- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

Gerhard Schroeder won the election on foreign-policy issues. His image as the “peace chancellor,” defying American plans for war and leading the “axis of good,” brought him the few percentage points needed to secure his narrow re-election as German chancellor.

With the threat of defeat once again looming in the coming election on Sept. 18, this recipe for success is likely to be repeated. Indeed, in light of increasing domestic problems, it is Mr. Schroeder’s declared goal to mobilize the voting public through a renewed “peace chancellor” aura. Although the threat of war in Iraq is no longer the issue being dealt with, the foreign-policy card is to be played in other fields — and, if need be, with anti-America tendencies. At present, conflicts and dangers are not lacking. This time, however, the foreign-policy card may not be the trump card.

There are ostensible parallels between the case in Iraq and the crisis in Iran which Mr. Schroeder could use. The Bush administration has warned of Iranian atomic weapons which could be passed on to terrorists. Washington has referred to Tehran’s secret activities in the nuclear realm and bases its knowledge on information from intelligence agencies. In order to be able to keep Iran from acquiring the bomb, military action is not being excluded; rather, it is becoming ever more probable as the crisis escalates.

At this point, however, the similarities end. The Iranian nuclear program is a fact and is extolled by the leadership of the country as evidence of its greatness. Tehran’s untruths to the International Atomic Energy Agency are documented and not simply an assertion of intelligence agencies. Germany, together with France and Great Britain, took America’s side on this issue and pursued a policy which aimed to discourage Iran from its nuclear ambitions. Yet despite European efforts, Tehran has continued unperturbed in pursuit of the bomb. This also means failure on the part of German policy thus far. Thus, the United States cannot be left to solve this problem alone; instead, a solution would also have to include the “peace chancellor.” He could hardly oppose Washington now when he has already taken the American position in the past.

Even more dangerous than the Iranian crisis is an escalation of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. While it will be a few years before Iran becomes a nuclear power, North Korea has already declared itself a nuclear state. The psychopathic leadership of this mysterious country has both long-range missiles and chemical weapons at its disposal and could have already produced up to 10 atomic weapons. Given this growing threat, calls in the United States for military action are also increasing.

The reaction of the German public to a military strike would depend on its circumstances and the reaction of China or Russia. Given the huge risks of such an action, a “German peace policy” based on diplomatic efforts alone could again be contrived as a counter-model. Decisive, however, is that a military strike against North Korea — if at all — would only be considered after an attempt by the U.N. Security Council to find a solution to the problem peacefully had proven unsuccessful. By that point, though, the election in Germany will long have been decided.

Lastly, there is still the danger of a major terrorist attack in Germany influencing the domestic, political situation. If this occurred, the government could speculate on the general trend that the majority of the public stands behind its leadership in a time of crisis. That being said, certain attacks over the past few years have also had the opposite effect; especially in the case of Madrid, it has been shown that when a government poorly handles a catastrophic attack, public opinion can actually sway against the leadership.

Moreover, an attack in Germany not only would disprove the chancellor’s subliminal claim that because of his refusal to participate in the Iraq war Germany is in less danger today, but also would confirm that which has long been the case — namely, that Germany still must take considerable steps and make significant improvements in order to effectively combat terrorism. Calls in this regard, however, have been more readily and more loudly heard among the opposition than in the government.

Regardless of the intentions underlying the revival of a “peace chancellor” image, it will hardly yield the returns the government hopes for. This is especially true given that the government’s foreign-policy account balance is only modest so far. Efforts for a permanent seat on the Security Council were a miscalculation and German initiatives for peace in the Middle East are hardly worth mentioning. The “German-French-Russian Axis” has nearly destroyed Germany’s delicate relations with Eastern Europe and the debate over the lifting of the European Union weapons embargo against China has added more fuel to the transatlantic fire. The issue of Turkish membership in the EU has buried under the debris of the Europe’s constitutional debacle.

With such an account balance and without an acute crisis, foreign policy is not well suited as a re-election incentive. This time, the magical word “peace” will not be enough to bring the deciding percentages to the ballot boxes. This time, foreign policy is no trump card.

Andreas Jacobs and Karl-Heinz Kamp are senior fellows at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a major German public-policy institute in Berlin.

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