The defense minister has proposed an international security zone for northern Syria. She wants to break with the rather restrained Syria policy so far.
The minister plans to present her proposal on the sidelines of the meeting of NATO defense ministers Photo: Stefan Boness/Ipon
Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is urging Germany and its EU partners to become more involved in the northern Syria conflict. "My proposal is that we establish an internationally controlled security zone involving Turkey and including Russia," the CDU leader told Deutsche Welle on Monday.
This security zone, she said, should ensure that, on the one hand, the fight against the radical Islamic IS militia can be resumed. On the other hand, the region should be stabilized in such a way that civil reconstruction and a voluntary return of refugees are possible, she also said in an interview with ZDF television that evening. The position had been coordinated with Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the most important allies had been informed, the CDU politician said in another interview with ARD television. She left open whether and how the Bundeswehr should participate in the protection zone. That would be a decision of the Bundestag. Criticism came from the Green Party.
With this move, the defense minister is breaking with a German Syria policy that has been rather restrained so far. The move was triggered by the Turkish advance in northern Syria and a ceasefire declared by Ankara, which is due to expire on Tuesday. Turkey wants to establish a so-called security zone along the country’s border on Syrian territory and is demanding the withdrawal of the Kurdish militia YPG from this area. Hundreds of thousands of people are said to have fled from the Turkish troops. The USA, which had supported the Kurds in the fight against the radical Islamic IS militia in recent months, had agreed with Turkey to withdraw its troops. Kramp-Karrenbauer had sharply criticized this.
Kramp-Karrenbauer plans to present her proposal on the sidelines of the meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. In the ZDF interview, she proposed joint action by Germany, France and the United Kingdom. She referred to the Franco-German Defense Council and a possible agreement with the British. Chancellor Merkel also plans to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on northern Syria.
Kramp-Karrenbauer calls for a more active role
A few months ago, the U.S. asked the Europeans and also Germany for replacements for withdrawing U.S. soldiers in Syria. The German government, which has so far participated in the anti-IS fight by flying reconnaissance missions over Syria and training Kurdish militias in northern Iraq, had rejected greater involvement.
But the defense minister is now calling for a more active role. "You can’t just talk about Europe not being a guest on the fence, you then have to initiate the discussion … with your own proposals," Kramp-Karrenbauer said. She had already criticized not only the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria and Turkey’s advance at the CSU party conference on Saturday, but also criticized Germany’s policy to date. She said she could no longer hear it said that people in Germany were "worried." Germany and also the CDU/CSU should finally provide their own political answers for solving international crises.
She had been in contact with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) by text message, Kramp-Karrenbauer told ZDF on Monday. It initially remained unclear whether the coalition committee of the CDU, CSU and SPD, which had met Sunday evening in the Chancellor’s Office, had already discussed the concept of a security zone with European participation. But it had been clear that she would present a proposal after her criticism over the weekend, the CDU politician said. Anything further would have to be discussed within the coalition, she added.
Omid Nouripour, The Greens.
"Making half-baked proposals for the international arena without discussing them with the foreign minister damages Germany’s reputation as a reliable partner"
The defense minister would not say what exactly a German contribution might look like. "The Bundeswehr will always provide what politics demands of it," she stressed on ZDF.
Green Party foreign policy expert Omid Nouripour criticized Kramp-Karrenbauer’s move. "Making half-baked proposals for the international arena without discussing them with the foreign minister damages Germany’s reputation as a reliable partner," Nouripour told Reuters. "Moreover, the call for an international zone involving Turkey smacks of exoneration for Erdogan’s attempt to build an open-air prison for two million Syrian refugees in northern Syria." He added that the CDU was primarily concerned about a wave of refugees and should instead increase economic pressure on Erdogan.