Although Germany remains the main supporter of the European common currency and largest contributor to the continent's foreign assistance outlays, this alone will not define the country as a world leader. Germany cannot be satisfied to remain a follower in international affairs, as should be obvious to the government and citizens alike.
The ease of modern communications encourages everybody to produce opinions on everything. One of the subjects most favored, among Germans right now, by what Americans used to call "cracker barrel philosophy," is that of military intervention against the Libyan dictator Mu'ammar Al-Qadhdhafi.
Action to protect the Libyan people from massive violence by the regime in Tripoli has been undertaken by France, the U.S., Britain, and other NATO allies and partners without the support of Germany. In the United Nations Security Council, Germany joined Russia, China, Brazil and India in abstaining from voting on Resolution 1973, which authorized imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. On April 1, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle declared that the conflict between Al-Qadhdhafi's clique and his rebellious subjects was not resolvable by "military means" and that a ceasefire should be imposed to let a "political process" involving the two sides begin.
The opinions of the rest of the caste of experts are predictably divided. Some welcome engagement in defense of the rebels, and others condemn it as armed interference intended only to secure control of Libya's natural resources. The only common element is contempt for Al-Qadhdhafi.
Some German politicians, including Wolfgang Bosbach of the Christian Democrats (CDU), who are led by chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized the abstention in the Security Council, even as Merkel sought to defend it. Volker Ruhe, former foreign minister and also a CDU member, denounced the German posture in the Security Council as "a heavy mistake of historic dimensions, with inevitable later results."
German commentators have compared the bloodshed in Libya with the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim males in Srebrenica, designated a "safe area" by the UN. The atrocities at Srebrenica were carried out after Dutch UN forces on the ground, and UN air commanders, failed to use their weapons to prevent the Serbian capture of the "safe area." Bosnia-Hercegovina, currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council, voted for measures to curb Al-Qadhdhafi.
Many agree that it was an error to break German solidarity with the rest of NATO by abstaining from the vote on Resolution 1973.
Joschka Fischer, also a former German foreign minister and a representative of the Green party, spoke in big terms, describing the country's foreign policy, in the influential Suddeutsche Zeitung, as "a farce" and "scandalously mistaken." Abstention from the UN resolution, according to Fischer, lost Germany credibility in the international organization, as well as in the Middle East, and consigned any claim the Federal Republic may assert for a permanent seat on the Security Council to "the dustbin." Until now, the European powers supported Germany in this aspiration; it made no sense that the continent's greatest economic power should be a minor player on the global level.
Fischer expressed shame at Germany's failure. Westerwelle, now occupying the foreign ministry, has argued that Germany's European partners respect Berlin's position, and that the risk that German troops could be deployed on Libyan territory is simply too great.
Germans believe that the country must follow its own "special path" in international relations, because of the burden of its militaristic past. But even if the majority of Germans supports the government's policy, it is still mistaken. Amid the turmoil in the Middle East, with other difficulties facing the German government, it is necessary to draw a line, both in domestic and foreign affairs. German should stand alongside our European and American partners. By its abstention, the German federal government has only added to the big task of clearing up its problems and challenges.
Restoring Germany's position will not be simple. The German nation now appears to the world as lacking a firm opinion. Without participating in the Libyan intervention, Germany seems eager to benefit from the determination of its U.S., British, and French allies.
At the same time as it refused involvement in Libya, Germany's parliament approved extension of German commitment to military operations in Afghanistan, apparently as a desperate last gesture before Berlin withdraws its forces from that country, as scheduled for the end of this year. But German officials suggested that bolstering the NATO forces in Afghanistan would ease demands on the alliance as it attends to the Libyan effort.
Fear of the Libyan campaign has its justifications for Germans. Defeating Al-Qadhdhafi without ground troops may be difficult, and Germans would prefer to be left to enjoy a flourishing economy, rising employment, and a global position of economic leadership. But living in a global world implies that all nations recognize their global responsibilities.