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Germans to the Front!

WehrmachtWhile Germany is still pretty busy with Vergangenheitsbewältigung, Roger Cohen misses the Wehrmacht.

The NYT columnist, who was Berlin bureau chief from 1998 to 2001 and is currently in Afghanistan, thinks it is "Time for the Bundesmacht" (HT: David and Don):

Remember the Wehrmacht? It was a formidable fighting force. The modern German army, the Bundeswehr, is also very effective. Thing is, it is reluctant to fight or even place itself in danger.
Well, reluctance to fight is good. It prevents us from getting into quagmires and causing huge death tolls. Though, this German reluctance is causing a lack of solidarity with NATO allies.
NATO is at war here. That, however, is a fact Europeans are reluctant to accept, just as the link between slaughter in Madrid, London or Amsterdam and the Afghan-Pakistani terror nexus seems unconvincing to many Europeans floating on an Iraq-comforted wave of moral smugness.

Three points on the above quote:
(1) What terrorist attack took place in Amstersdam?
(2) Yes, I am skeptical about a link between Afghanistan and terrorism in Europe. A NATO success in Afghanistan will not reduce the terrorist threat in Europe significantly. Europeans worry about home-grown terrorism and about Pakistan, where Al Qaeda leaders have found a safe haven, which IMHO calls into question the Afghanistan mission. Sure, Cohen mentions Pakistan as well in the above quote, but he is calling for German troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, not Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Now, that would be something! He could join Barack Obama in getting serious on Pakistan...
(3) "Iraq-comforted wave of moral smugness" is a cool phrase, but I think many Americans tend to exaggerate the spread of this sentiment, while I might underestimate the smugness of my fellow citizens. Everybody is biased...

Cohen's op-ed has another cool phrase, which is from Julian Lindley-French, a military expert at the Netherlands Defense Academy:

A lot of the German troops are little more than heavily armed traffic cops.

So the Bundeswehr is not as effective as Cohen claimed in the beginning of his op-ed? Hm...  Cohen received 114 comments and counting on his blog regarding this op-ed. Wow.

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German Atheist on :

>(1) What terrorist attack took place in Amstersdam? I believe he is referring to the murder of Theo van Gogh. What ultimately enables Islamic violence in Europe is the presence of Muslims, a subset of which are willing to engage in such acts in order to advance Islam as a political force. This will have to be resolved by appropriate measures right at home, not in Afghanistan.

Anonymous on :

Wow, these days everything is "terrorism". A single murder as well as wildfires: For the second straight day, Fox News stood virtually alone in advancing thinly supported speculation to raise fears that the wildfires ravaging California are not the result of a confluence of arid heat and high winds but were set deliberately by al Qaeda terrorists bent on destroying America. [url=http://rawstory.com/news/2007/Fox_hypes_Qaeda_plotted_fires_theory_1025.html]http://rawstory.com/news/2007/Fox_hypes_Qaeda_plotted_fires_theory_1025.html[/url] Are the murders taking place in the US every day now listed as "terrorist attacks" as well? "This will have to be resolved by appropriate measures right at home, not in Afghanistan." Absolutely! We should not waste money on Afghanistan. We need that money at home to prevent terrorism.

German Atheist on :

This "single murder" was designed to terrorize other critics of Islam, most specifically Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose name was mentioned in the letter pinned on Theo van Gogh's chest with a knife. => [url=http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/312]Text and translation of the letter[/url]

Pat Patterson on :

The trick in democracies, considering all the competing claims on the morality of even having a military, is to not really have to use the army you have but still create the impression that it is the best trained, equippped and most ruthless army in the world. But that impression has to be real not Photshopped, platitudes from politicians nor by having the best and most mobile portable water purification equipment in the world. Rather in the hard slog of killing other people and having your own fellow citizens killed. It's best to kill the other guy first but can any society survive if it comes to an inglorious halt whenever it suffers a casualty.

Don S on :

I would also count the murder of Pim Fortyn as terrorism, although not Islamic related in the Fortyn case. Terrorism has become part of the zeitgeist.

Joerg on :

"Terrorism has become part of the zeitgeist." Doesn't this bother you? So the Netherlands are fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanisan because of the murder of Pim Fortuyn and Theo von Gogh???? ;-) I still have trouble understanding what "slaughter" Cohen is referring to in Amsterdam.

