Germany's lukewarm support of gulf war leaves its allies cold

March 13, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Paris Bureau of The Sun

PARIS -- Germany's halfhearted support for the U.S.-led coalition in the Persian Gulf war has lowered Germany's standing in American and West European leadership circles and caused Bonn's allies to wonder about its willingness to play a major international role in the coming years, U.S. and European analysts say.

Diplomats and analysts speak of a "crisis in foreign policy-making" and express concern that the wholehearted embrace of German unity in Washington last year could swing over into a rejection of the Germans as what one diplomat called "weak and useless allies."

Domestically, Chancellor Helmut Kohl has returned to his traditionally dismal popularity ratings. About 69 percent of the Germans surveyed last week said they were disappointed in Mr. Kohl, who recently dropped his pre-election promise not to raise taxes to finance unification.

The crowds that shouted support for Mr. Kohl in the east have also grown sullen. This month, only 16 percent of those polled said they believe what the chancellor says.

Since unity Oct. 3, unemployment is effectively pushing 3 million in eastern Germany, or 36 percent of the work force, if one includes the so-called short-time workers who earn the equivalent of unemployment benefits.

The picture is hardly more encouraging when Germany looks beyond its borders.

With the gulf war come and gone, the country's continuing debate over altering its constitution to allow for military operations outside the NATO theater, its enormous anti-war demonstrations and its preoccupation with managing the costly unification with East Germany have left Bonn's allies cold.

The dissatisfaction has been kept private for the moment. Though Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher was invited to Washington almost as an afterthought as the gulf war entered its final days, he could still come home claiming all was well between Washington and Bonn.

"The U.S. doesn't have an interest in saying everything is not OK, but everything is not OK," said Ron Asmus of the RAND Corp., a California-based research institute.

"It's not so much that people are upset at Germany's non-participation in the gulf war. It's more so the longer-term prospect of a Germany that is deeply divided and can no longer play the leadership role that we had hoped for it that is seriously troubling Washington," he added.

The German press is daily filled with self-criticism and defensiveness over the country's low profile during the war, along with insistent reminders of Bonn's $11 billion financial contribution toward the effort.

One commentator, writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, noted that by standing to the side, Germany had missed out on a historic chance to cement its alliance with the West.

Analysts said the dissatisfaction arose not so much from the absence of German troops in the Persian Gulf, which few American or other allied officials expected to see. What proved most damaging was rather Germany's failure to show early and full support for the coalition in other areas and its open debate over whether an attack on Turkish bases hosting NATO planes would require German support of Turkey.

At the heart of the criticism is Mr. Genscher, the first West European official to grasp the importance of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to Europe's future. But whereas Mr. Genscher was seen as visionary then, his support of Mr. $H Gorbachev and his foreign policy are now being seen by policy-makers in other capitals as confused and outmoded.

The damage control that Germany appeared to undertake with offers to increase financial assistance and send minesweepers to the gulf will do little to improve its image in the long run, said analysts, who said the assistance came far too late.

"If Genscher had come on day one of the crisis and said, 'We can't send troops, but I'm here to show you that we're with you and we're ready to do whatever else we can to show our support,' the Germans wouldn't have any of these problems," said Mr. Asmus.

"That's what Washington needed to hear. . . . As it happened, there was a sense here of checkbook diplomacy, of 'OK, how much will it take to buy these people off?' "

The difficulty for Germany lies in the absence of any alternative to Mr. Genscher, who has held the job of foreign minister for 17 years, arguably leaving a deeper imprint on German foreign policy than any of the chancellors he has watched voted in.

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