Nato has asked Germany to send Tornado fighter-bombers to help protect UN peace-keepers in Bosnia, according to the German government. This would be the first deployment of German fighting forces abroad since the end of the Second World War.
Although it is highly unlikely that Nato will enter the conflict in Bosnia, it is possible that its forces could be called on to oversee a United Nations pull-out under fire.
Since a German constitutional court ruling earlier this year, Bonn is permitted to send its forces to serve in peace-keeping missions under the UN outside the Nato area. But any decision must be authorised by a majority of the German parliament.
A German government spokesman said yesterday that no decision had been made, a point underlined by Klaus Kinkel, the Foreign Minister, at a Nato meeting in Brussels. However, Volker Ruhe, the German Defence Minister, is keen that Germany take up its Nato responsibilities.
The Nato request is likely to reopen deep wounds over Germany's new role in Europe. The German government's unwillingness to commit itself on the issue shows it is aware of the sensitivity of the issue. Germany is very loath to involve itself in military operations, and it is by no means certain that its parliament will permit such a deployment.
Since the judgment of the constitutional court, German electors have returned to power an increased number of deputies from the Social Democrats - usually hostile to a more assertive defence posture - and the Party of Democratic Socialists, former Communists, who are not predisposed to support military action.
German Tornadoes, which would act under Nato command, would be a small part of a vast air armada which already patrols the skies of Bosnia to enforce the no-fly zone and protect UN peace-keepers.
Germany has supported US efforts to assist the Bosnian government, despite British and French opposition. But Germany's awareness of the depth of public feeling, inside and outside the country, against its playing a military role, has constrained it from offering any support in Bosnia so far.
Even now, sending ground forces is still taboo. German forces occupied Yugoslavia during the war, and fought bloody battles against the Serbs.
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