The conferences were convened to give German tank scholars an opportunity to debate with government officials from the United States, Germany and Britain about the upcoming Prague summit, a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Germany's defense shortcomings.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen and British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon were among those who said Germany needed to be more militarily active in the war on terror and the deterrence of dangerous rogue nations.
"If a Saudi madman based in Afghanistan can recruit terrorists living in Germany for attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., we Americans can no longer afford to think of the United States as invulnerable," Burns said at an Oct. 30 forum at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation called "Launching NATO's Transformation at Prague."
"We cannot go forward unless you have the political will and the capabilities," he said to the German audience of ambassadors, scholars, government officials and military officials at Adenauer, the think tank linked to the conservative Christian Democratic Union.
Burns said that even much poorer NATO candidate countries were moving beyond Germany's capabilities. "Romania did this summer what Germany could not do: It lifted itself into Afghanistan with its own aircraft," he said.
Burns warned that a transatlantic alliance that has two levels of capabilities and separate agendas -- one for Europe and one for the United States -- would become a divided alliance. "If a two-tiered alliance continues, I can't guarantee America will want to continue to sustain NATO," he said.
Former Defense Secretary William Cohen challenged Germany to stop its pacifist rhetoric during a two-day conference Nov. 4 and Nov. 5 called "Armed Forces and Society." He said that German statements precluding Germany from supporting a trans-Atlantic effort to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction show Germany wants to have a "special status."
"I would argue that a 'special status' for Germany would not lead to a stronger Europe, a stronger (European Union) or stronger transatlantic ties," he said. The conference, which was sponsored by the conservative Berlin newspaper Welt am Sonntag, brought together 250 defense officials, politicians and scholars from think tanks including the German Council on Foreign Relations, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and the German branch of the RAND Corp. to discuss the future of NATO, the German military and Iraq.
The question is whether the European allies could and would work with the United States on important security issues beyond Europe, said Cohen. He asked Germany to define what it was doing to strengthen the European Union, NATO and the United Nations, and called on the Europeans to take action on its defense promises.
The European Security and Defense Policy, or ESDP, which calls for a European defense force, has led to committee making and "the development of paper plans," Cohen said. "Real capabilities, however, are nowhere in sight."
Walter Kolbow, the parliamentary state secretary for the German Defense Ministry, took a defensive position when he had to address the same topic the following day. To a question about whether Berlin had the right financial priorities, he answered that he would hand out the money to defense if he had it. The military, he said, was the second most-known institution in Germany behind the constitution, but it also the one where most of the population wants to save money.
NATO Secretary Lord Robertson said that the critics who view Germany as "too cash-strapped to accelerate the transformation of its forces" are wrong, and that when the German government has led in defense issues, the public has eventually approved the measures as well.
"Public opinion is important, but it can never be an alibi for inaction," Robertson said.
At both conferences, the German audience debated whether ESDP, which couples military and civilian solutions for international crisis management, could play a role in the war on terrorism. Lt. Gen. Rainer Schuwirth, the director general of the EU military staff, lauded the virtues of the European security plan in his speech at the conference.
Karl Kaiser, the director of the German Council on Foreign Relations -- a think tank that aims to inform the public about international security, foreign policy and economics -- challenged Schuwirth, saying that the goal of the European Union's security plan is not to fight terrorism.
"What about those European countries that wish to fight terrorism?" he asked. Schuwirth answered that European forces, which do not belong to the European Union or NATO, must decide on a case-by-case basis which missions to be involved in.
Volker Perthes, the leader of the Middle East division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs -- which is sponsored by the chancellery and advises government officials on security and foreign policy -- said that the Arab world views the United States as operating with a double standard. Iraq, which has pulled back to its own borders, is threatened with military action, he said, while Israel has not been sanctioned in any way for its aggression on Palestinian territory.
Perthes said the Arabs do not want the goal of the American government to be change the regime in Baghdad, but to find a peaceful solution to the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis.
At the Nov. 5 meeting, British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon lauded the Germans for their intense public debate over defense issues. He also said: "It is well known that Britain and Germany do not see entirely eye-to-eye on how to deal with the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and I do not propose to go through all the arguments again now.
"In this context, I would therefore merely like to pose the question: If Germany is really serious about the importance of arms control, as I know it is, what effective action would Germany take in the event of a flagrant and very dangerous breach (by Iraq)?"
The question went unanswered.