On Friday (4 December), the German Bundestag voted by a large majority to approve a mandate for the Bundeswehr to be deployed against the terrorist organisation Islamic State (ISIS). Up to 1,200 German soldiers are to support the international alliance in the fight against the terrorist militia group. The mandate is to be valid until 31 December 2016. Foreign Minister Steinmeier emphasised beforehand that settling the conflict politically within the framework of the Vienna process remained the overarching aim.
On Tuesday (1 December), Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen set out the form and scope of the mandate, as well as its legal basis and the political context, in the Federal Cabinet. The overarching aim in all this, Steinmeier said, remained to promote a political settlement to the Syrian conflict within the framework of the Vienna process. The mission against ISIS was also part of the efforts to achieve this aim, he added.
Moreover, Steinmeier had the following to say in an interview with the “Bild” newspaper on Tuesday:
As long as the Syrian parties to the civil war only fight each other and wear themselves down, ISIS will have the last laugh. That’s why we agreed in Vienna to work towards a political process and a ceasefire between the Syrian army and opposition – so that all forces can be mobilised for the fight against ISIS.
The Vienna process: Mobilising all forces to fight ISIS
Following the favourable decision by the Federal Cabinet on Wednesday (2 December), Foreign Minster Steinmeier requested the approval of the German Bundestag. He emphasised the point that the attacks on Paris had struck the EU as a whole and therefore required Europe to come up with a joint response to the Islamist terror threat. The Foreign Minister made the following appeal:
The terror waged by ISIS targets open society and all those who want to live in liberty and without state or religious oppression – whether here in Europe or in the Middle East, whether in Paris, Tunis or Beirut. It targets Christians and atheists, Jews and Muslims. It has fundamental and fanatic dimensions. The more fundamental and all-encompassing this terror seeks to be, the more comprehensive and united must be our response.
As Steinmeier explained, deploying the Bundeswehr within the international alliance thus not only fulfilled the promise of solidarity made to France but was also essential and legitimate under international law. In a sign of the close Franco-German friendship, the first reading in the German Bundestag was conducted in the presence of Philippe Etienne, French Ambassador to Germany, and several members of the European Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly.
In his speech, Steinmeier countered those who had criticised the mandate and underlined the point that burying one’s head in the sand in the face of ISIS terrorism would make neither Germany nor its neighbours any safer. That said, he went on, it was clear that the political process for Syria remained the priority. Nobody in the German Government, Steinmeier said, would forget the terrible crimes committed by President Assad: “What we are doing has nothing to do with military cooperation with Assad.” He furthermore assured the Members of the House that the German Government would “dedicate all its energies towards the ultimately essential political settlement”.
Mandate intended to strengthen reconnaissance, security and logistics
According to the draft mandate, Germany is to provide immediate support with satellite reconnaissance, and in the future with reconnaissance planes such as the German Air Force’s Tornado aircraft. Among other things, this will help to detect cross-border movements and provide intelligence about the actual size of the area of operations and ISIS’ sphere of influence. Moreover, the draft specifies that Germany is to provide tankers for air-to-air refuelling and a frigate to escort the French aircraft carrier, as well as personnel for staff posts and headquarters.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier commented: “We are doing what we can best provide and what we can justify politically”. Against the backdrop of the attacks in Paris, France had requested additional support for the fight against the terrorist militia group in its heartlands of Iraq and Syria. Moreover, the attacks in Tunisia, Turkey and Lebanon, and also against Russia, have shown that ISIS represents a global threat to peace and security far beyond the territories that it currently controls in Syria and Iraq.
In view of its extremist, Salafist ideology of violence, terrorist acts and ongoing severe, systematic and widespread attacks on civilians, as well as its efforts to recruit and train foreign fighters, ISIS also constitutes a threat to international peace and security, according to a UN resolution.
Bundeswehr to relieve French army in Mali
Furthermore, the Federal Government is to step up its civilian engagement in Syria and Iraq, as well as in Syria’s neighbouring countries, to support refugees, internally displaced persons and the population at large.
In addition to direct assistance, Germany is to relieve the French armed forces by playing a greater role in the fight against Islamic terrorism in Mali, as well as by providing emergency medical aid for potential major emergencies in France.