Germany’s role in Afghanistan: Prospects for 2009 under a new mandate
On October 20, GMF's Washington office hosted a discussion on "Germany's role in Afghanistan: Prospects for 2009 under a new mandate" with GMF Transatlantic Fellow Till Knorn and Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution. The event was moderated by John K. Glenn, director of foreign policy at GMF.
Participants agreed that, despite the Bundestag's approval of a renewed mandate for German troops in Afghanistan, the mission remains as contentious as ever in German politics and will only become more so as the elections of 2009 approach. Some participants warned that the apparent agreement in the recent parliamentary debate may obscure deeper differences. Many in the SPD who voted to extend this mandate may have done so largely as a show of solidarity with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is expected to vie for the chancellorship as the SPD's candidate, and some supporters may change positions after the elections if Steinmeier were to lose. The SPD may move farther to the left, further eroding support for a strong German commitment. This could entrench the resistance to a more robust German presence in Afghanistan, and likely precipitate the most heated discussion yet on German's role in the conflict.
Other participants commented that throughout the German debates on Afghanistan, there has a been a dearth of leadership that could overcome public opposition to Germany's military contributions to the NATO mission, when policymakers may tell their American counterparts in private that they support the mission. The same participants said that the level of the German troop commitment is less important than demonstrating Germany's solidarity with the mission. Despite disagreements on tactics, the international community has agreed that a comprehensive approach is the only viable framework for success, and thus far Germany has been unwilling to participate in the mission on those terms.
There was extensive discussion of German perceptions of the American approach to the mission in Afghanistan as solely a military one with public attention to collateral damage to the local population, even if this one-dimensional view does not reflect the realities on the ground. The participants debated the viability of a "surge" strategy for Afghanistan, although some dismissed the debate as misdirection from what they considered to be the issue of committing sufficient resources to the challenges. Some said that seemingly differing approaches to, for instance, the use of air strikes as a tool in force protection might actually be similar in practice if German troops were to contribute to counterinsurgency in the south and east. Participants commented that multiple command structures may increase the operational costs of multilateral engagements in conflict zones to an extent that will become increasingly unacceptable to individual nations. Unless NATO countries can mitigate this problem, prospects for future cooperation in future counterinsurgency environments may be bleak.