Germany: Shake-Up and Shakeout

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Germany: Shake-Up and Shakeout

As Chancellor Merkel’s shaky coalition government shows early signs of division, one bright light shines through it all: Baron Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

It was a whirlwind shakeout.

Last Thursday the German daily Bild headlined a story inferring that former German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung had concealed information on an airstrike in the German defense sector in Afghanistan, called in by a Bundeswehr colonel on suspected Taliban, that ended with the alleged slaughter of Afghan civilians.

“The impact of Bilds revelations came swiftly,” Time reported. “Addressing Germany’s parliament, which was about to begin debating a one-year extension of Germany’s deployment of around 4,300 troops, [current Defense Minister Karl-Theodor] zu Guttenberg told deputies that Wolfgang Schneiderhan, inspector general and head of Germany’s armed forces since 2002, and long-serving State Secretary Peter Wichert, a senior official at Germany’s defense department, had taken responsibility for the breakdown in communications and resigned. Jung initially defended his actions but resigned Friday” (November 27).

At the heart of the action was Guttenberg. Since taking on his new portfolio on October 28, Guttenberg has seldom been out of the headlines. In fact, general opinion has it that in keeping with his charmed run since joining Chancellor Merkel’s previous coalition government in March, far from suffering from the recent purge of defense-related personnel, “Guttenberg is likely to emerge strengthened from this,” Time reported Volker Perthes, the head of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, as saying. “He is talking straight, which is appreciated by the German public” (ibid.).

Guttenberg’s plain talk is already increasing tension between him and Germany’s vice chancellor, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. At the heart of that tension is Germany’s current chief foreign-policy challenge, Afghanistan. The Times recently noted this trend (November 26):

There is already a schism in the government between those ministers who favor the use of soft power in Afghanistan and those determined to flex the muscle of hard power. The issue is pitting two of the country’s most quick-witted and ambitious politicians against each other.In the yellow corner—the color of the Free Democrats—there is Guido Westerwelle, the foreign minister. Vice chancellor to Mrs. Merkel and hungry for power after 11 years in opposition, Mr. Westerwelle is determined to make his mark quickly. In the past fortnight he has been to a European Union summit, paid appropriately contrite visits to Israel and Poland and made friends with David Miliband, the British foreign secretary.In the blue-and-white corner—the colors of the Bavarian Christian Social Union—there is Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the defense minister and shooting star of German politics. … Baron zu Guttenberg has lost no time in jumping into a plane to Afghanistan. As luck would have it, the aircraft was fired upon, adding to his reputation as an Action Man.The two men have been circling each other, aware that they represent two very different versions of how Germany should project its power abroad. The Free Democrats are believers in soft power. They want to abolish military service.

Guttenberg is a classic shuttle diplomat. He has been the most frequent visitor to Washington of all German politicians over the past few years, and since entering politics has been one of the most frequent visitors of any European politician.

The Peterson Institute reported that Guttenberg’s “area of expertise is Iran.” Nevertheless he has, since gaining his most recent ministerial appointment, zeroed in on Afghanistan with a real sense of purpose.

“Guttenberg seems intent on raising the profile of Germany’s mission rather than sweeping it under the carpet,” reported Spiegel Online. “Since taking office two weeks ago he has single-handedly overturned years of government efforts to present Germany’s involvement in the [nato-led International Security Assistance Force] mission as a kind of military-led school-building exercise. The public have never bought this line. A war by any other name is still a war” (November 13).

It is with the purpose of clarifying Germany’s specific role in the Afghanistan campaign that Guttenberg engaged in his recent shuttling between Berlin, Afghanistan and North America. At the crux of the dialogue is the nexus between nato and what will soon emerge as the EU’s pan-European military force under the newly ratified Lisbon Treaty/European Constitution.

Just before touring Afghanistan, Guttenberg met for a private briefing with nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Only two days later, on November 13, nato held its second seminar on its New Strategic Concept in Brdo, Slovenia. Though the seminar focused onnato’s engagements in the wider world and operations,” Afghanistan was foremost on the agenda.

Following his well-publicized visit to Afghanistan, Guttenberg promptly then flew to Washington to discuss Afghanistan strategy with security chief Robert Gates. Just one week after his meeting with Rasmussen, he spoke with Gates about the future of nato. “I think this is also of utmost importance for us as alliance partners,” Guttenberg told the media afterward, “that we should use the momentum next year, when we are not only talking about the new strategic concept but also about all the efforts nato has to make to stay an instrument for international security, and all the other terms related to that.”

