Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel tried to defuse a standoff in her ruling coalition on Wednesday by suggesting that it provide logistical support for a European peacekeeping force to the Central African Republic but not send combat troops of its own.
The compromise should bridge a divide between Merkel’s conservative defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Social Democrat foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is more wary of expanding military operations abroad, reflecting a general reluctance on the German left to get involved in wars.
Steinmeier did argue after meeting his France counterpart Laurent Fabius last week that “Europe can’t leave France on its own” in the Central African Republic where it intervened in December after violence has erupted between the country’s majority Christian population and Muslim rebels.
European Union foreign minister agreed last week to deploy peacekeepers to the former French colony, a proposal that was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday.
France has deployed some 1,600 soldiers to the Central African Republic but they are too thinly spread across a country nearly the size of France itself to keep the warring factions apart.
Merkel told parliament, “It’s not about a German combat force but about our capabilities in rescue and treating the wounded,” adding that her government also wants to strengthen its mandate in Mali to train security forces there. Germany is sending 180 troops to the country to help train African soldiers.
Tension between the ruling Christian and Social Democrats was to be expected, given that the former criticized the foreign policy of Merkel’s previous government. They condemned weapons exports to undemocratic Western allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar but simultaneously lamented a supposed lack of international engagement on Germany’s part, evidenced by its refusal to participate in the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011.
Steinmeier, who was also foreign minister in Merkel’s first government between 2005 and 2009, is expected to pursue a more internationalist foreign policy than his predecessor, the liberal Guido Westerwelle, did. Von der Leyen, who is considered a potential successor to Merkel as conservative party leader, also believes Germany should take more responsibility in the world, if “within the framework of our alliances,” she told Der Spiegel weekly.