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German Legislators Boost Afghan Troops

By Robert Knauer

Though overlooked in the States, the recent vote in the Bundestag represents a drastic shift in German foreign policy. By passing an extension and expansion of Germany's mandate in Afghanistan, Germany's leaders not only went against popular domestic opinion but also took one more in a series of gradual steps towards employing a more muscular foreign policy. This is a notable development for the U.S. as it seeks broader international support for its security efforts.

While popular support for the war in Afghanistan is high within the U.S., some 70% of the German population would prefer to withdraw their troops. Since World War II, the Germans have been rigidly opposed to using violence to achieve political ends, an understandable phenomenon given their history. For this reason, Germany willingly played a modest role in world affairs, even as it became the world's largest exporter and Europe's strongest economy. Gladly ceding authority to international organizations such as the EU, UN, and NATO, Germany dutifully shied away from employing its military abroad - to include significant wavering when it came to affairs in the Balkans in the 1990s. But despite this ingrained timidity, German policy has shifted over the past decade.

Germany is as engaged abroad as it has been at any time since its defeat in World War II. It maintains a military presence off the coast of Lebanon and support the U.S.-led counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa. Moreover, its current contribution of over 3,200 troops to the NATO effort in Afghanistan is exceeded only by the US and Britain. While it is true that German troops are in the relatively docile north and face significant restrictions on their ability to participate in combat operations, the Bundestag's vote is nonetheless remarkable. It represents the increasingly engaged role that Germany is taking in world affairs and a strong military commitment despite a technologically and financially weak military.

U.S. leaders are right to be disappointed with many allies for not sourcing enough troops or money for the fight in Afghanistan - or other security operations, for that matter. Current security challenges, after all, are as complex as ever and require the active involvement of allies. This makes it important to take note of the German leadership's willingness not only to buck popular opinion but also to enter a new phase in its history.

The author, a former active duty Marine officer and recent SAIS graduate, is currently a Robert Bosch Fellow living in Berlin.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

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