Germany's debate on Afghanistan is long overdue
BERLIN -- The new German conservative-liberal government of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her probable future Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will without doubt continue Germany's commitments in Afghanistan. There is a broad understanding in the government about the negative consequences of a premature reduction or even withdrawal of German troops. The coalition agreement between the two government parties (set to be concluded over the weekend) is unlikely to contain any details regarding the German ISAF mandate, which is up for renewal by the Bundestag in mid-December; certainly any announcements of additional troops are very unlikely at this time. But it is a move of no little significance that the German AfPak Representative's office (a job created by the previous grand coalition government in response to the nomination of Richard Holbrooke) is being moved from the Foreign Office to the Chancellery.
The real challenge for the new government will be to obtain the approval of the new parliament in December for the prolongation of Germany's mandate. The fading support of the German public -- a majority of Germans is in favor of an end to Germany's military engagement in Afghanistan -- has already increased the unease of the German opposition parties, in particular within the SPD. The fragmented and polarized political party landscape in the new German parliament will produce a fierce debate with the new German government about the strategies, rationales and objectives of the German and Western Afghanistan engagement, a debate that -- eight years after the deployment of ISAF -- is long overdue.
With the Dutch parliament's recent announcement that it will withdraw its 1,400 troops by fall 2010, and the Canadian parliament's decision to withdraw by 2011, not to mention the Japanese government ending its logistical support for Afghanistan, the new German government is under growing pressure to make its case to the parliament and to the people. The naÃ¯ve attempts by former German governments to justify the largest out-of-area military engagement in German history since 1945 with the protection of women's rights and child education in Afghanistan -- and their efforts to avoid any public discussion about hard security threats from Afghanistan -- will no longer do. Hopefully, the debate over a new mandate will broaden the basis of domestic legitimacy for Germany's involvement in Afghanistan. 4,500 German soldiers and the German people have a democratic right to it.
Note: Updated to correct Dutch troop levels.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.