Has Germany finally gotten over its war guilt? It would seem so, with the imminent deployment of 400 Bundeswehr troops in Turkey to help install and operate NATO Patriot missile systems in that country. The historic move of German troops being sent to a foreign territory in full combat mode follows the near-unanimous vote by the Bundestag parliament in Berlin earlier this month. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative-led government had already sanctioned the dispatch of the German Patriot batteries to Turkey as part of a new American and Dutch missile formation there.
Initial estimates last month of the total NATO deployment in Turkey have risen rapidly from 400 personnel to an expected 2,000. They will reportedly operate six batteries of American-made PAC-3 Patriot ground-to-air missiles, two each from Germany, Holland and the US, positioned as mobile units along Turkey’s 900-kilometer border with its southern Syrian neighbour.
The Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to characterize the interceptor system as a «defensive» guard to protect its citizens from the alleged threat of Syrian artillery fire and possible use of chemical weapons. Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu has endeavoured to portray the cohort of foreign troops on Turkish soil as a normal response from the NATO 28-country alliance to assist one of its members.
«Turkey has the right to protect its soil taking measures of national capacity and within the capacity of the alliance of which [Turkey] is a member», Davutoglu said.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has even claimed that locating the Patriots in Turkey will serve to «de-escalate» regional tensions by affording deterrence and greater security.
Such statements have not assured Syria or its allies Iran and Russia. Both Iranian and Russian leaders have denounced the NATO deployment as a dangerous provocation…
Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expressed grave concern to his NATO counterparts, when the latter met in Brussels on 4 December to give a green light to the action plan. Lavrov’s misgivings were pointedly ignored then.
Iranian armed forces chief General Hassan Firouzabadi was even more vehement in his opposition to the NATO move. He was quoted in media reports saying:»Each one of these Patriots is a black mark on the world map, and is meant to cause a world war. They are making plans for a world war, and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself.»
The abrupt cancellation last week of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s state visit to Turkey is a further sign that the Islamic Republic is rankled by Ankara’s NATO call-up.
Among the NATO alliance, Germany’s politicians have been most earnest in stressing the «purely defensive» nature of the forthcoming military development in Turkey. When the Bundestag voted on the matter, speaker after speaker reiterated the mission of German troops in chivalrous terms. A headline in Germany’s main international newspaper, Deutsche Welle, captured the coy consensus, by declaring: ‘German Patriot missiles ready to defend Turkey’.
What this hints at is two-fold.
First, the NATO powers are trying to spin a controversial measure into a passive virtue. The «defensive» installation of Patriot missiles is being presented, one feels, as a way of appeasing world public opinion, with it being likened to a humanitarian commitment – a softer variation on the «responsibility to protect» doctrine. It would appear that public disquiet over NATO’s aerial bombing foray in Libya last year has prompted a more cautious approach to handling the Syria conflict. But several commentators have pointed out a stark anomaly in this approach: namely, the disproportionate NATO force in relation to the alleged threat posed by Syria. After all, the number of shells supposedly fired by Syrian forces into Turkey, whether accidently or maliciously, during more than 20 months of conflict has been exceedingly small, and there is even much reason to doubt that the Syrian artillery was the actual perpetrator on those few occasions. Indeed, there are good grounds to believe that the Western and Turk-backed insurgents may have been engaging in false flag propaganda stunts designed to elicit further foreign support and weapons.
Also, Western concerns expressed last month, purporting that the Syrian military was preparing to use chemical weapons have begun to appear decidedly overblown and sensationalist, with even US defence secretary Leon Panetta and Israeli intelligence more recently shying away from the possibility that the Syrian government would resort to such weapons of mass destruction.
Moreover, the Patriot missile system is best suited to intercepting long-range ballistic warheads, up to 100km away; they can also be used to shoot down aircraft. The system is therefore not the obvious weapon of choice if it is intended to combat short-range artillery and mortar shells, which would be the more plausible form of Syrian attack, if that alleged threat is accepted at face value. That anomaly suggests that the Patriot installation signifies a more aggressive hidden agenda, either the instigation of no-fly zones on the Syrian side of the border which could then allow the setting up of safe organizing havens for the Western-backed militants – or worse, a build-up to wider military confrontation with Iran.
A second intimation from the «defensive» rationale espoused by NATO is that one may glean that Germany’s political class knows full well that the deployment in Turkey is provocative; its emphatic protestations of defence sound like overcompensation in which the bombastic chivalrous claims belie foreknowledge that something more sinister is afoot.
