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HEIDELBERG, Germany — The German parliament voted Friday to send 300 additional soldiers to Afghanistan to man AWACS surveillance planes, and by doing so, free up other NATO crews to help the mission over Libya.

The vote was 407-113 with 32 abstentions. The decision is a compromise of sorts; Germany declined to join the mission to impose a no-fly zone over Libya as authorized by U.N. Resolution 1973.

Germany’s lack of participation in Operation Odyssey Dawn has evoked a mix of condemnation and approval.

“The absence of Germany as a clear alliance partner — it’s becoming a habit,” said Michael Hodin, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations.

Germany’s decision to not get involved in Libya has been widely viewed as a matter of domestic politics: Elections are coming up, Germany’s presence in Afghanistan remains extremely unpopular, and the last thing Germans want is another war.

But Hodin suggested the motivation lies deeper, in a now unhelpful German pacifism engendered by its Nazi past and having been crushed in two world wars.

“Their world of everyone’s like us and peace and everybody’s nice — I’m not a psychologist, but it does seem to be connected to their culture post-World War II,” he said.

But Alexis Crow, an analyst at Chatham House, a London-based think tank, discounted Germany’s decision to avoid Libyan involvement as politically or culturally driven.

“I think it’s simply prudent,” she said. “You can’t be an economic powerhouse if you’re constantly engaging in war. It drains your treasury.”

Reinhard Merkel, a law professor at the University of Hamburg in Germany and an expert in international humanitarian law, agrees that interpretations of the national psyche miss the point.

“We are dealing,” Merkel said, “with nothing less than the foundations of the law of the nations, [a concept] which is in danger.” He said that under the U.N. charter, the “use of force is ruled very strictly.”

“There are few exceptions” he said, “and these exceptions are: genocide, crimes against humanity and systematic war crimes. In Libya, none of these applies.”

Merkel said that for these exceptions to apply, they must happen on a broad scale to a civilian population.

“But in Libya, the so-called rebels are fighting against the regime, and the regime against the rebels. Armed rebels are not civilians.”

Merkel said there is no doubt Moammar Gadhafi “is a dictator and a scoundrel” but “the military intervention was the wrong way,” and Germany was correct to not get involved.

“It is a big illusion to believe that there is a homogeneous freedom movement in Libya. If Gadhafi is gone, the real problems will start.”

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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