Germans 'want to play world role'

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The Independent Online
BONN - A new opinion poll suggests that resistance in Germany to greater international involvement may not be as great as some of Germany's own politicians had until now supposed, writes Steve Crawshaw.

According to the poll, published by the Rand Corporation as an 'issue paper', 62 per cent support a more active international role for Germany, with more than 50 per cent in favour of participation in international peace-keeping forces. Three-quarters of all Germans want Nato to become involved 'out of area', if necessary.

There has been endless debate within the political parties about the rights and wrongs of foreign involvement, and about what the constitution does or does not permit Germany to do. Foreign visitors - in recent weeks, for example, the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and the Nato Secretary-General, Manfred Worner - told their hosts that they wished the Germans would do more, not less. Still, though, the Germans have held back.

This reticence has been officially justified partly by reference to voters' supposed reluctance for Germany to take on a more active role. If the wind has indeed shifted, then the politicians will find it more difficult to explain their bashfulness - for example, in the area of contributing to UN peace-keeping forces - by talking of the pressures from below.

Interestingly, the marked ideological differences on international questions between the older generation of east and west Germans seem, from the evidence of the poll, to be almost non-existent between the younger generations - less than three years after German unity.

Among the older generation, there are sharp distinctions: of east German pensioners, only 27 per cent think that Nato is 'essential', against 72 per cent of west German pensioners. Among west and east German 18- to 24-year- olds, however, the support for Nato is almost identical, at more than 60 per cent.

Support for Nato has risen since 1991, and the number of those who want a continued US military presence has jumped from 36 to 55 per cent; 77 per cent of Germans believe that their country is best equipped to play the leading foreign policy role in Europe.

The sense that Germany should be ready to take greater responsibility on the world stage is not entirely new. The equivalent survey carried out by the Rand Corporation in late 1991 suggested that 59 per cent of Germans already wanted Bonn to take more responsibility in world politics, and 64 per cent wanted Germany to play a more important role. Of those, an overwhelming 88 per cent wanted Germany to take part in humanitarian actions, and 58 per cent wanted the armed forces to take part in UN peace-keeping.

Even now, however, only 32 per cent favour German military participation in Nato 'out-of-area' operations. Even fewer - only one in five - are in favour of participating in operations such as Desert Storm.