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Among allies, Germany is the odd man out in UN vote on Libya

Germany sided with Russia and China as it abstained from the UN Security Council vote to take "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Libya. Berlin took the decision that would be most popular at home. Politicians do such things. But Germany's allies certainly notice.

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Mr. Westerwelle has also warned against the "slippery slope" of another war in a Muslim country with perhaps unintended consequences. Germany will not participate in the UN mission, although it is considering how it can help more with tasks in Afghanistan, such as radar flights, to free up personnel or equipment for Libya.

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The unofficial reason for abstaining is because this is the popular position to take in a year chock full of important German state elections, including one on Sunday. This vote is entirely consistent with populist positions taken by Chancellor Angela Merkel – no bailout for deadbeat, debt-ridden European countries, a rethinking of nuclear power, and no support for military action, even to stop a bloodbath.

This all sounds like pretty high-and-mighty criticism, so let's just take the German position for a minute, because nothing is ever as black and white as it looks.

Pacifism still runs deep in Germans who are sensitive to their tragic history. Slowly, though, Germany has taken on greater security roles in the world. Berlin is still keeping German troops in Afghanistan, despite a strong public desire to get them out. It has deployed Germans as UN or NATO peacekeepers to the Balkans, Africa, and Lebanon.

And lobbing criticisms from America is like throwing stones at a glass Bauhaus. Let's not forget that members of Congress are divided on the no-fly issue. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned against it for the exact same reasons that the Germans brought up. Two-thirds of Americans say the US has no responsibility to act in Libya. The Obama administration was hardly decisive about Libya, allowing France and other countries to take the lead.

Once Washington pivoted, however, Berlin should have, too. Ms. Merkel said today that "we fully endorse the aims of the resolution. Our attitude can't be mixed up with neutrality." But those words don't change the fact that in a crucial vote, Germany sided with Russia and China, and not with her friends.

Her friends have surely noticed. Indeed, a US government official told me today that in NATO, Germany is beginning to resemble the France of yesteryear: "They have become the land of 'no.' "


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