

Germany's allies had hoped that with the election over, Mr. Kohl would get down to the business of altering Germany's constitution to allow for the dispatch of German forces outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's area of operations.

But the election campaign also brought out the domestic unpopularity of an engagement in the gulf, making it to everyone's advantage here that the parliamentary debate over Germany's future military role be drawn out.

In 20 random interviews from Stuttgart to Berlin, among Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and liberals, among citizens of the former East and West Germany, not one person favored Germany's joining the multinational force in the gulf.

"It's not our business to get involved in another war," said a retired civil servant at a Kohl campaign rally in Stuttgart. "I lost my leg in the last one."

The pensioner said Germany did have a responsibility to its European and American allies who were risking lives and fortunes in the gulf. But he stood firm to his opposition and insisted, as popular wisdom here has it, that any clash in the gulf would end in World War III.

"I am strictly against our involvement in this issue," said Joerg Amelang, 30, a civilian employee in the former East German army, now working for the Bundeswehr, or German military. "To me, it seems that we Germans have been guilty for two world wars in this century, so that we should stay out and not be one of the causes of World War III."

The debate over German involvement in a conflict outside Europe also has underscored the extent to which World War II and its aftermath have reshaped Germans' thinking about their country's role in the international arena.

One Western diplomat described postwar Germany and Japan -- which has shown similar sentiments -- as "incomplete powers."

"They're registering 5-6 percent growth rates, but they are both incomplete powers in terms of a sense of responsibility," he said. "They don't have a feeling for the kind of responsibility that the British, for example, still have."

Perhaps most significantly, the debate has highlighted the difference in the lessons drawn from World War II by the victors and the vanquished.

"Germany's conclusion is 'Never threaten anyone' and 'Never, never launch an aggression outside of Europe,' " said the Defense Ministry source. "The West fixes on Munich and the importance of not capitulating. It learned, 'Never be weak again.' "

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