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Köhler under fire for 'economic war' remarks

The Local · 27 May 2010, 16:34

Published: 27 May 2010 16:34 GMT+02:00

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In an interview he gave during his recent visit to the strife-torn country, Köhler appeared to say that the public debate about the war in Afghanistan was gradually facing up to the fact that protecting foreign trade was a legitimate reason for military action.

The remarks from Saturday to broadcaster Deutschlandradio, which have just now been seized on by opposition politicians, have prompted a furious debate about Germany's military deployment – and whether Köhler has damaged the image of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Köhler began by saying that Germany was in the country, alongside its allies, to ensure its security and that it was good and proper for these issues to be openly and robustly discussed.

He then added: “But my estimation is that, on the whole, we are on the way to understanding, even broadly in society, that a country of our size, with this orientation toward foreign trade and therefore also dependence on foreign trade, has to be aware that when in doubt in case of an emergency, military deployment is also necessary to protect our interests.

For example, free trade routes, for example to prevent instability in a whole region, which certainly have an negative impact on our opportunities via trade, jobs and income. All of that ought to be discussed and I believe that we are not doing too badly.”

The remarks appear to be a major departure from the political orthodoxy on the Afghanistan mission, which says the Bundeswehr is there to protect Germany from terrorist groups who would use the country as a base were it to descend into lawlessness or Islamist theocracy.

Thomas Oppermann, speaker of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) parliamentary group, told news magazine Der Spiegel that Köhler was “damaging the acceptance of the Bundeswehr's foreign missions.”

Germany was not conducting “a war for economic interests,” Oppermann said. It was, on the contrary, about security. Anyone who said differently was “making the case of the Left party,” he added, referring to Germany's far-left socialists who strongly oppose the war.

“We don't want an economic war,” Oppermann said.

Constitutional lawyer Ulrich Preuß of Berlin's Hertie School of Governance also critcised Köhler's choice of words.

“That is a thinly veiled expansion, through the constitution, of the acceptable grounds for a Bundeswehr mission for economic interests,” he told Der Spiegel.

Preuß said Köhler's remarks were a “discernibly imperialist choice of words.”

“It reminds me of the English imperialists of the 19th century, who defended their naval supremacy with similar arguments,” Preuß said.

Left party co-chairman Klaus Ernst, said Köhler had “openly said, what cannot be denied.”

Bundeswehr soldiers were risking “life and limb for the export interests of giant companies.” It was a “war about influence and commodities,” which was not the idea covered by the Afghanistan mandate passed by the parliament, he said.

However, the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) have defended Köhler, while showing some discomfort at his choice of words.

Conservative MP Ruprecht Polenz, who is also chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said Köhler had “expressed himself somewhat unclearly.”

The president had not been “announcing a new military doctrine for Germany,” but rather had been trying to make clear that Germany was carrying out its contribution to international security and stability, he told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

And through this, Germany naturally had an interest in free foreign trade.

“You see that indeed with the international mission against piracy on the horn of Africa,” he said.

A “clear mandate under international law” was obviously always a requirement for war, he said.

At the same time, Köhler's statement was “not a particularly successful phrasing” to express these ideas, he admitted.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

18:56 May 27, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
All wars boil down to either money or religion. Deal with it.
19:21 May 27, 2010 by Thames
At least he told the truth even if it was politically a mistake.

Now maybe the German government can go back to parroting the hypocrtical propoganda comming out of Washington about the war.
19:27 May 27, 2010 by William Thirteen
indeed...welcome to Geopolitics 101....
23:31 May 27, 2010 by cobalisk
Sure, I supported the original mission, I even wanted the Taliban ousted before 9-11 because anyone actually looking into Afghanistan could see it was some kind of virulent theocratic petri dish.

That being said, today, years after the fact, the notion that the current mission is all about security is laughable. It is about salvaging what should have been finished for the U.S. and apparently a needed military shakedown for those coalition partners who erroneously believe that a strong military leads to better trade positions. Japan and China both are excellent examples, as is Germany, that such a mentality is not only foolish, it is simply wrong. Shame to see the CDU losing sight of that fact.
00:02 May 28, 2010 by wxman
Grenadier and William seem to have a beed on the problem, so no further comments here.
00:29 May 28, 2010 by Logic Guy
Well, what I get from from all of this, is that a major political leader actually spoke what he felt. Liers and pretenders will always make society miserable.

I'm not here to say anything about the war, but instead, I simply want to express how essential the truth is.

Whatever the truth is, we would obviously have a perfect world if all humans were to accept it and reality. If so, then everyone would therefore place very high value on ethics and morality and war itself would become obsolete.

The truth is truly brilliant.
07:52 May 28, 2010 by trevzns
The truth is a difficult pill to swallow and honesty has a sour taste for many Jackals masquerading as politicians.

Ethics and morality is wishful thinking in politics and religion, each primarily serves a person or group for selfish and short-sighted reasons.

I commend President Horst Köhler for his remarks.
13:49 May 28, 2010 by beeker
gee whiz. At least the German Equivalent to Joe Biden or Prince Phillip not only speaks his mind but also tells the truth.
12:21 May 29, 2010 by kentman
I don't suppose it would be anything to do with the plan to get a pipe line down from the Oil and Gas rich states to the north of Afganistan through to the Indian ocean, for the western countries to use.
16:37 May 29, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Sometimes political gaffes have the unintended benefit of revealing the truth. This is such a case. Let's see how Köhler tries to walk this one back.
03:57 May 30, 2010 by christmascorner
Hey, the guy is right. Too much eu involved. That is why they stayed out of Iraq and now Iran.Tyey do not want to offend them because of the big company contracts. The Europeans are good at that. Greed comes first.
13:42 May 30, 2010 by peterakiss
Refreshing honesty in a politician. It is time the western nations again acknowledged that national interests come first. And that sometimes those interests have to be advanced by guns - often at the expense of others, who are less powerful.
14:57 May 30, 2010 by Prufrock2010
Yeah, that policy has sure worked out well for the US in the last 50 years.
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