Defence Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer wants an internationally controlled security zone in Northern Syria. In view of the crisis in the region, Europe could no longer remain a mere onlooker, she said in national television.
Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has called for an internationally controlled security zone to be established in the Syrian border region with Turkey. Kramp-Karrenbauer said in the “tagesthemen” that she had discussed such a proposal with the Western allies USA, Great Britain and France in advance.
The situation in Syria is affecting the security interests of Europe and Germany. “We are experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe in Northern Syria and see that the fight against the terrorist militia IS has come to a standstill”, said Kramp-Karrenbauer. In this situation, Germany and the Europeans have so far behaved too passively, “like curious onlookers”.
NATO ministers to discuss proposition
She wants to present her proposal at the occasion of the meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. Kramp-Karrenbauer did not want to say whether and how exactly the Bundeswehr (German army) would get involved. She only referred to Iraq, where German soldiers were already involved in training, air surveillance and the general anti-terror mission. Concrete steps would have to be discussed at the NATO Council at the end of the week and then approved by the Bundestag.
The goal, according to her, must also be a civilian reconstruction program – and the possibility that Syrian refugees can return to their homeland. However, this should be done on a voluntary basis, not as an ordered resettlement program. In order to stabilise the region in the long term, Turkey and Russia should also be included.
Turkish invasion in counter of international law
On 9 October Turkey launched an offensive against the Kurdish militia YPG in northern Syria, which it regards as a terrorist organisation. Ankara justified the action with the right to self-defence. The German government considers the invasion to be in breach of international law. It has so far refrained from sanctions except for a restriction of arms exports to Turkey.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s Syria initiative was met with criticism from the coalition partner SPD. Voices within CDU/CSU have expressed their support of the idea.
According to Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD), the CDU party leader’s push for an international security zone in Northern Syria has caused irritation among allies. “This proposition raises numerous questions,” said the SPD politician. He himself had been informed by Kramp-Karrenbauer via text message before she made her public statement. The minister said: “I don’t think much of SMS diplomacy. This quickly turns into SOS diplomacy”.
Kramp-Karrenbauer had declared yesterday that she wanted to win allies for an international stabilization mission in the contested Northern Syria. The aim is to continue the fight against the terrorist militia “Islamic State” (IS) and to enable the voluntary return of refugees by rebuilding destroyed regions. “It is important that we make political proposals from Europe as to how we can stabilise this region in the long term – under international control, but with the involvement of Turkey and Russia,” the CDU leader said in national television.
SPD feels surprised
Maas’ State Department immediately indicated that there was a need to communicate btween ministries. SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich also spoke of an immature idea without “content”. He accused Kramp-Karrenbauer of militarizing foreign policy. It was also unclear whether Kramp-Karrenbauer was speaking as Defense Minister or as CDU party leader. “This is a huge mess that Kramp-Karrenbauer has brought about with her initiative.”
Several other SPD politicians complained that the CDU leader did not coordinate her proposal with the coalition partner. Kramp-Karrenbauer did not discuss her far-reaching plans at the meeting of the coalition committee on Sunday evening. “The coalition leaders spent hours discussing the situation in Northern Syria in the coalition committee, and Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer did not make a sound about her proposal,” said foreign policy spokesman Nils Schmid in an interview with NDR Info.
Merkel stands behind the initiative
The dpa reports that Chancellor Angela Merkel has meanwhile backed her minister’s initiative. The idea of establishing protection zones in Northern Syria is very promising, Merkel said in the meeting of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. Germany ought to make a contribution “on our own doorstep”. She said that it was “our duty to see how things could be arranged there”.
Kramp-Karrenbauer had explained that the Chancellor had been informed about her advance. According to the AFP, it was heard in Berlin that Merkel had been informed in principle that her minister was working on a plan for Syria. However, Kramp-Karrenbauer informed the Chancellor of the concrete date on which she would go public with the proposal at short notice.
Backing from the CDU/CSU
Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer also welcomed Kramp-Karrenbauer’s proposal. The CSU politician said before a meeting of the CDU/CSU group in Berlin that he “considered it positive”. A defense minister and party leader had the right to have such an idea. When asked whether the idea would also be implemented, he added: “Let’s see”. It was right to have such a debate about a security mission.
Union faction leader Ralph Brinkhaus also backed the initiative. In the region, several hundred thousand people were fleeing – “simply watching is not enough”.
Lindner sees attempt to raise profile
FDP leader Christian Lindner criticized Kramp-Karrenbauer’s actions. “The impression is created that this is about efforts to raise the profile of individual cabinet members,” he said. Obviously, the initiative had not even been fully coordinated within the federal government. In such a sensitive international issue, the expectation would be that the government would only go public “if it already has a consolidated, coordinated internal position,” Lindner said. “This is obviously not the case here.”
In terms of content, Lindner was open to the initiative. He pointed out that the FDP itself had proposed a UN peacekeeping mission. “It must be about an international mandate under the leadership of the United Nations.” He considered a discussion about a deployment of German soldiers in a security zone in the Syrian border area with Turkey to be “completely premature”. In order to do so, one would first have to know the framework conditions. “The Bundeswehr is already at the limit of its capacity when it comes to foreign deployments”.