Don S on :

Theo van Gogh, Joerg.

Zyme on :

Oh dear, just read the comments on his blog to the article. I liked this one best: "Looks like the Germans can’t win either way: too militaristic and they’re all Nazis but too pacifist and they’re European wussies who don’t know how to shoot a gun." Seriously, I also think that our military needs to be equipped for coming warfare. But not in the sense of Mr. Cohen, not to clean up behind american desasters. Instead, there is a need to create a world-wide operating expedition force that can secure our strategic interests in raw materials vital for our industries. And such forces are exactly what is created, if you take a look at our recent military naval architecture. There certainly is a problem in our society with warfare. But even americans have to admit that we have gone a long road since the peace-protesting times. With sufficient propaganda, I have little doubt that the public would support reasonable wars in this century. It is the first row of our politicians who are often affected by the old illusions. Once they are gone, the prussian spirit may easily return.

Jean on :

Joerg - the author is calling it slaughter because after the killer had shot Van Gogh, he tried to decapitate him - in the street in Amsterdam. Or did the German press not tell you this? The Dutch are fighting in Afghanistan because 1) they want NATO to continue and 2) demographically, they can; they have the young men. Zyme - too late. Germany doesn't have the young males.

Volker on :

Me and my friends must be a fata morgana then, huh?

Anonymous on :

Volker - for you! http://www.businessweek.com/print/globalbiz/content/oct2007/gb2007109_091747.htm

Pat Patterson on :

I've heard this argument before that the German military is reconfiguring itself to be able to project power throughout the world. But the fact is that a dozen or so destroyers of 3,000 to 5,000 tons, coastal frigates, coastal minesweepers, a handful of electric diesel subs (not unlimited range nuclear subs), only two blue water support (Berlin class)and an air force that is still training for an invasion through the Fulda Gap is at best regional and coastal only capable of operating in the waters of the Baltic and the North Seas not an ocean. Unless Germany can develop even a small fleet capable of carrying a brigade sized expeditionary force then the rest is posturing. No heavy ships, no heavy lift and not even that brigade sized army formation with its equipment capable of supporting itself for even the briefest of times. Plus does Germany even really want that ability?

Joerg on :

"Plus does Germany even really want that ability?" Does Germany really need that ability? America and Britain have that ability, but that does not make them safer, does it? Both countries do not appear to be successful and serve as role models. That's why it is difficult to convince Germans to spend money on this. The Bundeswehr's purpose still seems to be for utmost emergencies, like an invasion from Russia, i.e. our military is for wars of absolute necessity rather than for wars of choice. I see why our NATO allies are not happy with that, but appeals to "solidarity" is not enough to convince Germans. What is needed is some rationale that all these expeditionary forces and other stuff that should be enabled with a higher defense spending are really needed for Germany's national security. Nobody seems to make much of an effort to argue that way. That's the problem with Afghanistan for instance. German politicians are too lazy to really campaign for it. They don't present convincing arguments, therefore we cannot blame the German public for not supporting the mission. Can you explain, why German security would be better, if we would spend as much as the US does or why we would need unlimited range nuclear subs? The few subs we have are pretty good. The Bundeswehr won several hide and seek contests with NATO allies.

Kevin Sampson on :

"America and Britain have that ability, but that does not make them safer, does it?" Thanks to that capability the Taleban are no longer running Afghanistan and giving al Qaeda a safe haven. Yes, that makes us safer. And of course I'm aware of the fact that the Taleban and aQ are both still present and fighting to regain control of the region. That doesn't change the fact that they are now under too much pressure to mount another operation like 9/11.

Anonymous on :

Joerg: Germany does not need army capable of expeditions to survive in the current political environment. However the resultant corollary of military weakness is scorn and a permanent mid-table existence. This fact seems to escape the German ruling establishment; hence, the laughable suggestion that Germany deserves a UN SC permanent seat. Even the French attempt to do their bit, they meddle in the Middle East to keep the sea lanes open for commerce and have a go in the Francophonie—for their own purposes granted, but there is significant French military and economic involvement in Asia and Africa. As for Joerg’s refreshingly non-causal approach to “safety”, would an aircraft carrier in the Baltic make Germany safer? From what? Atta-esque terrorists? Danish expansionism to reclaim Holstein from the godless hun? a military provides responsive options and an opportunity to structure diplomatic processes. Without that capability you lose the ability to engage the present fully according to your own foreign policy perogatives and preferences. You are someone's dependent and no one respects a free-rider, especially an 'spirited' one shall we say.

