Germany to let its soldiers serve abroad

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The Independent Online
DEMOCRATIC Germany was officially deemed to have come of age yesterday with a long-awaited judgment by the highest court which permits German troops to participate fully in international missions abroad for the first time since the Second World War.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl said it would not mean a new mood of 'Germans to the front'. The Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe said that parliamentary assent must be given for any military involvement. None the less, the judgment marks a turning-point in the country's post-war history.

Everybody said they were happy with the decision, including those who brought the issue to court in the first place. Mr Kohl, who has repeatedly said Germany should be ready to 'live up to its international responsibilities', was 'very satisfied'. Klaus Kinkel, the Foreign Minister, whose Free Democrats had confused matters by challenging government decisions, for which Mr Kinkel was jointly responsible, said it meant Germany was now 'able to act on foreign policy'.

Even the Social Democrats, the chief challengers, said this was an 'important success', because a constitutional 'grey area' had been resolved and parliamentary control reasserted.

Two of the eight judges rebuked Mr Kinkel's party for bringing the case to court and thus attempting to evade its responsibilities as junior coalition partner in the government. The government was implicitly rebuked for failing to consult parliament on the UN actions that Germany has been involved in so far. These include enforcement of sanctions against Serbia, putting German crews on Awacs surveillance planes over Bosnia, and a primarily humanitarian mission ('aid workers in uniform') in Somalia, which in the meantime has ended.

There are still reservations in Germany about joining international operations: the phrase 'war must never again begin from German soil' still has considerable resonance. But it had become plain that the restrictions on Germany - partly imposed by the Allies and partly self-imposed - had become obsolete once the Cold War ended.

In a country still groping for its national identity, the court challenges of the past two years were a way of passing the political buck. The constitutional fine print (which has remained unchanged) was in any case never much more than a diplomatic fig-leaf, making it possible first to forbid and now to permit, military action within the framework of the UN, Nato, or the Western European Union.

During hearings over the past two years judges asked obviously political questions, about the international impact a negative decision would have, rather than merely looking at the legal niceties. Theoretically, yesterday's decision means Germany can now send troops to former Yugoslavia if the UN so wished. In practice, such missions are unlikely to be on the agenda in the foreseeable future. Germany will want to tread gingerly, especially in areas that could be linked with the Nazi past.

Asked if Germans might participate in missions such as the Gulf war, Mr Kohl said it would be up to parliament. Yesterday's judgment laid emphasis on the armed forces as a 'parliamentary army'. The judges said that 'in emergency' the government alone could authorise troops to enforce UN resolutions, on a temporary basis. But if parliament decided against this use of troops, they would have to be recalled. The length and size of any mission would be decided by government.