Archive for May 27th, 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Horst Köhler: Full of Trade

Afghanistan: is the Cat out of the Bag?

Afghanistan: is the Cat out of the Bag?

Horst Köhler, Germany’s federal president,  “articulated” differences with the Chinese leadership “in a way the Chinese can handle and which are still effective”. How effective these aspects of his talks really were is debatable – after all, the president also told the press that during a previous trip to China, he had delivered a name list of dissidents, just as he did this month – and nothing happened. “But we will keep doing it.”

For sure, the Chinese leaders were able to “handle it”, and Köhler spoiled no business opportunities there.

And maybe on a surprise visit to German troops stationed in Afghanistan during a stopover on his way back to Germany from China, the president had become a bit too relaxed when he articulated his views about Germany’s military involvement there, in an interview with a German radio reporter:

“But my estimation is that, on the whole, we are on the way to understanding, even broadly in society, that a country of our size, with this orientation toward foreign trade and therefore also dependence on foreign trade, has to be aware that when in doubt in case of an emergency, military deployment is also necessary to protect our interests.

For example, free trade routes, for example to prevent instability in a whole region, which certainly have an negative impact on our opportunities via trade, jobs and income. All of that ought to be discussed and I believe that we are not doing too badly.”

The German social democrats, who already struggle with their own misgivings about the war (which must not be referred to as a war in this country) every time they decide to continue their political support for the military mandate, are angry. Thomas Oppermann, speaker of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) parliamentary group, told news magazine Der Spiegel that Köhler was “damaging the acceptance of the Bundeswehr’s foreign missions.” Germany was not conducting “a war for economic interests,” Oppermann said. It was, on the contrary, about security. Anyone who said differently was “making the case of the Left party,” he added, referring to Germany’s far-left socialists who strongly oppose the war.

Constitutional lawyer Ulrich Preuß of Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance also critcised Köhler’s choice of words.

“That is a thinly veiled expansion, through the constitution, of the acceptable grounds for a Bundeswehr mission for economic interests,” he told Der Spiegel.

Preuß said Köhler’s remarks were a “discernibly imperialist choice of words.”

“It reminds me of the English imperialists of the 19th century, who defended their naval supremacy with similar arguments,” Preuß said.

Left party co-chairman Klaus Ernst, said Köhler had “openly said, what cannot be denied.”

Bundeswehr soldiers were risking “life and limb for the export interests of giant companies.” It was a “war about influence and commodities,” which was not the idea covered by the Afghanistan mandate passed by the parliament, he said.

Chancellor Merkel’s christian democrats stand behind Köhler’s statement (although they don’t seem to be too happy with it), and the Greens recommend that the president should correct it – he had apparently been talking without knowledge about military missions abroad. Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the federal parliament’s foreign relations committee, pointed out that Köhler had said nothing new – after all, the international navy missions at the Horn of Africa served economic ends, too. However Polenz, himself a christian democrat, too, conceded that Köhler’s phrasing hadn’t been too fortunate, “to put it carefully”.

For sure, Köhler’s words shift public attention from security justifications to economics. He may have said said nothing wrong, and before mentioning economic interests, he had mentioned security interests first of all – but with his choice of words, he has entered a minefield, and he stands no chance to see this ensuing discussion through at his security-and-economic double-term.

Köhler’s interview in full (in German) is here.


Will Köhler speak for Hu and Liu, May 16, 2010

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