Why this is such a sensitive issue for German politicians is of course due to the immense guilt that they have borne for decades from the legacy of the Second World War. The 20th century’s worst conflagration during 1939-45 – in which up to 50 million people were killed – has stigmatized Germany ever since as the main culprit for that heinous conflict.
This stigmatization is somewhat unfair as the Second World War, like the First before it, arose out of rivalry between several European imperial powers along with the American newcomer contending for global hegemony. This is not to downplay the horrific aggression of Nazi Germany, particularly against the people of Soviet Russia, who suffered nearly half of the full death toll. But to attribute the preponderance of the war’s devastation and crimes solely to Germany is to let the Western imperial protagonists off the hook. That reflects more the victors’ privilege of writing history than any objective accounting. For a start, it obscures the root of that war being largely due to the Western allies’ punishing debt reparations imposed on Germany following the First World War. The Western self-flattering account of history also airbrushes out how Washington and London danced seductively with European fascism, and Hitler’s Reich in particular, during the 1930s as a bulwark against an ascendant communist movement across North America and Europe.
Nevertheless, generations of Germans were stricken with profound guilt and shame over the ensuing six decades because of Germany’s militarist past. Hence, the Bundeswehr has been up to now strictly circumscribed by being subordinated to a national defence remit within German borders and under the command of NATO. When German troops were sent to Afghanistan during the past decade, for example, as part of the NATO occupation there, eyebrows were raised. But Western public apprehensions were allayed by the German contingent being heavily touted in that war theatre as serving in an auxiliary «humanitarian role» well away from the frontline action.
However, this long-held German taboo of war and foreign military operation seems now to be ebbing, at least among Germany’s politicians and military leaders. They may not have yet fully adopted the outwardly bellicose rhetoric of Washington, London and Paris with regard to Syria. But the up-front involvement of German troops and operation of Patriot missiles in Turkey, together with the offensive portents of that towards Syria, Iran and Russia, tends to show that Berlin is rediscovering imperialist impulses.
This re-emergence of German militarism is not an overnight phenomenon. It may come as a surprise to some, but for several years now Germany has been the world’s third largest exporter of military arms, behind the US and Russia, and ahead of Britain, France and China.
Deutsche Welle recently reported on a secret governmental committee, chaired by Angela Merkel, that is approving Germany’s booming weapons export industry. Germany is selling more arms to the Middle East, and most notably to regimes with serious human rights records and belligerent tendencies: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The latter, for instance, is due to sign up to a delivery of several hundred Leopard-2 combat tanks.
«At the end of the day, it’s elementary budgeting», Deutsche Welle reports breezily. «Germany, along with most European countries, is in the middle of making drastic [economic] cuts in order to bring down its national debt. So… it has apparently decided to sell more weapons». If only arming dictatorial regimes in a region riven with conflict and tensions could be so simple.
Germany’s flexing of muscular foreign policy is most visible with regard to Syria. German submarines have been reportedly liaising with British intelligence to provide logistics and thereby sharpening the cutting edge of the foreign militias attempting to overthrow the government of President Bashar Al Assad.
Germany has stridently joined ranks with the US, Britain and France to thwart the political initiatives put forward by Russia and Iran, which are aimed at settling the nearly two-year conflict through negotiations and the implementation of the Geneva accord signed at the end of June calling for a peaceful transition. Berlin also quickly followed London and Paris’ recognition last month of the so-called Syrian National Coalition as «the sole representative of the Syrian people». The SNC – ironically, a largely exile grouping with little popular base within Syria – is implacably opposed to having any truck with the Assad government, unlike Syria’s internal dissident political parties who are open to a dialogue, but they have been assiduously marginalized by the Western powers, including Germany.
In announcing support for the SNC earlier this month, Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said: «We think it will be an important means to promote the process of erosion in the regime of Assad.» Westerwelle was speaking ahead of a EU foreign ministerial meeting in Brussels at around the same time that NATO was approving the deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey. Also in that same week, Germany unilaterally expelled four Syrian diplomats, which was seen as a calculated and unprecedented snub aimed at further isolating the Damascus government internationally.
Thus the German minister was arrogantly conflating EU foreign policy with NATO geopolitical and military objectives, in a brazen bid to overthrow a sovereign state. This evidently marks a new era of emboldened German imperialism and another disturbing step towards international war in the volatile Middle East region.