As 1,700 German soldiers began shipping out for Somalia last year, polls showed that slightly more than half the public believed they should come back if fired upon. It turns out they never were. Based well north of the embroiled capital of Mogadishu, the last of the German soldiers returned last month after only a single incident -- a Somali intruder was shot dead at a fuel depot. Some Germans called for an investigation.
The reasons for this deep strain of pacifism are obvious. Germany is almost daily reminded of its deeds in World War II, which, apart from devastating most of Europe, left this country in ruins, with millions of Germans killed.
"Basically, we want a Germany without an army," says Heiko Kretschmer, vice chairman of JUSOS, the youth organization of the Social Democrats. To the chagrin and embarrassment of party elders, his organization voted recently to favor abolishing the Bundeswehr.
"Not for pacifist reasons, but for pragmatic concerns," Mr. Kretschmer says. "With the end of the Cold War, Germany does not need an army for defense anymore. And we do not agree to out-of-area combat at all, because these wars are only made to secure the interests of rich industrial nations."
Even among those willing to let the army cross German borders, many say some destinations -- such as the former Yugoslavia -- are off-limits because of what happened in World War II.
Hitler's armies teamed with "Ustasha" Croatian nationalists to massacre tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Muslims and Gypsies. Serbs remain worried about possible German intervention.
But, by this rationale, is there any part of Europe that wouldn't be off-limits?
"Good question," said former defense minister Rupert Scholz. "In all places where we have been there will be this special problem, and we have been all over."
That's why some think World War II can no longer be used as an excuse.
"We cannot stay away from the common responsibility for the security of others and say, 'The others shall take the risk,' " Mr. Hornhues says. "This is neither possible in NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] nor in the U.N., for we joined these organizations and got not only rights but duties. There are also the opinions, such as Simon Wiesenthal's [the investigator of Nazi war crimes], who said that Germany has a special responsibility in former Yugoslavia because of its historic guilt."
Sometimes even Germany's friends, particularly in Europe, get uneasy when they think of the German army on the march again. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel understands, remarking recently, "Germany after reunification is something like a fully-grown Saint Bernard in a small and confining European sitting room. Every time he wags his tail, the coffee cups are in danger."
If everybody suddenly agreed on the best course for the Bundeswehr, there would still be the constitutional limitation to deal with. The government hopes to get a ruling this year from the nation's highest court that would allow more flexibility. If that doesn't happen, the Bundestag will have to do the job, although not until after national elections in October.
In the meantime, if a real emergency were to arise, Mr. Dunnigan said, "When have things like this ever made a difference before? It's a fragile barrier."