Schroder threatened by protests over role of German troops

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The Independent Online

As British soldiers pack their bags for Asia, German troops have been left manning the Macedonian fort, thus fulfilling the pacifist prophecy of an endless engagement in the Balkan quagmire. It is a prospect that now threatens the survival of the Schröder government.

As British soldiers pack their bags for Asia, German troops have been left manning the Macedonian fort, thus fulfilling the pacifist prophecy of an endless engagement in the Balkan quagmire. It is a prospect that now threatens the survival of the Schröder government.

The cabinet was due last night to sanction the dispatch of reinforcements, to fill in for those, mostly British, who have commitments on the anti-terrorist front. That is the easy part. For parliament must then rubber-stamp that decision, and the last time such a vote took place four weeks ago, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder could not muster a majority from within the ranks of the coalition parties.

His position this time around is even more precarious. Angered by talk of German troops joining President George Bush's "crusade" somewhere in the Middle East, the sizeable pacifist constituency in the ranks of the Social Democrats and Greens is rebelling.

Public opinion in Germany is traditionally hostile to German soldiers being sent to foreign fields. The Balkans are a particularly sensitive region, because of the Wehrmacht's exploits there during the Second World War. Kosovo was the first region where German soldiers – not just cooks and doctors as in Bosnia – found themselves on active duty. Macedonia, the government had promised, was to have been a short excursion for up to 500 German troops. But developments elsewhere have now forced Chancellor Schröder to "volunteer" German leadership of the rump force remaining beyond the original mandate. Up to 700 Germans are expected to provide the backbone of the new mission, looking after civilian observers in Macedonia. France and Italy are expected to provide another 300 troops between them. This will be the first time since the Second World War that Germans will be in charge of an international military force.

The honour is a dubious one and thoroughly unappreciated at home. The Greens, who have seen their support fall by a third since entering the government, are especially vulnerable to what their Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, described as the "icy winds" of war. Angelika Beer, the Greens spokeswoman on defence matters, said: "We have entered the most difficult phase in our party's history."

Green organisations up and down the country have already started bombarding their national leadership with pacifist motions. Mr Fischer is thus caught between the convictions of his party and his duty to toe the government line, which, in turn, is dictated by Germany's commitments to its Nato allies. That does not leave much room for flexibility. Macedonia is already a war too far for many Greens. Any greater involvement there, not to mention another conflict, might bring it crashing down.

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