Berlin, Germany—German politicians remain divided as to whether German forces will join the U.S.-led international coalition in Syria and Iraq.
A new sense of urgency infused the political debate after the Syrian government’s 2017 and 2018 attacks against its citizen in Idlib and Douma, which killed over 70 people.
“We are in talks with our American and European partners about this situation. There has not been a situation where a decision has had to be made,” said Steffen Seibert, a German government representative.
The German Defence Ministry, which is mostly led by the conservatives of CDU—Germany is governed by a multiparty coalition—is planning for a possible deployment of German troops if the Syrian President Bashar al Assad orders another chemical weapon attack.
Yet neither German Chancellor Angela Merkel nor the Defence Ministry has the executive authority to order a deployment unilaterally. The proposition would have to go to the German parliament and pass with a majority. If it comes to that, however, it would mean that Merkel would have done an about-face, for she has previously stated that no German troops would be involved in the Syrian conflict.
According to Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, under specific circumstances, German forces would be deployed thus “preventing a new, horrific gas attack with massive effect on the civilian population.”
He added that a retaliatory strike could act as deterrence for a future chemical attack.
Green Party and the Free Democratic Party opposition members urged not to commit to a specific course of action but keep all options on the table. Although it might not seem like it, this is a huge step forward for German defence politics. Previously, the centre-left parties, and indeed many centre-right politicians, would never contemplate military action. But the incentive of acting to prevent another humanitarian disaster is strong.
“Only the Security Council or the U.N. General Assembly can empower the international community to take military action. As long as this does not happen, we Social-Democrats cannot vote for any intervention by force in Syria,” said Andrea Nahles, the acting leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
But division over the use of force still runs rampant in German politics. Some Greens wish to discuss alternatives and preventive measures. The far-right AfD raised constitutional issues and even questioned if the Syrian regime was behind the attacks. Others from the left shot down any intervention plan because of U.S. President Donald Trump and his foreign policy.
The debate is still ongoing. It will remain inconclusive unless further attacks urge an immediate decision.