Joerg on :

Yes, the call for a permanent UN SC seat is laughable indeed. Naive German politicians! I don't have the impression that the German people want this anyway. You write: [i]"a military provides responsive options and an opportunity to structure diplomatic processes. Without that capability you lose the ability to engage the present fully according to your own foreign policy perogatives and preferences."[/i] Yes, but I doubt whether spending some 100 billion Euro more on defense would increase our options and influence that much, because of the nature of today's threats. The US military is very mighty, but looks weak in Iraq. Please let me stress again, that I am NOT saying this to criticize the US or make fun of the US or be disrespectful or underestimate the difficult task in Iraq. Rather I am saying it to support my point that I (and many Germans, I assume) do not believe that more money on defense and more troops in Afghanistan would increase our security. [b]We are not as optimistic as Americans that military solutions work.[/b] Therefore there is little support for military interventions. The American and German advocates of a stronger German military role need to explain and convince the German people in practical terms. Not in an abstract way that you did. Do you know what I mean? The problem in Germany is that we don't have a think tank elite or journalists or politicians who make convincing arguments to change the "German mentality." For more on this argument please see [b]"German Foreign Policy Needs to Grow Up"[/b] [url=http://www.atlanticreview.org/archives/884-German-Foreign-Policy-Needs-to-Grow-Up.html]http://www.atlanticreview.org/archives/884-German-Foreign-Policy-Needs-to-Grow-Up.html[/url]

Joerg on :

[url=http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=10024437]Armies of the future Brains, not bullets Oct 25th 2007 From The Economist print edition Western armies are good at destroying things. Can they be made better at building them? [/url] [url=http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=10015844&fsrc=nwlgafree]Irregular warfare After smart weapons, smart soldiers Oct 25th 2007 From The Economist print edition Irregular warfare may keep Western armies busy for decades. They will have to adapt if they are to overcome the odds that history suggests they are up against [/url]

Anonymous on :

Joerg: there is no real case to be made for not being a free-rider outside of encroaching external threats or substantial economic loss. The US was happy to let Britannia rule the seas until the Hapsburg putsch in Mexico revived the Monroe Doctrine. You could point out to the German public the responsibility of Germany to clean up the Balkan mess which the Kohl administration caused—but officially Germany does not recognize its fault. You could mention the obligation of Germany as world culture and great country to be a productive member of the international community which yall love to sigh over. In essence it is a question perhaps of national confidence. This Vergangenheitsvergewaeltigung can’t last forever. Perhaps like any country in Mitteleuropa without an autocratic hand, the centre can not hold. Germany outside of the rhetoric has always been an artificial construct anyway. Economic class interests, ideology and regional rivalries seem to preclude the establishment from establishing even a coherent approach to foreign policy.

German Atheist on :

An artificial construct? What is, in your estimation, an organic nation? The Kingdom of Prussia? The Kingdom of Belgium? The United States of America?

Anonymous on :

An organic nation is one that grew into being without foreign compulsion, or having been coerced into a polity the constituents of the state have agreed upon further inclusion and harbour an extra-regional political consciousness. Germany as its borders currently stand is nation state of which many portions were forcibly added. The systematic annexation of independant States during the 18th century by Prussia was not peaceful; and as such, the centuries old foreign policy of many of the existing Laender continues to this day in a muted form. Remember Bavaria's refusal to condemn the silly cordon sanitaire of the OeRF or Bavaria's independent championing of the Suedeten Germans. The Saxon government is always attempting to get the federal government to enlarge E55 or fix the tracks for DB travelling to CZ. Schleswig Holstein has its own policy vis-a-vis the Danes and different minority rules to assure their political inclusion. These are just examples of regional policies directed externally. The regional animosities intra Germany are just as deeply entrenched and as cultural manifestations probably unsolveable--Bavarians, Hansatowns, Ruhrgebiet, Saxons, Prussians, Rheinlaender, Swabians, Frisians, those half Scandos from Schwerin and Kiel...

