GERMAN lawmakers interrupted their summer vacations yesterday and returned to Bonn to discuss the deployment of a German destroyer and three reconnaissance aircraft off the coast of former Yugoslavia.
The extraordinary session of the Bundestag was called by the opposition Social Democrats, who insist the deployment - part of a NATO mission to monitor the embargo against Serbia and Montenegro - violates the German Constitution.
The Bundestag approved the government's participation in the United Nations embargo mission and found it to be in agreement with the Constitution. But the Social Democratic opposition did not support this position.
It was the first serious debate held by the Bundestag on the constitutional restrictions on the German Army, although the issue has been simmering ever since the Gulf war. While its allies sent soldiers to fight Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces, Bonn kept the Bundeswehr at home, arguing that its Constitution does not allow deployment beyond the NATO area.
That at least, was the government's explanation at the time. Since then, Bonn has interpreted the vague restrictions more liberally, sending mine sweepers to the Gulf after the war, Bundeswehr medics to Cambodia as part of the UN peacekeeping operation there, and now German marines to the Adriatic.
Hans-Ulrich Klose, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), yesterday accused the government of "bit by bit, carrying out a fundamental change in German foreign and security policy" behind Parliament's back.
To prevent this step-by-step reinterpretation of the Constitution and to clarify the issue once and for all, the Social Democrats decided Tuesday to challenge the Adriatic deployment in the Federal Constitutional Court.
Ironically, this could work against the SPD. Most legal experts in Germany argue that the Constitution does indeed allow deployment out of the NATO area, as long as it is part of a "mutual collective security" arrangement - an international mission.
Wolfgang Schauble, leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the Bundestag, yesterday welcomed the SPD's decision to go to court.
The hope among all parties is that the court will not only rule on the Adriatic deployment, but that it will also express a broad opinion on the out-of-area question and clear up the ambiguities.
This would save the parliamentarians a great deal of trouble. As it stands now, they are far from consensus.
All the parties more or less agree that Germany, through unification, has a greater responsibility to bear in world affairs and that this extends to the Army.
The question is just what role the Army should play. The Social Democrats, citing Germany's military history, have called for a constitutional amendment allowing the Army to take part in UN peacekeeping missions, but not in missions involving combat.
The Christian Democrats and their coalition partners, the Free Democrats, reject these restrictions, and demand that peacemaking involving the use of force as well as peacekeeping capabilities be authorized - and not only on UN missions.
Mr. Schauble has repeatedly emphasized that the Constitution does not need to be changed because it already allows both of these capabilities. But he also says he sees the importance of forging political consensus on the issue. Now that the matter is going to court, however, the Christian Democrats will await the outcome before taking steps of their own, says Karl Lamers, a CDU parliamentarian.