Germany’s Parliament voted Friday to dispatch warplanes and a contingent of 1,500 troops in support of U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia, brushing aside a half-century-old taboo against sending German combat troops abroad.
The decision was a clear victory for Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who has persistently nudged Germany toward broader international participation - including possible military operations - since reunification five years ago. The parliamentary vote, needed to ratify a decision made earlier this week by Kohl’s Cabinet, was 386-258 with 11 abstentions.
Kohl maintains only a 10-seat majority in the Bundestag, the lower house of Parliament, so Friday’s outcome indicated that dozens of opposition members defected to join the chancellor after months of agonized national debate over Germany’s role in the world.
“Today’s vote has a significance that goes beyond the matter at hand,” Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said during the often bitter six-hour debate. “At stake is the establishment of a common European foreign and security policy; at stake is Germany’s standing and credibility in the world.”
Many left-of-center legislators warned that the appearance of German forces in the Balkans, where Nazi troops were guilty of widespread atrocities during World War II, would further inflame nationalist passions there. Bosnian Serb leaders have been blunt in warning the Germans to stay out.
Rudolf Scharping, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, said the government’s proposal “can only lead to escalation and irresponsibly endanger German soldiers.” Most Social Democrats and the often-pacifist Greens reject the use of German combat forces except in self-defense within the boundaries of the NATO alliance.
But Kohl and his political supporters portrayed the vote as a crucial symbol of Germany’s solidarity with its NATO allies and an important assertion of German willingness to share international burdens.
Kinkel also appealed to enlightened self-interest, saying: “We are more affected by the results of this conflict than others. Some 1.2 million people from former Yugoslavia live here. We would be the first to have to cope with a new influx of refugees if the peacekeepers pull out.”
The deep emotions stirred by the posting of German soldiers abroad were evident Friday as measured debate occasionally yielded to mudslinging. One Kohl ally accused the Social Democrats of “making a virtue of dithering,” while Social Democrat Guenter Verheugen implied parallels between conservative Bavarians and militaristic Nazis. That provoked Wolfgang Schaeuble, parliamentary leader of Kohl’s Christian Democrats, to mutter, “Born traitor!” - a remark he later withdrew.
Public opinion polls show that while Germans are wary of involvement in the Balkan quagmire, they also strongly support the NATO alliance and more vigorous German participation in international affairs.