Fuchur on :

You'd be hard pressed to find an "organic nation" by your definition on this earth... Maybe Iceland, but apart from that?

Anonymous on :

France= Breton separatists, Basque and Occitan movements do not have an official platform in foreign policy that differs from the Quai d'Orsay. Nor do their respective regions or ethnicities have demonstrable objectives in foreign policy alien to the official Gallic line. UK (contiguous): Scots, Welsh and English have pretty much agree on a foreign policy since 1707. Spain and Italy dont agree with anybody, including themselves, about anything. the central European states post Benes decrees and population relocation are all basically monoglottal ethnic based states. So not really a good example with the possible exception of Vojvodina of Serbia and the ethnic Magyars in Romania. The UK and France have a consistent foreign policy or are able to agree publically upon one and the Germans dont. Even though all three are regionally diverse. The answer is age perhaps. France has been France geographically since 1670s (discounting Elsa and the Flemish/Walloon bits they nicked). Britian has been the same since 1707. During this time, the regions have grown accustomed to each other and standardized the give-and-take of domestic politics. The South of England subsidizes the north of England and Scotland, but that rarely enters into political debate as negotiable facet of British politics. Not the way that Wessis bitch about supporting Ossis. Can't say much about France where I think things are more static historically and tied into the department bureaucracy...Germany's regions have historic ties to neighbouring countries which have resisted assimilation into a national framework. The use of the word 'organic' was to emphasize Germany's relative youth.

Pat Patterson on :

Joerg-I was trying to repond to Zyme's argument that Germany was indeed making changes to its navy that would allow a blue water capability, as I assume that was his point. However there may be some plans sitting in some admirals desk somewhere or buried in some parliamentary committee but the bald fact remains that currently and for the next few decades or so Germany is a coastal power capable of a global outreach only through NATO. My question was, considering that there doesn't appear to be the interest, other than rhetorical, in the future or the capability now of acheiving anything other than auxilliary status. The crunch will come when some modern pirates hijack a German oil freighter off Indonesia and Germany must rely on the US, India or Japan to retrieve that ship and continue to protect the world's sea lanes. Yes, Germany needs that ability both to assert the independent global posture it claims by dint of its economy and not appear merely as one of the herd of tiny allies that are sent to barracks duty in some out of the way places so as not to get in the way of the elephants. But to be honest one of the long term goals of US policy was always to keep Germany ineffective and divided. One of my cousins while stationed in Germany during the 70's mentioned that Germany was often referred to as a speed bump,the goal being to slow down the Warsaw Pact nations before they reached the English Channel or the North Sea. The divisions ceased years ago but the ineffectiveness remains. But since Germany remains a succesful and prosperous democracy the tendency to do nothing will probably outlast us all.

Nanne on :

As usual, many of the comments are more sensible than Roger Cohen's own column. What is keeping European countries in general from committing more troops to Afghanistan is a disagreement on strategy. The USA is only interested in more troops to back up its mission there, but not in giving the Europeans much more to decide than the rules of engagement of their own troops. And even there, the USA is picky, pushing the Europeans to be more trigger-happy. The US political establishment as well as the US military are still drawing the wrong lessons from the Kosovo war. There, they felt hamstrung by the small concessions they had to make to the Europeans and the long discussions that had to be led before they could push most of their demands through. But the Kosovo war was a resounding success from an operational point of view. I tend to think that this was because and not despite of the difficulties Washington and the army had. If the US would put the Afghanistan operation completely under the command of NATO, including all of its own troops, Germany might still not be willing to give much more support. But other European countries would. Until that time, they are wise not to, as the US strategy is wrong and doomed to failure.

Jean on :

No, Nanne. Hate to tell you this, but US strategy isn't wrong. All counterinsurgency wars involve both killing those that want to fight, AND aiding the civilians. Many of the European countries want to buy Afghan love with reconstruction efforts, and those efforts are important. But it's no use building schools, if the Taliban turn up in the dead of night and behead the teachers. Counterinsurgencies normally take ten years to win - but I don't need to tell you that, do I? You're an expert! Or are you just a typical arrogant European? Btw, the Business Week link above is from me - enjoy!

