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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.3 (2001) 31-46

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Germany's Anti-Hitler Coalition in Kosovo

Andreas Heinemann-Grüder

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's war in 1999 to oust the Serbian military presence in Kosovo was a collective endeavor. If one believes the actors' proclamations, they were driven exclusively by the desire to enforce common humanitarian values. But are there, beyond humanitarian impulses, any motivations and interests discernable in specifically German approaches to the region, and if so, how do they relate to the conflict and its development? After a long period in which the Kosovo situation was neglected, there were three stages of policy development on the part of the German Red-Green government, each primarily relating to either the domestic or the international arena. The first stage related to fostering transatlantic relations, the second to enforcing domestic self-images, and the third sought to regain the initiative in European policy.


The German reaction to the Kosovo conflict shows a certain oddness that requires explanation. For the first time since World War II, Germany participated in a military campaign in an area with strong World War II memories. In former Yugoslavia, Germany sided with those it had sided with during World War II--with the Croats, then pro-Nazi, and with the Albanians, then pro-fascist--in both cases against the Serbs. Until early September 1998, the more conservative Christian Democratic Helmut Kohl government, including its liberal minister of foreign affairs, Klaus Kinkel, and minister [End Page 31] of defense, Volker Rühe, had opted for a United Nations mandate as a prerequisite for military intervention. Under Kohl, the German position had officially embraced the notion of the Kosovo conflict as an internal Yugoslavian affair. The German government committed itself to multilateral efforts instead of unilateral ones. Its prime concerns were its fear of a further increase in the number of Kosovar-Albanian refugees coming to Germany, the destabilization of Yugoslavia's neighbors in the event of intervention, and the isolation of Russia. 1

In early autumn 1998, a shift occurred. In one of its last cabinet sessions, the Kohl government decided on 30 September 1998 to make German Tornado fighter jets available for a joint NATO intervention against Yugoslavian radar positions--a decision already made in agreement with the future chancellor Gerhard Schröder and foreign minister Joschka Fischer. It was Fischer who brought into line indignant parts of the Green Party, rooted in the peace movement of the 1980s. 2 Ironically, in the early 1990s he had avidly warned against intervention in former Yugoslavia. There is little doubt that if the Kohl government had stayed in power, with the Green Party and the Social Democrats still in opposition, resistance to intervention without a UN mandate would have been insurmountable. It was the Red-Green coalition under Schröder and Fischer, representing the "make love, not war" generation (similar to Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, and Javier Solana), that was able to prepare the German public for a war for the first time since World War II. Couched in the language of "air strikes," it was a war against a sovereign state, without prior aggression against another state or a UN mandate and with German soldiers involved in active combat missions.

According to remarks by Fischer, the new Social Democratic-Green coalition government elected on 18 September 1998 and formally installed in late October 1998 was from the outset confronted with a willingness by the U.S. government and NATO to intervene militarily in Kosovo. 3 Green [End Page 32] support for a NATO intervention was obviously part of the coalition negotiations. On 8 October 1998, the NATO Council had decided to use military power even without a UN Security Council mandate, 4 and on 16 October 1998 the outgoing Bundestag voted in an extraordinary session for an "activation order" allowing for a limited, phased NATO air operation in Kosovo, in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. 5 This early parliamentary approval, blessed by a constitutional court decision, legitimized the March 1999 intervention, although many parliamentarians later admitted to having...


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