Britain and France eagerly joined the U.S. in joint strikes on Syria on Friday night, deploying fighter jets to launch missiles at suspected chemical weapons facilities outside the city of Homs.
Another key NATO ally, Germany, was noticeably absent from the combined operation.
As Western governments were debating how and when to respond to a suspected poison gas attack by the Syrian regime, German Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed a military “signal” that chemical weapons use would not be tolerated. However, German forces would not take part, she said.
“I think it is important to have a common line, without Germany participating militarily,” Merkel told reporters on Thursday, the day before the allied strike. “If the permanent representatives in the (U.N.) Security Council were to initiate steps … going beyond the diplomatic dimension, then we will be supportive.”
Following the strike, Merkel reiterated her approval of the military response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.
“We support the fact that our US, UK and French allies took on responsibility in this way as permanent members of the UN Security Council,” she said in a statement. “The military response was necessary and appropriate in order to preserve the effectiveness of the international ban on the use of chemical weapons and to warn the Syrian regime against future violations.”
Merkel’s expressions of support notwithstanding, President Donald Trump’s administration was critical of Germany’s absence from the operation.
“Germany should have joined this P3 group, too,” Richard Grenell, the nominee for ambassador to Germany, said in a tweet on Friday night.
The Trump administration also reportedly tried to shame the German government into contributing to the allied strike. It argued that Germany should be especially appalled by the use of chemical weapons on civilians, given its history under the Nazi regime, reports Bloomberg, citing a U.S. official who asked not to be named discussing strategy.
Since WWII, Germany has been averse to direct military action, even as a part of allied operations. Parliamentary approval is required for any military deployments overseas, and the German military typically restricts itself to supporting roles, such as reconnaissance or training missions.
Germany also has political and economic considerations that make confrontation with Syria’s most powerful backer, Russia, a risky proposition. Merkel was barely able to form a government after German elections in September, and her governing partners, the Social Democrats, have warned about deteriorating relations between the West and Russia.
Economically, Germany is typically Russia’s most important trading partner and depends on imports of Russian oil and natural gas to meet its energy needs. As a result, many German leaders are wary of antagonizing their eastern neighbor, and have called for an easing of sanctions against Moscow.
Germany rejected assertions on Monday that it had somehow shirked responsibility for confronting Syria. The country hadn’t been asked to make a military contribution, Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said, adding that Germany is “active internationally in many ways” and participates in “difficult military deployments” in Mali and Afghanistan.
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