A Sight on European Defence

Since the very beginning of operations in Afghanistan, exactly 2002 for the German Police Project, Germany has been training the Afghan Police as a contribution to the reconstruction of the state of law.

However, times are becoming harder for the German Police. Die Zeit, the German weekly newspaper of reference, has published on 5th September an article dedicated to the Police of the federal state of New-Brandenburg. According to die Zeit, the New-Brandenburg police will no more take part to the Afghan police training, making use of a statement expressed by the German minister of Defence, Mr zu Guttenberg, according which Germany is waging war in Afghanistan. Therefore New-Brandenburg would no more send policemen to Afghanistan as policemen are not to be used in a country at war.

Main problem is not that the refusal of this state. It is that some other German states could be tempted to imitate them.

This reaction of New-Brandenburg should not bring discredit upon the gigantic and outstanding job performed by the German policemen deployed in Afghanistan. However, I would state that this is quite not an issue, as many other actors are involved in Afghan Police training. However this is an example of the taboo topics of European Defence: how to transform into reality broad and generous statements.

Germany, until recently, like many other European countries, was strongly refusing to make use of the word ‘war’ to describe the situation in Afghanistan. Still publicly expressing its pacific approach of international conflicts and refusing offensive military operations, Germany wanted to solve conflicts using a comprehensive approach, focused on the support to reconstruction of states. Which is basically the best perception of the multiple facets of any conflict in which you commit yourself to contribute to solve it.

Nevertheless, even when trying to avoid both militarily and politically risky areas, while claiming to play a major role on the international scene, you need some assets. If you want to rebuild the police of a failed state, you need a police force able to deploy anywhere you need it and not only where you can deploy it, constrained by the self imposed limits of a civilian police, exclusively, naturally and constitutionally oriented to operations within the national borders.

Some other countries, like France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Italy have maintained, on their side Gendarmerie, Guardia Civil, Guarda Nacional Republicana, Marechaussee or Carabinieri, which are still under military status and can be committed anywhere their authorities may decide (of course, after approval of the Parliament in some of those countries).

Therefore, if a country will really to play a significant role on the international scene, like Germany or the UK, either it owns a significant military force and is ready to largely make use of it, like the UK, or, it owns all the tools of soft power, like the Guardia Civil and in any case unlike countries that own exclusively a civilian police.

So, as usual regarding European Defence: power should not be the synonym of bold declarations and intentions, but the synonym of assets, might they be military or civilian ones that you are ready to make use of, in any circumstance, even at the price of the lives of the people our governments and parliaments send over there. However the complexity of constitutional revision on such topics is so sensitive that I do not see a great step forward before a while.

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