Should you send weapons to warzones? Traditionally, Germany opposes this practice, but an exception is planned for Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq. Politicians are rushing to defend the broader principle, however.
Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the planned deliveries of German weapons to Kurdish peshmerga forces fighting the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" ("IS") fighters in northern Iraq. Speaking to public broadcaster ARD, in an interview broadcast on Sunday evening as Merkel headed for Spain, the chancellor said her government had made a difficult decision.
"I don't want to pretend that this risk does not exist whatsoever," Merkel said on ARD, when asked about the possibility of German weapons falling into the wrong hands. In the Chemnitzer Freie Presse newspaper, the chancellor said that there was not a "100-percent 'yes' or 'no' answer to the question of whether we're making the right decision."
Germany usually refuses to export weapons to conflict zones as a point of principle, but Merkel said that the "IS" advance in Iraq and the specter of genocide convinced her government to act rather than observe the Sunni militants' progress. Merkel also insisted that "under no circumstances" would Germany "send combat troops to Iraq."
Exception to the rule, or end to it?
Although approved by the majority of German politicians, the decision to arms Kurds in Iraq has still prompted considerable debate in Berlin - not least on the broader implications of the move.
The state premier of Baden-Württemberg, Green party politician Winfried Kretschmann, called for a vote on the deliveries in the lower house, the Bundestag. Kretschmann did not get his wish; the German government will make the decision, as is the case with more standard arms sales abroad. Still, parliament will debate the likely move on September 1, and Merkel will formally explain her government's choice in the Bundestag.
Social Democrat (SPD) Labor Minister Andrea Nahles told Monday's edition of the Rheinische Post paper that the decision was "a break with Germany's grand tradition" of not arming conflict zones.
"This is owing to the special situation and the great suffering of the people in northern Iraq, but it cannot be allowed to become the rule," Nahles told the paper. "In view of the really dramatic developments, there is understanding in our party for Germany, along with European partners, having to support the resistance of the Kurds against the advance of the IS terror militia."
However, Nahles also called for the process to be transparent, saying Germany should be open about what it delivers, and what becomes of the weaponry.
Egyptian deal in doubt
Senior Social Democrat Ralf Stegner, an opponent to arming the Kurds within Merkel's junior coalition partners, told Monday's Saarbrücker Zeitung that he was not the only party member with reservations about the move. "According to all the information I have available, there are many within the SPD who share my concerns. It's surely no small minority," Stegner said.
Defense politicians of every stripe issued a more traditionally cautious tone on the reported Egyptian interest in tanks made by German companies Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann on Monday. Henning Otte, defense policy spokesman for Merkel's Christian Democrats, told the newspaper "Die Welt" that the Iraq decision would be "an exception."
Egypt - site of two changes in government since 2011, most recently in a coup last year - is reportedly interested in using the German vehicles in its troubled northern province of Sinai. The Greens' Omid Nouripour warned that road-going tanks would be "suitable for use against one's own population," while the Social Democrats' Rainer Arnold said the ground vehicles posed more of a problem than "a ship to protect the coastline."
Longstanding German foreign minister of the late 20th century Hans-Dietrich Genscher once famously said "whatever floats is fine, whatever rolls is not" to sum up military export policy for restless countries - based on a navy's unsuitability for use against a country's own people.
msh/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
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