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Konrad Werner: Westerwelle confronts his soul

Guido Westerwelle had interesting decision to make last week. Should Germany arm the world or should it mediate and attempt to make peace between warring people? His answer: both.

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Earlier this week, you might have noticed Der Spiegel’s action-movie cover image, showing Angela Merkel in Bundeswehr battledress frowning from the centre of a collage of military hardware. The magazine’s image department did its best to muster a fearsome expression on the chancellor’s usually unruffled features, giving the impression that she is about to unleash hot metal death across the earth. It’s a somewhat misleading impression though, because the article within is actually about something more deceitful, what Der Spiegel calls “The Merkel Doctrine”. This is their name for Germany’s new foreign policy: along with other cash-strapped, cost-cutting western European countries, Germany has apparently decided to forgo costly foreign military operations, and instead sell more weapons to “stability partners” in the world’s war-ridden regions – thus turning expense into revenue – and pouring liberal quantities of hot metal death onto fires everywhere.

In the name of stability, Germany is preparing to sell several hundred tanks to Saudi Arabia, a couple of submarines to Egypt, plus two more submarines and a batch of rocket launchers to Israel, thus providing German weapon makers like Kraus-Maffei Wegmann and Dynamit Nobel Defence with fat contracts on both sides of potential international conflicts.

The article contained a couple of scoops, one of which was the first-ever direct report from inside the secret council meetings that approve Germany’s arms exports. This council, the Bundessicherheitsrat, is chaired by Merkel and occupied by her top ministers, and its decisions about what weapons Germany should sell to who are not made available to parliament or the public until a year after they are made.

This was handy for Guido Westerwelle last week, when he attended one of those secret council meetings on Monday and rubberstamped the above-mentioned consignment of rocket launchers for Israel, and then flew to the UN for the vote on Palestine’s observer statehood a couple of days later. There in New York, Westerwelle put forward the idea that Germany is a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, the foreign minister became the very personification of Germany’s paradox – he sold war machines and posed as an advocate of peace in the same week. The official stats show that Germany has begun selling more weapons to more non-NATO and non-EU countries around the world (Algeria, Indonesia, Chile, and Qatar are some of the others). Well, I suppose there’s going to be a lot more mediating to do.