BONN — The German Bundestag voted Friday to send missile-equipped attack aircraft to Bosnia-Herzegovina, giving the international peacekeeping operation there a new aerial strength but bringing the German military one angst-inducing step closer to its first combat role since the end of World War II.
Although small numbers of German troops have helped support multinational peacekeeping operations over the past four years, West Germany had maintained a scrupulously noninterventionist foreign policy for half a century. Its well-trained and well-equipped armed forces were intended to defend its own territory and that of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.
"This proposal will change our foreign policy," warned Rudolf Scharping, whose opposition Social Democratic Party was deeply divided on the question of whether to step up the German presence in the Bosnian catastrophe.
The vote in favor of the deployment was a solid 386 to 258, after an intense, six-hour debate that kept the delegates indoors well into the afternoon on a cloudless summer Friday, when normally the Bundestag would have been empty.
The decision allows Germany to commit up to 1,700 troops to help U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia, something that the right-of-center coalition government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl has been pushing for months.
In particular, the Germans will support a new rapid-reaction force of 12,500 British, French and Dutch troops.
Most of the German contribution will consist of medics, logistics specialists and other noncombat troops, plus transport and aerial reconnaissance planes.
There was little reluctance among mainstream German politicians to send such personnel and equipment--evidence of Christian Democratic Chancellor Kohl's ability to build consensus and of the widespread dismay on the part of Germans that so little can be done to end the Bosnian bloodshed.
Even Parliament members from the pacifist Greens stepped forward Friday to praise Germany's small role in Bosnia so far--mostly flying food into besieged Sarajevo and other noncombat activities--and in some cases to say they would vote for a greater German presence.
"I have been in Sarajevo, and I saw that the United Nations [mission there] saves lives," said Helmut Lippelt of the Greens. "The United Nations [mission] can only function if it's protected militarily."
The sticking point in Friday's voting was the deployment of eight Tornado jets, controversial because they are equipped with radar-sensing devices and missiles.
Although their specific tasks in Bosnia have not yet been made clear, the Tornadoes, based in Italy, would be suited to locate antiaircraft positions and knock them out. German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe has suggested that, had the Tornadoes been deployed in Bosnia at the time, they might have prevented the recent downing by Serbs of the reconnaissance jet piloted by U.S. Capt. Scott F. O'Grady.
If a German jet were to attack an antiaircraft battery, it would mark the first known instance of German troops deliberately firing their weapons at a foreign opponent since the end of World War II.
Although it was understood from the beginning Friday that Kohl almost certainly had the votes to carry the Tornado deployment, opponents put up a bitter fight.
The day's debate began with Bundestag President Rita Suessmuth kicking the entire delegation of the Party of Democratic Socialism--the reformed and renamed former East German Communist Party--out of the chamber when they arrived wearing T-shirts bearing pictures of tombstones and U.N. helmets, and the legend, "We Say No." The delegates changed their clothes and returned.
Above, in the spectators' gallery, a small group of protesters unfurled a banner urging the Bundestag to "Make Politics, Not War." They were hustled out of the chamber.
Many of the delegates who argued against sending the Tornadoes to Bosnia complained that Kohl's government had not explained adequately what had changed in recent months to make the planes necessary.
There were also qualms about sending armed Germans to the Balkans, a region where a fascist government allied with Germany in World War II killed tens of thousands of Serbs and other opponents, and where Germany is still viewed with extreme suspicion.
Germany is also blamed by many Serbs for helping to trigger the 1991 war in neighboring Croatia, because Germany recognized the former Yugoslav republic soon after it declared its independence that year and Germany urged other European countries to do the same.
Foreign Affairs Minister Klaus Kinkel responded that the situation in Bosnia "has come to a peak" with the recent taking of hostages, the intensified shelling of Sarajevo, the breakdown since April of the vital food airlift into the Bosnian capital and the creation of the international rapid-reaction force.