March 19, 2011 / 2:17 PM / 9 years ago

Westerwelle under fire for Germany's Libya opt-out

BERLIN, March 19 (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle came under domestic fire on Saturday for opting out of any military involvement in Libya, drawing accusations of siding with dictators rather than Berlin’s NATO allies.

Foreign policy experts, the opposition and media commentators expressed everything from puzzlement to scorn at Berlin’s abstention on Thursday in a U.N. Security Council resolution authorising a no-fly zone over Libya.

The centre-left daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung made one of the strongest attacks on Westerwelle and Chancellor Angela Merkel for deciding to take no part in any military effort to protect Libyan civilians from leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. “For the first time since its inception, the Federal Republic has pulled up the anchor that secures it to the West,” wrote commentator Daniel Broessler.

Broessler equated the abstention with a direct vote against Germany’s NATO allies on the United Nations Security Council which supported the resolution.

“Now Merkel and Westerwelle are responsible for Germany voting against Americans, British and French, but with the Chinese, Russians, Brazilians and Indians — against our most important allies in the West and on the side of dictators, autocrats and two distant democracies.”

Since World War Two, Germans have been traditionally hostile to foreign military interventions and Merkel’s coalition faces a series of difficult regional elections this weekend and next.

In 2003 Germany opted out of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq under then Social Democrat chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, but Broessler noted that it did so along with its ally France, rather than alone like this time.

Westerwelle, who leads the liberal Free Democrats in the coalition, attracted criticism of his performance after becoming foreign minister in 2009 but this had eased recently.

On Saturday he defended his position. “I see myself coming from a tradition of moderation when it comes to military deployments,” he told Spiegel magazine.

The government has said it fears civilian casualties in any Western engagement in Libya. However, Merkel attended a Libya summit in Paris on Saturday to offer indirect support.

Under this, German AWACS aerial reconnaissance troops could take over duties in Afghanistan, freeing up U.S. forces to do the same job over Libya.

Wolfgang Ischinger, an international lawyer who chairs the Munich Security Conference, said Germany could have voted for the U.N. resolution while making clear that it did not envisage getting involved in any military action.

Gernot Erler, deputy leader of the Social Democrats in parliament, accused Westerwelle of being under the false impression that supporting a no-fly zone automatically meant deploying German troops. (Writing by David Stamp; editing by Andrew Roche)

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