Germany will seek quick Kosovo exit strategy

7 April 2000

The fragile consensus in Germany that has supported German operations in Kosovo since the beginning of Operation Allied Force is starting to unravel. Given the uncertainty within the German government over the future of its Kosovo policy, any serious pressure from outside the government will result in a rapid demarche in German support. The end of this consensus will cause Germany to seek a rapid exit strategy to block the potential for additional deterioration both at home and abroad.
On April 5, Karl Lamers, the parliamentary foreign policy spokesman for the opposition Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), suggested in a parliamentary debate that Kosovo be partitioned. This broke a yearlong truce between government and opposition over Kosovo policy, eliciting immediate and heated objections that the option was irresponsible. The current German coalition has always been doubtful over NATO's goals and intentions in Kosovo, restrained only by a rigorous holding of the party line that the Kosovo campaign was a humanitarian intervention. But events in Kosovo and emerging evidence are undermining the government's position.

Kosovo is becoming an increasing burden on Germany both domestically and internationally. Domestically, the government lives in fear of a firefight between German soldiers and Albanians or Serbs. German casualties or even worse, civilian casualties on the other side will immediately cause an outcry and generate potential for serious splits within both governing parties. Both the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens have strong internal factions that are at best skeptical about German involvement.

Internationally, violence in Kosovo continues to fester, creating a source of ongoing concern as Germany attempts to maintain warm relations with Moscow. While Russia has always objected to Kosovo being split off from Serbia, an ongoing low-level crisis there also threatens to unhinge German efforts to keep the Cold War from setting in again. A quick exit at any cost short of a complete undermining of NATO may upset the Russians in the short term, but it offers Germany the possibility to put the issue behind it in its pursuit of constructive relations with Russia.

In many ways, Germany has always been a fragile partner of the NATO coalition. During the Kosovo conflict last year, the Germans expressed alarm at the conflict's implications and worked diligently behind the scenes to strike a deal with the Russians that would end the operations and, by extension, limit German commitments. Germany's Greens, in particular, have reacted strongly to their leadership's support for NATO's operations, and it is by the slimmest of margins that Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has managed to keep a lid on dissent within his own party.

Other internal issues related to Kosovo include the fact that Germany harbors 180,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees, whose visas expired at the end of March. State interior ministers particularly those in conservative states have advocated the immediate return of these people to Kosovo. The expulsion of refugees equal to 10 percent of the total Kosovar Albanian population would undermine the Green position that the continuing operations in Kosovo are humanitarian in nature. Additionally, outbreaks of violence in Mitrovica and elsewhere are daily reminders of the considerable risk of German casualties and of last year's violence when German troops moved into Prizren and killed Serbs.

Until recently, the German government led by Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping and Fischer has managed to maintain a shell of support for German operations in Kosovo. In late March 2000, however, retired German Brig. Gen. Heinz Loquai asserted in a new book that the Serbian "Horseshoe Plan" a key element in solidifying German support for Operation Allied Force last year was actually a creation of the German Defense Ministry.

While Scharping has vigorously denied this allegation, Loquai's assertion carries some weight. Particularly telling is his observation that the German government claimed the operation was named "Potkova" the Croatian word for horseshoe rather than "Potkovica" the Serbian word. Scharping rebutted Loquai's statements by saying that details of the "Horseshoe Plan" came from the German Foreign Ministry, which obtained them either directly or indirectly from intelligence sources in Bulgaria.

The strident rebuttals of any and all criticism of the German government's Kosovo policy speaks to the fragility of the consensus it is trying to hold together. Fischer reacted swiftly April 5 to Lamers suggestion to partition Kosovo, characterizing it as an attempt to build a "mythology" surrounding NATO operations in Kosovo.

The weakness of the German government's position will not be able withstand a series of telling attacks from the opposition. Until now they have been spared this through a tacit agreement between the government and the CDU/CSU. The conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), with a long history of NATO support, were quite willing to let this sensitive issue go unchallenged. However, the recent weakness of the CDU as a result of corruption scandals and leadership changes has led it to grasp at any issue that might undermine the government parties. Seen in this light, the government's Kosovo policy was an obvious target for criticism.

Germany is now entering a very difficult period in its foreign policy. Without destroying NATO, Germany will find it just as difficult to find an exit strategy for Kosovo as it was to build a consensus for following the U.S. lead last year. Partition as suggested by the CDU is an easy answer but it carries with it serious risks to other elements of German foreign policy.

Russia has always adamantly opposed splitting off Kosovo from Serbia both as a consequence of its pro-Serbian position and from the risk of setting precedents in Russia. Germany, however, may also be calculating the ongoing risks and provocations that will anger Russia if German and NATO troops stay in Kosovo. German officials may have decided that removing the bandage quickly and risking short-term Russian anger is better than permitting the continuing risk of confrontations concerning Kosovo.

The German dilemma over Kosovo will only get worse. Continuing operations represent daily, serious risks for German foreign policy and even the survival of the government itself. With the opposition now signaling that Kosovo is fair game in the policy debates in Berlin, this pressure will only increase. Germany is already casting about for "safe" solutions to the problems in the Balkans. For example, Bodo Hombach, who is very close to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, recently spearheaded an effort that raised $2.3 billion in aid for the Balkans.

Germany will not have the luxury of waiting for an economic revival to smooth relations in the Balkans. Instead, it will become an increasingly loud proponent of a quick NATO withdrawal from Kosovo, whatever the short-term costs. It is not likely that Germany will risk the cost of a unilateral withdrawal for fear of destroying NATO although a reduction in the troop strength is a definite possibility. It will, however, make it clear in both Brussels and Washington that its patience is limited when it comes to Kosovo.

Original article