In early 2011, when America, Britain and France mustered a coalition to provide military assistance to rebels in Libya fighting to overthrow Muammar Qadhafi, Europe’s largest and most powerful country refused to participate. Germany sat idly by as its Western partners trotted off to war.
What a contrast Germany’s approach to Libya was compared to its current approach to Mali.
If you haven’t read it, Richard Palmer’s recent article “Europe’s African War” explains the scene unfolding in this North African country. Basically, Mali has descended into chaos in the wake of a March coup d’état by rebel forces. Islamist groups, which have long been strong in the region—including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (aqim)—have effectively taken over the north of the country. As the situation quickly deteriorates, the West, especially Europe, is growing alarmed and is gearing up to intervene.
This time, Germany is ready to rumble.
Berlin is already preparing to play a key role in what many say will be an inevitable conflict. On Tuesday, following a meeting with the UN special envoy to the region Romano Prodi, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle explained the need for Germany to pay attention. He warned that “if northern Mali falls, then terrorist schools will be created there … and then not only Mali and the region, the North African nations, will be threatened, but also us in Europe.”
Westerwelle assured his people that there are currently no plans to dispatch German soldiers to Mali to participate in combat missions, but revealed that Germany is “discussing possible logistical, technical and financial aid” for Mali.
Germany’s chancellor has also recently set the spotlight on Mali and made the case for German intercession. “Free and democratic states cannot accept that international terrorism is finding a safe haven in the north of the country,” stated Angela Merkel on Monday at a conference of Germany’s armed forces. “We know Mali’s armed forces are too weak to act—they need external support and a European training mission is therefore thinkable, as is material and logistical support.”
Even Germany’s media, which has staunchly opposed German involvement in foreign theaters, especially since its participation in Afghanistan, is doing its part to sell a possible Mali intervention. Süddeutsche Zeitung, a popular, left-leaning daily paper, wrote that the German “government and parliament will not be able to ignore the EU’s call. In principle, no democratic society can have any interest in the further spread of fundamentalism and terrorism.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung recently told its readers that the “argument … that a ‘second Afghanistan’ cannot be allowed to take shape only 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) from the European continent, can’t simply be dismissed. If northern Mali were to become a safe-haven and an easily reachable training camp for young jihadists from Europe, then the security interests of every EU country would be threatened.” Handelsblatt, which usually focuses on business news, complained this week that “German foreign policy experts haven’t even made an issue of the fact that something akin to a new ‘safe harbor’ for al Qaeda and its ilk and a Stone Age Islamist regime is establishing itself there, right at Europe’s backdoor.”
German leaders discussing involvement in a military conflict is never insignificant.
Moreover, there is an unmistakable theme running through these editorials and the remarks from Merkel and Westervelle: Germany is concerned by the rise of radical Islam in North Africa and is ready to confront it!
It will be interesting to monitor the extent of Berlin’s involvement in Mali over the next few weeks and months. The way its leaders and its media are talking, Germany appears to be positioning itself to play a significant role in the imminent intervention. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if Berlin took control of whatever European force is dispatched. No doubt the U.S. and other European states will encourage this.
As we watch Germany’s involvement in Mali, it’s also important that we consider the full context of this story. The Mali crisis is no anomaly: Germany is vexed by the rise of radical Islam throughout North Africa and the Middle East.
The Mali mission is a whiff of things to come!
Let’s get back to Libya for a moment. When Germany refused to support the effort to oust Qadhafi, it seemed that Berlin had little interest in getting involved in North Africa. It was easy to conclude that Germany had a passive foreign policy and little desire to play any sort of leadership role in the international community. Truth is, such conclusions were wrong. Looking back on events in Libya over the past 18 months—particularly at the emergence of radical Islam as a formidable force in the nation—you have to wonder if perhaps Germany took the wisest route.
The Qadhafi regime was ugly. But isn’t the radical Islamist element gaining power there even uglier, and as four Americans recently discovered, one hundred times more dangerous?
Stay tuned to events in Libya, Mali and North Africa in general. The rise of radical Islam in the Mediterranean—the region Winston Churchill termed Europe’s soft underbelly—will serve as a powerful impetus for Europe, under Germany’s direction, to unite and ultimately confront this enemy. Be assured, events in Egypt and Libya and Mali are showing Europe that if it wants to survive as a unified power—if it wants continued access to energy and resources from Africa and the Middle East—if it wants to stop radical Islam’s war on Christians—if it wants to purge Islamic extremists from the Continent—then it must summon the political and military will and might to confront Iran and its radical Islamic proxies.
We need to pay attention to Europe, especially Germany, now more than ever. Europe’s window of opportunity to tackle radical Islam is closing quickly.
Germany’s Mali mission is just the beginning. ▪