THE German government, continuing to test the limits of its Constitution, yesterday approved German participation in an international maritime mission to monitor the United Nations embargo against Serbia and Montenegro.
By contributing a destroyer and three marine patrol aircraft to the Adriatic Sea Mission, coordinated by NATO and the Western European Union, Bonn is heating up the national debate over whether the German military should take part in missions outside the NATO area.
Traditionally, the Constitution has been interpreted as prohibiting "out of area" missions for the German military. The opposition Social Democrats say they want to examine the details of yesterday's announcement and will decide today whether to contest it in Germany's constitutional court. An extraordinary meeting of the Bundestag's foreign and defense committees has also been called to discuss the issue today.
In recent days, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel has described the difficulties Germany's Constitution is causing Bonn in its international relations.
Germany has been urging its partners to support humanitarian aid to Bosnia-Herzegovina even if the only way to carry this out were through military means. But at the same time, Bonn has been saying that if it does come to military force, Germany would not be able to take part because of its Constitution - and because of its brutal history in the region in World War II.
"It's getting daily more complicated for us in foreign policy," said Foreign Minister Kinkel in Helsinki last week. Germany is under "enormous pressure from outside," he said, adding that Bonn cannot continue pulling back whenever the situation gets serious. The Constitution became controversial during the Gulf war, when Germany sent money to help rout the Iraqis from Kuwait, while Americans, British, French, and others sent soldiers.
Many leading German politicians have since admitted that the Constitution is wide open to interpretation and actually allows out-of-area deployments, as long as they are part of a multinational, collective security arrangement.
The problem, they say, is not one of interpretation, but of public opinion. After two world wars the German public is repelled by the idea of using force to do anything but defend Germany.
In the last 18 months, Bonn has tried slowly to bring along the public by taking small steps toward a broader interpretation. It has allowed German soldiers to take part in out-of-area missions, but only for humanitarian purposes. After the cease-fire in the Gulf war, it sent the Bundeswehr (Army) to help Kurds in northern Iraq, minesweepers to help clear Gulf waters, and helicopters to transport UN observers in Iraq. About 150 German troops are running a hospital for UN forces in Cambodia.
The maritime mission in the Adriatic is also humanitarian, the government argues, because it involves monitoring the embargo only, not enforcing it. Also, they say "out-of-area" does not apply because the German destroyer will be in international waters.
But the opposition Social Democrats say a humanitarian mission can quickly turn into one involving combat.
"They haven't thought through all the consequences," says Karsten Voigt, the Social Democrats' security expert. His party has introduced a bill calling for a constitutional change to let Germany participate in UN noncombat peacekeeping missions. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl wants to allow Ger-man troops in all UN-mandated missions, including combat.
A possible compromise would be to pass an amendment near to what Kohl wants, but with a five-or six-year transition in which all parliamentary groups would have to agree unanimously to a deployment, says Werner Hoyer, military expert for the Free Democrats and Kohl's junior coalition partner. After the transition, he says, the Bundestag would have to agree on each case.