BERLIN (Reuters) - Four in five Germans would like to see their armed forces take part in fewer military missions and almost two-thirds think Germany should show caution on foreign affairs, a poll found, signalling scant backing for leaders’ recent calls to do more.
Germany’s president, defence minister and foreign minister pledged a more prominent foreign and security role at the start of 2014, declaring that the country could no longer watch from the sidelines.
That message was welcomed by allies anxious to share the costs and the burdens of international missions. It also gave reassurance after Germany’s shock decision to opt out of any military involvement in Libya in 2011.
According to the poll of 1,000 people, commissioned by the Koerber foundation, 82 percent would like to see fewer military missions for the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces.
While in 1994, 62 percent wanted to see Germany engage more on the international stage, twenty years on 60 percent preferred to see Germany hold back.
In the interim years German troops have suffered 54 deaths while serving with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
Almost three-quarters of those explained their stance with the view that Germany had too many problems of its own to deal with, and around half said Germany’s Nazi past was a reason to show restraint.
“The discrepancy could not be bigger between the huge expectations put upon our country to take over more responsibility for foreign policy ... and on the other hand a study showing 60 percent of people say, don’t take on anymore,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “What we conclude from this.. is that we need to have a wide debate on foreign policy.”
Calls from abroad for greater German participation showed the respect Germany had won, but could also put Germany under too much pressure, he said.
Some 4,700 German troops are currently on missions abroad, operating with NATO allies and other partners. Most are in Afghanistan, but during 2013 new missions were added in Senegal, Mali and Turkey and German troops will also join other European forces in the Central African Republic this year.
The dispatch of troops to foreign countries has been an especially controversial matter in Germany where some believe the Nazi German campaign of conquest in World War Two places a particular responsibility on Berlin to refrain.
Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; editing by Mark Heinrich