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The Consequences of German Decisions

Small button, big consequences / Photo: Steven De Polo, flickr

Small button, big consequences / Photo: Steven De Polo, flickr

After the German-directed ISAF air strike on two fuel vehicles stolen by the Taliban reportedly cost civilian lives, public calls for clarification are accompanied by both palsy and hectic in Berlin. Federal elections will take place in less than 3 weeks.

What often happens when things go very wrong is that people engage in speculation and search for a scapegoat. Too seldom though, we see people take responsibility, especially in politics. Clausewitz wrote that war never is an end in itself and always serves a political purpose. Imagine now a trigger in the hands of a German soldier serving in an army with a heavy legacy; an army from a pacifistic, self-traumatized post-war state, in which military planning, strategy and even tactics are subject to widespread emotional discussions. How much politics can efficient tactics bear?

Germany currently has over 4000 armed forces in Northern Afghanistan, who perceive this region as a war zone. Meanwhile, Berlin talks about a new mission quality or intensity, while avoiding the expression ‘war,’ and desperately latches onto its melodic concepts of a comprehensive and civilian-military co-operative approach. And still, the German public has nothing but a blurry idea why their forces are fighting in Afghanistan.

It is more than tragic that it costs lives for Germany to realize that it cannot engage in combat without killing anyone or suffering casualties. Clearly, this lack of awareness can be partly explained by Germany’s post-war trauma. But who would give a gun to someone traumatized by violence?

The question simply is: How many lives must be lost until the Germans overcome their palsy? As soon as there is a risk for German soldiers to be involved in combat, the parliament has to authorize their deployment. If Germany cannot take this risk with all its consequences, then it should not deploy its forces anywhere.

Providing better force protection, air mobility and reconnaissance capability will certainly help German ISAF forces to do their job better. But what is more important than anything else is that the Federal Republic should learn to take responsibility for its decisions and become aware of the reality on the battlefield.

German government declaration about the air strike, Sept 8 – 2009 [Video, German]