Nanne on :

Jean, it's not the fact that the US is fighting that is wrong, although they are fighting in the wrong way. But that is tactics, not strategy. The US strategy is wrong because it is based on propping up a government that does not have support of the main ethnic group in Afghanistan (the Pashtun) while fighting an organisation that has significant support among this ethnic group (the Taliban), in the pursuit of a pipe-dream (a united, pro-western, democratic, capitalist Afghanistan ruled from Kabul). You don't need to be an arrogant European to see that this has no chance of working. Many Americans, left, right, and centre can see the same. See [url=http://www.d-n-i.net/lind/lind_10_17_07.htm]this briefing[/url] by 4th Generation War thinker William Lind, for instance.

Axel on :

[i]Btw, the Business Week link above is from me - enjoy![/i] Brilliant, Jean. I'm really impressed by your profound demographic analysis - Mark Steyn would be proud of you - and military expertise. Here are some actual facts about the Netherlands and Germany. Ever heard of the CIA World factbook or Wikipedia? Netherlands: Population: 16.5 million Availability: males age 15-49: 3.5 million Fit for military service: males age 15-49: 2.8 million [b]Reaching military age annually: males: 100,000[/b] Active troops: 61,000 no conscription Active troops per thousand citizens: 3.24 Germany: Population: 82 million Military age population: males age 18-49: 19 million Total fit for service: males age 18-49: 15 million [b]Reaching military age annually: males: 500,000[/b] Active troops: 284,500 military personnel [i]with 50,000 of whom are 18 to 25 year-old conscripts[/i] Active troops per thousand citizens: 3.45 So much for your idea that "they have the young men. Zyme - too late. Germany doesn't have the young males."

Jean on :

Axel - oh god! I've been caught out - wiki and the CIA world factbook say so!!!! The impressive-looking 284,500 number consists of mostly-support personnel. As I said earlier, Germany can deploy 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers abroad at the moment. Merkel's white paper of '06 authorized the army to expand that number up 14,000. Now, the conscripts aren't sent abroad, and East Germany's decline is accelerating, so where will you find the extra troops? Go back the CIA world fact book Axel - population decline? Already started. Median Age? 43. Fertility rate? 1.3. Check out Nationmaster.com too - it's a fun site. Proportion of the population aged 65 or older? Almost 20%. I said nothing about the Netherlands - they have a near-replacement fertility rate. And now, could you do me a favour? Can you, or someone, please explain why pointing out these numbers makes Germans nuts?

Fuchur on :

[i]Can you, or someone, please explain why pointing out these numbers makes Germans nuts?[/i] I guess it's about the same reason that makes you go nuts when a German general points out that the Iraq war is lost...

Jean on :

Oh Fuchur, what drives me nuts is the willingness of Germans to lie to themselves. Germany got a second chance after WWII, despite what was found in the camps. Germany, and Western Europe was then defended for 40 years from the Soviets. For German generals to turn around and smile, while Americans die, is what makes me sick. If the thought of dead Americans gives them the jollies, they should at least have the manners to keep such sentiments to themselves, and not display such poor manners in front of an American guest - my husband. Oh, and violence is down in Iraq 77% in Sept. 07, in comparison to Sept. 06. If you can't remember your Patton (Americans don't like to lose), you should at least remember your Rommel - the AMerican way of war is chaos. And with that comment, I am done. This is a circle jerk, and I have too much to do to bother anymore. Yes, Germany! You are all brilliant - competent, socially-just, you know everything! Yes, American power should be subjugated to German needs, just like Fischer said. Have fun dealing with Putin. We're outta here in nine months - see ya.

Fuchur on :

Well, you do seem to have an inclination for dramatic exits... You're acting like a petulant little child throwing a temper tantrum. Obviously, Germany has many faults (and, trust me: we don't need holier-than-thou American smart-elleks to point that out), but nonetheless it's still a pretty brilliant country, thank you very much. [i]Germany, and Western Europe was then defended for 40 years from the Soviets.[/i] Don't give me that BS. My dad stood on alert beside his jet during the Cuba Crisis. And last time I checked, Cuba was not in Germany or Western Europe. The Cold War wasn't won by the US alone. And the part my dad played in it is just as valuable as that of any American soldier.

joe on :

yet right fucher and without him and his ilk all would have been lost.

Zyme on :

I could only find a german article (very critical) about the blue water arming of the german navy: http://www.german-foreign-policy.com/de/fulltext/57058

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