No doubt one of the subjects Guttenberg discussed with both Rasmussen and Gates was Germany’s continuing support and training of Afghan police forces. It is a seldom-publicized fact that Germany and the Afghanistan police have a symbiotic relationship, the postwar beginning of which tracks back to well over 50 years ago.

“West German police instructors were working in Kabul long before the civil war,” reported. “They arrived already in the mid-1950s. When the United States terminated its support for the Afghan repressive forces, back at the beginning of the 1960s, West Germany dispatched an inspector of the regional riot police of the Interior Ministry to the Afghan capital. He functioned as a government advisor for police issues in the Afghan Interior Ministry and as the coordinator of the entire West German police assistance” (Oct. 21, 2008).

It is through this process that Germany was able to work to get “‘the country’s entire field of police work under its administration,’ says the Afghanistan expert Martin Baraki. In March 1974, Bonn [sent] an executive police superintendent to Kabul to serve for three years as police chief for all of Afghanistan. Afghan police officers, including officers of the political police, also received training in West Germany” (ibid.).

On November 21, nato took over complete responsibility for training the Afghan Army and police “to consolidate efforts on building an effective security force,” Reuters reported. Indications are that nato security and defense initiatives, personnel and equipment—including nuclear-armed hardware—will increasingly find a connection with EU defense and security strategy, culminating in a German-led takeover of the entire inventory.

Since Germany’s new government was sworn in just one month ago, Guttenberg has been at the very center of a real shake-up and a recent shakeout in German politics.

In just three short weeks, he has met nato’s chief, visited his troops in Afghanistan, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and allied leaders, met with Defense Secretary Gates in Washington, been keynote speaker at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (csis) forum in Washington, flown to Halifax to give both the introductory address at and be a contributor to the first International Security Forum in Canada (hosted by the German Marshall Fund), returned to Berlin to receive Germany’s “most popular politician of the year,” and attended to a top-level shakeout in his own department.

There can be no doubt that, based on current performance, this rising star of German politics, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, baron of the Holy Roman Empire, is set for a remarkable and rapid career trajectory in German, European and global politics.

Introducing the German defense minister to his recent Washington csis audience, Ulf Gartzke, director of the Hanns-Seidel Foundation’s Washington Office—an affiliate of Guttenberg’s Bavarian-based Christian Social Union—described him as a “troubleshooter.” He observed that Guttenberg’s “latest important assignment marks the return to the minister’s original passion … namely foreign security and defense policy.”

The reference to Guttenberg’s “latest important assignment” would seem to indicate there may be other “important assignments” on the horizon for the defense minister. In fact, when taken into consideration with a comment that Guttenberg himself made in reference to “this new position I’m—I’m having at the moment, for this time now” after his meeting with Gates, there does seem to be a strong implication—certainly in his own mind—that Guttenberg’s present ministry is but a stepping-stone to higher office.

As the Global Post correctly commented, “One way to understand a country is to see who its people turn to during a crisis” (August 12).

It is not just in last week’s shakeout in Germany’s political and military establishment that Guttenberg looked appealing as a born troubleshooter. As crisis continues to prevail in Afghanistan and in the German—and also wider European—collective economy, this “troubleshooter” may just turn out to have a universal appeal to the German nation and even the leading lights of the European Union.

One catalyst that may catapult the young Bavarian baron into the spotlight may well be nuclear-arming, anti-West, anti-Christian, Islamist Iran.

Deutsche Welle reported over the weekend that “Iran has announced a plan to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants. The move would massively expand the country’s nuclear program and is a defiant response to its recent censure by UN authorities.”

Meeting this latest Iranian challenge would be right up Guttenberg’s alley. The Peterson Institute reported on Guttenberg’s affiliation with Germany’s interests in Iran: This, more than any other region, is “where he has substantial experience including frequent travel to the country. He has been engaged in transatlantic dialogue on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and he has also been part of a widely recognized working group on Iran.”

It is currently Afghanistan where Guttenberg is showing Germany’s combat colors. But it is undoubtedly in Iran that he stands to make his mark!

Watch for a further shakeout in German politics as Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, baron of the Holy Roman Empire, begins to outshine the far less experienced vice chancellor, Guido Westerwelle, in the foreign-policy arena. And as you watch the rocketing political trajectory of this young Frankish baron, watch closely the weekly episodes of the Key of David television program for a prophetic indication of where Germany’s post-election shake-up, and last week’s shakeout, is leading.