Assessing German Multilateralism through Security Relationships

On April 28, 2016 AICGS hosted a seminar with DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow Dr. Alexander Wochnik who presented on “Assessing German Multilateralism through Security Relationships”.

Part of the legacy of the Second World War is the German public’s tendency toward pacifism. Thus, both German academic literature and the German press were critical of Germany’s involvement in Afghanistan. From the U.S. perspective, however, Germany’s involvement was seen predominantly as a positive.

Was the German-U.S. partnership in Afghanistan a success or failure? When it comes to peace and stability, the conclusion is that it was a failure, mainly because the Taliban still exists and continues with its violence. On the matter of state building, the partnership is seen as a partial success because it contributed to GDP growth and infrastructure development in Afghanistan, but corruption is still prevalent in the Afghan government. This corruption has been partially fueled by money going into the wrong hands through international organizations. When it comes to destroying a terrorist network, it can be considered a success predominantly because the links between the Taliban and Al Qaeda have been severed.

What contributed to these successes and failures? From the beginning, there was no coherent strategy in tackling the problems in Afghanistan. Nations were responsible for their own region of the country, and each ally managed its province independently, without close cooperation from their allies. This became worse as more allies became involved. Additionally, there was no clear strategy on what to do after the destruction of Al Qaeda. While Germany was involved in state building in the more stable north, the U.S. was involved in counterinsurgency in the south. The German mindset was to start with development, and security would follow; conversely, the U.S. firmly believed that it was important to begin with security. Eventually, both the U.S. and Germany altered their approaches so that they focused on both security and development. From the start, the allies did not involve neighbors such as Pakistan, nor did they involve the Taliban in the peace process or some kind of reconciliation.

To explain Germany’s behavior, it was important to look at the contribution Germany made as a whole in Afghanistan. While Germany contributed up to 5,000 soldiers, only around 900 were combat ready. Germany played a role in training the Afghan police force, but the U.S. was not happy with the small number—only 35—of Afghan National Police officers trained. While Germany focused on the quality of the training, the U.S. wanted the job to be done quickly, so the responsibility was transferred to the Pentagon and outsourced to private security firms.

Germany’s contribution increased when it adopted a tougher stance as a result of the severity of the violence in Afghanistan, but the German culture of pacifism limited mobilization. Germany’s laws regarding military mobilization require incremental policy changes with many checks and balances, again due to the legacy of the Second World War. Almost two-thirds of Germans do not want German military engagement, and a recent poll suggested that 53 percent of Germans believe Germany should not aid militarily an immediate neighbor—for example, if Poland were to be attacked by Russia. Despite pacifist views at home, the Germans were still able to make significant contributions to the transatlantic alliance in Afghanistan, most especially by convincing the U.S. to commit indefinitely to Afghanistan. The United States has come to rely on Germany as one of its most important partnerships in Afghanistan.

April 28, 2016