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What's at Stake at Home

Georg Paul Hefty

Of course, the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, did not on Wednesday issue a blank check for the deployment of military power against terrorists and their sponsors; and of course, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization did not last week issue a blank check for joint military action by the Atlantic alliance against those who carried out the military attack on the United States on Sept. 11. Nonetheless, there is no denying that, in Brussels and Berlin, a certain mechanism has been set in motion. The actual triggers of the chain reaction are the assassins and, even more so, those who gave them their orders. They were not seeking revenge for any specific event. They were determined to provoke the world. Of course, the civilized nations' reaction to the crime was calculable -- but if they had not reacted that way, they would have already lost the struggle.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder used clear language in the Bundestag to prepare Germany's citizens for what might lie ahead: "Germany is prepared to take risks, even military ones." His postscript "but not adventures" does not contradict, but it underscores the willingness to take on risks. This is a complete transformation of Germany's security and military doctrine. Until a few weeks ago, the maxim guiding all German military deployments was the troops' safety. Now, the chancellor not only accepts potential risk, but he has also stated his willingness to consciously assume it -- and he believes that policy will "assure Germany's future in the free world." The only justification is that he fears even greater risks and wants to counter them while there is time.

This represents his analysis of the situation, and the parliamentary groups of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Alliance 90/The Greens, Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union, and the Free Democratic Party cannot but announce their support for the government, thereby confirming their own willingness "to have concrete measures of support follow the proclamations of unlimited solidarity with the United States."

Two things that normally have nothing to do with one another are intimately linked here: the rally-around-the-chancellor mode typical in times of crisis and the unconditional affinity of Germany (particularly western Germany) to the United States. This is evidenced not only by the language of the decision ("an unprecedented wave of deeply-felt solidarity with the American people"), but also by the parliamentary leader of the SPD, Peter Struck, who rejected the idea that Germany could gaze over the Atlantic from a "spectator's box." What a turnaround from former Social Democratic positions, whether during the Vietnam War in the 1960s or during the debate on medium-range missiles in the 1980s! And of course the CDU/CSU and the Free Democrats are agreeing with Mr. Schröder only because that position proclaims solidarity with the United States.

Though he owes this position to the current crisis, the broad approval of the Bundestag to his policies puts the chancellor at the height of his power. But he has embroiled himself in a contradiction that sheds a light on how the conflict might develop in the future. He said, "We are not at war with a particular state, nor are we at war with the Islamic world." But only a few sentences later, he said that the United States could "use military means against countries that provide assistance and shelter to criminals." And he added: "What I termed unlimited solidarity includes all of this." So, the war can be directed against states after all.

Given the NATO dramaturgy thus far, coming events could prevent us from ever finding out whether the attacks were initiated from within the United States rather than from abroad. But who could reasonably doubt the information gained by the U.S. government, which indicates that Osama bin Laden is the culprit? Who has reliable information to the contrary?

Certainly not Germany. The German authorities had no indication of the impending danger. Nonetheless, what the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution knows will not trigger false hopes among the citizens. The office estimates that 32,000 extremist or potentially violent Muslims are in the country and links many of them directly or indirectly to Mr. bin Laden. But what use is naming a figure in reports if the government declines to publicize it or ponder its meaning? Only the CDU/CSU mentioned the figure in public debate.

One would like to ask SPD Interior Minister Otto Schily why. A directional struggle within the SPD-Greens coalition is not only influencing the parties' assessment of the potential dangers. It also has a bearing on the proposed immigration legislation, where the original SPD-Green consensus is melting away -- and must melt away if Mr. Schröder and Mr. Schily want to gain the approval of the Union parties in the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, the legislative body representing the states at the federal level.

The chancellor has rightly emphasized that "this is not a struggle between cultures, it is a struggle for culture." Taking those words to heart, the issue is who defines which "culture" we consider worth living. Given the complicated nature of recent events, it is obvious that in both foreign and domestic politics, a power struggle is imminent that will transcend the current crisis.{B1311FCC-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={DAE2BCA6-225E-4E70-98CD-56412AECA79C} Sep. 19

-- Martin Thompson (, September 19, 2001

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