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Checkbook Diplomacy in 1991 (Retrospective Account, 1995)

Despite international pressure, the Federal Republic of Germany refused to get involved militarily in the Gulf War (1991) and instead offered generous financial support. In the following piece, then foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher defends this position in retrospect and emphasizes that Germany has always met its international obligations. It was not without reason, he says, that in 1989 the two superpowers identified Germany as an important partner in Europe.

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But the situation in Iraq continued to escalate. Saddam Hussein was clearly unwilling to withdraw from Kuwait voluntarily. The trade embargo was scheduled to be in effect until January 15, 1991. The Security Council had made it unmistakably clear to Saddam Hussein that the United Nations resolutions—which were unconditionally supported by Germany’s government—would be enforced with military power unless he complied by that date. This ultimatum demonstrated a new quality in international crisis management: Thanks to the participation of Egypt, Syria, and Morocco, the United Nations’ mustering of forces was a concerted action by Western and Arab countries.

In December 1990, the Turkish government requested the deployment of units of the AMF (Allied Mobile Force). Since these battalions included air and land units of the Bundeswehr, the proposal triggered a vehement controversy, both in the German populace and within the nation’s political parties, in view of the NATO Treaty.

NATO was eager to demonstrate its determination to defend Turkey against outside attack. In this context Germany committed itself to sending German air units to Turkey to deter Saddam Hussein from attacking our ally.

By now the public increasingly demanded our actual military participation in the Gulf coalition. Yet even aside from constitutional qualms, we had to bear in mind the fact that the Two-Plus-Four Treaty had not yet been ratified by Moscow, and we were therefore well advised to take the Soviet Union’s domestic situation into account. We must in no way supply the forces that opposed Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy in regard to Germany with valid arguments; if the Soviet parliament refused to ratify the Two-Plus-Four Treaty, the decision would have catastrophic consequences for Germany and Europe. Shevardnadze’s decision, on December 20, to resign from his post as foreign minister had disconcerted me greatly.

Shevardnadze justified his resignation in the following words: “This is my protest against the impending dictatorship. The democrats are quitting the scene, and a dictatorship is approaching—I am not speaking lightly. No one knows what the dictatorship will look like, what kind of dictator there will be, or what things will be like. I will always support the ideas of renewal and of democracy.” And he continued, “If you create a dictatorship, no one can say who will be the dictator. When you push the button, you decide not only on Gorbachev’s fate but on that of perestroika and democracy.” Though he did not say so explicitly, I thought that his concluding sentence could only mean that the end of perestroika would also jeopardize ratification of the Two-Plus-Four Treaty in the Supreme Soviet. Given this particular situation, therefore, I opposed the use of Bundeswehr troops in the Gulf for reasons not only of constitutionality but also of foreign policy. As matters turned out, several more months would pass before the Soviet ambassador handed me the ratification document at the German Foreign Office on March 15, 1991; not until then did Germany regain its full sovereignty.

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