UNDER heavy criticism for not doing enough to support the Gulf effort against Iraq, West Germany is ready to increase its contribution. When United States Secretary of State James Baker III visits the West German foreign minister and chancellor Sept. 15, they will offer him ``far-reaching'' sea and air assistance, to help transport US troops and equipment to the Gulf, according to a government official in Bonn who asked not to be identified.
At the request of the US, West Germany also plans to offer immediate aid of about 500 million deutsche marks ($322 million) to Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey, mostly in the form of goods. The aim is to keep the trade embargo against Iraq watertight by helping countries adversely affected by it - countries that otherwise might be tempted to break the embargo.
Additional aid of a ``considerable amount'' is on the way for these three Middle East nations, but cannot be processed right away because of budgetary red tape, according to the official. Normally, West Germany assists these countries with about 460 million deutsche marks ($297 million) annually.
Bonn, however, will not comply with Mr. Baker's wish expressed in Brussels this week: that NATO allies send ground forces, even at symbolic levels.
The US press and American lawmakers have been critical of Bonn's support so far, especially in light of the greater weight West Germany assumes through reunification.
``We are reading the [US] press,'' says another government official, who also asked not to be identified. On the diplomatic level, he adds, the complaints aren't being expressed ``as a criticism, but as a polite request.''
Chancellor Helmut Kohl, he says, is indebted to President Bush for his early and full support of German reunification.
One problem is that, while numerous other US allies have sent warships and military personnel to the Gulf, West Germany has sent only a fleet of minesweepers - to the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The West Germans argue that their Constitution forbids them to send troops out of the NATO area. But specialists and politicians here admit this is more a matter of interpretation and internal politics than an outright ban.
As soon as reunification (Oct. 3) and the German national elections (Dec. 2) are over, Kohl hopes to change the Constitution to allow ``out of area'' troop deployment in connection with United Nations actions. Without the East-West conflict to stymie its power, the UN is being viewed here as a more effective organization.
The Germans have been slow to respond because all minds were focused on reunification, explains Helmut Hubel, a Middle East specialist at the Institute for Foreign Policy in Bonn.
Unlike France and Britain, he says, ``there is no German consciousness of the Mideast. ... We never had a colony there. The Mideast for us is seen only in German-Israeli ties or in economic ties.''
Cost is a key factor, too. With reunification estimated at 100 billion DM a year, the Soviet troop withdrawal at 12 billion DM, and the East Europeans looking to Bonn for aid, ``we're writing checks that we don't know how to cover,'' he adds.
Perhaps the most deep-rooted reason for German hesitancy regarding the Gulf, he adds, is its own dark past. ``The Germans have a big problem with the military. It's something dirty, something they want to push aside.''
Two polls reflect this attitude. In one, which appeared Sept. 6 in the weekly Die Zeit, 54 percent of the respondents were against sending German troops to the Gulf. In a television poll, 83 percent were against sending the Navy to the Gulf.
For their part, the Germans are quick to remind Americans of what they've done so far. Aside from backing the trade embargo and European Community measures, West Germany has made 78 million DM available for refugee care. A third of the US airlift has been carried out via stopovers at US bases in Germany, and West Germany is providing 30 specialized vehicles that can detect and warn of chemical and biological weapons use.