Germans at Odds Over NATO Role In Enforcing Bosnia No-Fly Zone

Debate affects German coalition, NATO and US ties

GERMANY is coming under heavy criticism at NATO headquarters in connection with the war in Bosnia and Germany's restrictions on troop deployment in foreign lands.

Internal debate over German involvement in surveillance operations of the war-ravaged former Yugoslavia also could threaten the longevity of Germany's coalition government.

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel says that, for constitutional reasons, Germany will withdraw from participation in air surveillance of Bosnia if the United Nations Security Council votes to enforce a no-fly zone.

Germany's role in the surveillance mission is key, military experts say. Germany now commands 18 NATO radar planes, or AWACS, based in Geilenkirchen, in western Germany. A third of the crew for those planes is German. Through a shuttling service, NATO has two, and sometimes more, AWACS monitoring Bosnia from flights over Hungary and the Adriatic Sea.

NATO Secretary-General Manfred Worner, himself German, warned yesterday against a German pullout from the AWACS mission. In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, he said that the AWACS mission would be "heavily impaired" if the Germans pulled out.

On Friday, after a NATO meeting in Brussels, Secretary-General Worner said German withdrawal would have effects far beyond the Bosnia case, implying a pullout would undermine the integrity of the alliance itself.

Were the UN Security Council to approve enforcement of the no-fly zone, a German withdrawal would not sit well with the new Clinton administration. United States officials publicly express understanding that Germany's troop restrictions are a domestic issue, but the new administration has also made it clear it expects the Europeans to do more in solving the Yugoslav crisis.

President Clinton backs enforcement of a no-fly zone and is expected to discuss the issue with senior advisers this week.

Bosnia is "clearly the highest priority of the president in the National Security Council's agenda," Madeleine Albright said last week at her confirmation hearings to be US ambassador to the UN. She also said the US should apply further pressure on its West European allies to resolve the crisis.

The AWACS issue has the potential of splitting the coalition government in Germany, although few political observers here believe it will come to this.

In any case, an incredible game of brinksmanship is being played out over the issue.

Defense Minister Volker Ruhe, a member of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union, adamantly supports German participation in the mission.

Gen. Klaus Naumann, Germany's chief of staff, said last week he "seriously doubted" that German participation would be against the Constitution. He argued that if Germany withdrew, it should hand over its AWACS command to another allied nation.

Foreign Minister Kinkel, on the other hand, is threatening a break with the coalition if Germany stays in the AWACS mission to enforce a ban. The AWACS could be in a position to give firing commands to jet fighters, Kinkel says, which cross the line from monitoring into actual engagement. Kinkel argues that the Constitution forbids active engagement other than for the defense of NATO territory.

Although the coalition partners now admit that the constitutional restrictions are open to interpretation, they are hesitant to reinterpret the Constitution overnight and deploy German troops to trouble spots around the world.

Instead, the government is seeking dialogue with the opposition Social Democrats in hopes of changing the Constitution. It also is testing the limits of the Constitution by deploying troops beyond NATO areas for either humanitarian (Bundeswehr medics in Cambodia) or strictly logistic (German helicopters to transport UN observers in Iraq) missions.

Neither the opposition, nor the German public, seems ready to accept a combat mission for German troops outside NATO areas. Because there is no public pressure on Chancellor Kohl to deploy German soldiers hither and yon, he is more likely to put up with international embarrassment than risk a coalition break-up at home.

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