What if they Gave a “War” …

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung

If American defense analysts want to make fun of German politicians for refusing to proclaim their engagement in Afghanistan to be a “war” that’s their right. But people should understand that they’re basically asking Germany to withdraw its 4,000+ troops from Afghanistan. The German government, for reasons that shouldn’t be too hard to understand, is absolutely committed to not fighting a “war” unless Germany is attacked by a foreign adversary. People should be familiar with this basic attitude from the case of Japan.

Nowadays, of course, both Germany and Japan are valuable American allies and the tendency is for American policymakers to want to coax both of them to play a bigger role in the world—to lighten the burden on us. But it’s a politically dicey process. In Germany, which has gone further than Japan in terms of being willing to send troops abroad, part of the process is that they’ll contribute forces to a UN-sponsored stabilization mission in Afghanistan but not to a “war.” The deployment, meanwhile, is quite unpopular in Germany but supported by a broad consensus of all the major political parties except for the marginalized Linke. But push on them far enough and this political consensus will break and they’ll go home.

I know a lot of American soldiers, and especially COIN enthusiasts, have a low opinion of the Bundeswehr’s effectiveness so maybe they don’t care. And if so, that’s fine. But just as a counterinsurgent needs to understand the local culture in Afghanistan he also has to understand the domestic politics of his allies. German hostility to aggressive military action is not a joke.