The Bundeswehr, a blind spot in German politics

To analyse. It is an understatement to say that questions of foreign policy and defense occupied a weak place during the German legislative campaign. Since the September 26 elections, they have remained largely absent from the public debate. A revealing sign: out of the twelve pages of the coalition pre-agreement adopted by the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Liberals (FDP) on October 15, they are only entitled to a few fairly general paragraphs at the very end of document.

In view of the news, such a silence raises questions. The legislative campaign indeed coincided with a major event: the end of the Bundeswehr’s mission in Afghanistan. First intervention of the German army outside Europe since 1945, it ended in a strange way. At the end of June, no minister had come to welcome the last contingent to return to Germany. At the time, the authorities justified themselves by explaining that they wanted to allow the soldiers to join their families as quickly as possible. But this lack of protocol was the subject of strong criticism, including within the “grand coalition” of Angela Merkel, which prompted the government to announce the holding of a solemn tribute to some 93,000 German soldiers who served. in Afghanistan as part of the NATO intervention decided on the day after September 11, 2011.

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Initially scheduled for the end of August but postponed by a few weeks due to the participation of the Bundeswehr in the evacuation of Kabul airport after the Taliban victory, this tribute finally took place on October 13 in front of the Reichstag, the seat of the Chamber of Deputies, Berlin. However, it was not unanimous: by organizing for the occasion the Grosser Zapfenstreich, a ceremony inherited from Prussia in the 19th century.e century, which takes place at nightfall and mixes torchlight marches and musical moments, the government has been accused by several left-wing elected officials, as well as by personalities from different backgrounds, of reviving images that recall a little too much of the grandiose scenes of IIIe Reich. All to mark the end of an intervention which – regardless of the bravery shown by its members – will go down in history as a crushing military and political defeat.

Failure of a tribute to the soldiers

The government’s failure to organize a consensual tribute to the soldiers who served in Afghanistan is a symptom. He recalls that, three quarters of a century after the end of the Second World War, the role of the army remains a subject of controversy in Germany. What confirms the survey published in the last issue of the journal International Politics : 75% of people questioned by the Forsa Institute are in favor of the Bundeswehr being mobilized to evacuate German nationals or foreign civilians in danger, as was the case in August in Afghanistan; 63% approve of its participation in peacekeeping operations, such as that of the United Nations in Mali (Minusma), where around a thousand German soldiers are deployed; 59% believe that it must intervene to prevent crimes against humanity from being committed; 39% agree that German soldiers should train foreign security forces; and 37% to participate in combat missions against terrorist groups. Finally, 14% are opposed to any foreign operation of the army whatsoever.

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The Bundeswehr, a blind spot in German politics