By Matthias Gebauer
NATO is running out of munitions to use in the Libya conflict. Now the German government is willing to supply weapons to its allies despite its fundamental opposition to the war, DER SPIEGEL has learned. The defense minister has already approved a NATO request.
Germany’s abstention from the Security Council vote authorizing the use of force against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi earned it criticism from its international partners. But now the German government, despite its fundamental unwillingness to get involved in the conflict, wants to help its NATO allies attack Gadhafi’s troops.
According to information that SPIEGEL ONLINE has obtained from government sources in Berlin, NATO submitted a request to all members asking for technology and components for bombs and other military equipment at the start of last week. Berlin has already responded positively to the request.
According to sources, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière approved the request from the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA). He gave authorization for the German military, the Bundeswehr, to provide bomb components and complete missiles for the Allied bombing campaign against Gadhafi.
So far, NAMSA has not made specific requests for particular weapons or components, sources said. In Berlin, however, the government is assuming that the Bundeswehr will receive a detailed request within the next few days. Then the military will check whether it can help its allies and how quickly the weaponry can be delivered.
It is not clear which weapons would be included in a concrete request. The Bundeswehr has at its disposal complete missile systems that would be suitable for use in air strikes as well as sensitive guidance technology that could be used in other bombs.
Concession to Allies
In Berlin on Monday, requests for an official statement on the Defense Ministry’s controversial decision went unfulfilled. The Foreign Ministry likewise opted not to comment. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry only said that the Bundeswehr had not received a request from another country; he said nothing about a NATO request.
The positive response to the politically sensitive demand is another concession to its allies by the German government, which has been heavily criticized in recent weeks because of its Security Council abstention in the March vote, which resulted in a resolution authorizing the use of force to protect Libya’s civilian population. Russia and China also abstained.
Despite the abstentions, the Security Council passed the resolution. Since then, NATO jets based in the US, UK and France have been flying sorties against Gadhafi’s troops almost every day. In the meantime, rebel troops have managed to come within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the capital Tripoli , party as a result of NATO air support.
The NATO request is a clear sign that the allies are slowly running out of munitions. In recent weeks, there have been warnings — particularly from the British — that the air force would not be able to continue the intensive operation, with its daily attacks and reconnaissance flights, for much longer. There is now a shortage of air-to-ground missiles, which are urgently needed for the bombing campaign over Tripoli and other parts of the country.
Not Directly Involved
Despite its willingness to provide support in the form of weapons, Germany is still not directly involved in the war against Gadhafi, said government sources. Agreeing to the NATO request is, however, a clear gesture aimed at reducing Germany’s international isolation over Libya. In abstaining from the Security Council vote, Germany underscored its refusal to send ground troops to Libya, which are not authorized under the UN resolution, or fighter jets.
The German government does not need the approval of the Federal Security Council — a government body whose support is needed to authorize arms exports — to supply weapons to other NATO members, as it is only providing support for its allies. The German parliament, the Bundestag, has also not yet been informed about the possible weapons shipments.
During a spontaneous visit to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi two weeks ago, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle promised the rebels massive civilian aid for the period after the possible toppling of Gadhafi’s regime. Berlin also wants to help train security forces as part of building a post-Gadhafi Libya.