Berlin (dpa) - For eight years Germany has had only a minor role in the efforts to end the Syrian civil war.
Now Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer makes a proposal that does not fit into the previous German foreign policy. Germany has never initiated an international military mission. This is exactly what the CDU leader is now trying to do for northern Syria, where Turkish troops marched in just under two weeks ago. It is a risky maneuver, as it must bring not only an angry coalition partner but also hard-to-unite allies, including Turkey and Russia.
Why is Kramp-Karrenbauer doing that?
The Minister of Defense has already indicated in recent days that she is annoyed by a certain despondency in German foreign policy. "I can no longer hear that we are worried," she said on Saturday at the CSU party conference in Munich. "We are strong, it depends on us, and at some point we will finally have to give our own political answers - especially as a Union." The international protection force for northern Syria is now their answer.
What exactly is she proposing?
An "internationally controlled security zone involving Turkey and Russia, with the aim of de-escalating the situation there". The aim is to continue the fight against the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS) and to allow a voluntary return of refugees by rebuilding destroyed regions.
What could an international security zone look like?
Kramp-Karrenbauer left open how exactly she imagines such a zone. There is an almost 450-kilometer-long border between the areas previously controlled by Syrian Kurds and Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had announced that the zone should be more than 30 kilometers deep before the invasion of Syria. Erdogan wants to keep Kurdish fighters, whom he considers terrorists, from the Turkish border. Kramp-Karrenbauer now wants to make it an international controlled zone instead of a Turkish occupation zone.
How would this security zone be controlled?
By an international protection force. The CDU foreign policy politician Roderich Kiesewetter assumes that for the protection and supply of the area 15,000 soldiers and 15,000 civilian helpers would be necessary. "It can not be out of the back pocket," he says. The military mission would be what is known in professional jargon as a "robust operation". It would also have to be sent to combat troops, which could get there with fighters of the terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) to do. Although the extremists are not controlling an area in Syria, they are still active. After the Turkish invasion, IS supporters have fled prisons.
Would the Bundeswehr be used?
That Germany proposes a military operation of this dimension and then sends no soldiers is hard to imagine. To how many soldiers it could go is completely unclear. The Bundeswehr has already proved that it is capable of larger operations with several thousand soldiers. In Afghanistan, there were at times more than 5000 soldiers stationed at different locations.
How does the coalition partner SPD react to the proposal?
Surprised until annoyed. Her cabinet colleague Heiko Maas wrote Kramp-Karrenbauer only a short text message, in which she announced a proposal to Syria. Only on Tuesday she phoned the Foreign Minister. The SPD politician then expressed skepticism and stated that many questions were open. He also complained about Kramp-Karrenbauer's style of communication: "I think little of SMS diplomacy. This quickly becomes an SOS diplomacy. "
What do local actors think about a security zone?
Representatives of Syrian Kurds welcomed Kramp-Karrenbauers step, but demanded a withdrawal of the Turkish troops. Such a zone could give the Kurds the chance to secure the self-governing autonomy they have built in northern and eastern Syria. Displaced persons who fled the Turkish troops could return.
And what about the Syrian government?
From her no agreement is to be expected. Ruler Bashar al-Assad wants to bring the entire country back under his control and insists on Syria's sovereignty. He rejects foreign troops in the country - except those of his close allies Russia and Iran.
What role can Russia play?
Theoretically, Russia could agree to such a zone and put pressure on Assad. But then the price for the governments in the West could be high - Moscow and Damascus could demand that the EU countries resume their diplomatic contacts with the Syrian government and participate in Syria's billion dollar reconstruction, which they reject so far, as long as there is no real political transition in the country.
What do the NATO allies think of the initiative?
There were no reactions from NATO or the EU at first - not even from the NATO partner Turkey. At least not officially. In the Foreign Office, however, some astonished allies came forward with questions about the proposal. "There is also, and this is undeniable, a certain irritation among our partners," said Maas. On Thursday and Friday, Kramp-Karrenbauer wants to present her initiative at a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels.
Is Donald Trump happy now?
He should follow the maneuver Kramp-Karrenbauers with a certain satisfaction. The US president accuses Germany since taking office to low military commitment. In July, he sent his representative for the anti-IS operation, James Jeffrey, to Germany to demand German ground troops to replace soldiers in Syria. Chancellor Angela Merkel at that time still clearly said no.
What has Kramp-Karrenbauer already accomplished?
As intense as now is probably never discussed the German role in Syria. And not only that. In the discussion, it is also about how actively and by what means Germany intends to fundamentally participate in conflict management. For Kiesewetter, the thrust of Kramp-Karrenbauers already has far-reaching significance. "I think that's a paradigm shift - in a good way."