In a major speech, Chancellor Helmut Kohl on Wednesday moved closer to formally endorsing a wider role for the German military forces.
Kohl told the opening session of a two-day conference on the future of Germany in Europe that the country should reject a limited constitutional change allowing its armed forces, or Bundeswehr, to participate only in token U.N. peacekeeping forces and instead consider broader options.
“We should explore . . . the participation of the Bundeswehr in joint operations according to Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter (and) the participation of the Bundeswehr in a joint action within the framework of a future European security structure,” he said.
Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter authorizes the use of blockades “and other operations” to preserve international security--wording that, in the opinion of many, includes the recent American-led allied force used to free Kuwait.
While such a wider role for German military forces has been discussed informally as part of a debate about a possible constitutional amendment, Kohl’s remarks were the first in such a formal setting and seemed to set the government’s position.
A proposal to amend the constitution is expected later this year.
“The idea that (German forces) should operate outside Europe or within larger, integrated European units has not been put forward like this before,” said Eckehardt Ehrenberg, director of the Research Institute for Security Policy and International Development in Bonn. “It’s new.”
Kohl’s comments and the debate about the military role of a united Germany are a direct result of the Persian Gulf War.
Although Germany provided about $10 billion to support the allied force financially, constitutional wording was interpreted as forbidding the deployment of German forces outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization area.
Consequently, the only German military force dispatched to the Gulf consisted of 18 obsolete aircraft to defend NATO’s southernmost member, Turkey, in the unlikely event of an attack by Iraq.
The absence of German forces--coupled with revelations that German companies had helped Iraq develop chemical weapons--severely damaged the country’s standing politically and isolated it from its closest allies.
As the prime benefactors of collective security during the four-decade-long Cold War, many Germans were dismayed that they were blocked constitutionally from supporting the anti-Iraq coalition militarily.
However, others argued that German military power had already caused too much suffering this century and, by refusing to send forces to the Gulf, the country had finally learned the lesson of history.
Although clearly divided, a majority of the German public is believed to support a wider change such as that proposed by Kohl.