Germany joins anti-IS coalition

German lawmakers have approved plans to take on a support role in the battle against the Islamic State armed group in Syria, in response to an appeal from France for help after the November 13 Paris attacks. The decision received an overwhelming majority of 445 in favour and 146 against.

Police stand guard in Germany
Police stand guard in Germany REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Germany will send six Tornado reconnaissance jets, a naval frigate and up to 1,200 troops.

On the military level, it's not such a big move for Germany. Their forces will not engage in combat. They will technically be there to protect and support coalition forces who are fighting. Still, this will become Germany's biggest military operation abroad. 

Germany's commitment to the anti-IS mission is for 12 months, which is the normal length of a military mandate for German forces.

However, on the political level, this is a big move, even if critics have argued that this plan will do little to help the fight against IS.

"This is very astonishing how Germany moved from a position that was during the last three years denouncing any kind of military intervention in Syria," Petra Becker, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told RFI. 

"There has been attempts to convince Western countries to implement a no-fly zone over Syria, and France and Britain were more affirmative of this, and Germany was always the one being reluctant... It's astonishing to see how rapidly the mood changed regarding military intervention."

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has acknowledged earlier this week in Parliament that "the length of the deployment will be very strongly depending on how successful the decisive, political process is."

The German Constitution imposes strict limits on when military forces can be used.

However, the federal government argues that Germany can join a "system of mutual collective security for the preservation of peace", justification enough to join France as it steps up the war against IS.

"We have of course limits within the constitution, that we can only use the military for territorial defence but it has been clear for over 20 years now that this legal restriction has to be read as enabling also to participate in systems of collective defense but also collective security, in the sense that when NATO or UN operate on an international level with multi-lateral backing, we can join in," Dr. Henning Riecke, a security expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told RFI.

"France has asked for military support, there are UN resolutions as well allowing the use of violence against terrorism. So the German federal government sees the legal ground given for operating in Syria," he said.

There has been a lot of public support, despite the fact that people in Germany are also worried that joining the anti-IS coalition could make their country a target for terrorists.

"There is a massive public support, which is beyond 50% of the population. And this massive support has started not after what happened two weeks ago in Paris, it started after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. At that time, the support from the public that Germany should join military forces increased from 30% to 60%," Andreas Sperling, the CEO of YouGov, an online market research company, told RFI.

"It's a chicken and egg situation. There is the fear of backlash, but not due to joining the forces. The problem is, the Germans are very very afraid that there will be a terrorist attack here in Germany, and therefore, they're supporting this decision, as a kind of prevention."

In the most recent polls, 71 percent of Germans said they were convinced the threat of attacks in Germany was already high.

Over 950,000 refugees have been registered this year in Germany alone, the vast majority of them being from Syria.

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