COLOGNE, Germany — Germany is unlikely to go along with an American- and British-led maritime-protection mission in the Strait of Hormuz, though politicians are leaving the door open for a European plan.
Those are the contours of a narrative that has formed here over the past several days, as Berlin weighs its options between diplomacy and concrete actions to punish Iran for its recent seizure of a British oil tanker.
“We should not accept Iranian state piracy,” Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, told the ARD television station. “It would be dangerous if the Europeans signal to Iran that we won’t do anything.”
The U.S. government has made a formal request for a German contribution to secure ship traffic through the vital Hormuz Strait, German wire service DPA reported Tuesday. A prominent American role in such an undertaking was raised by the brand-new U.K. government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after the previous leadership just last week appeared to favor a European-only push.
Cooperating with the Trump administration, however, is a bridge too far for some in Germany, even for those who think Iran’s harassment of cargo ships in the region must be stopped. That is because of a deep-seated mistrust toward President Donald Trump in general, and Washington’s motives toward Iran in particular.
The Trump administration had exited a landmark agreement aimed at preventing Tehran’s acquisition of nuclear arms, while Germany still holds out hope that the objectives of the deal can be salvaged.
With that logic, partaking in a mission along with the United States could expose German forces to an eventual U.S.-Iran war, even though the Hormuz mission at first is meant only to protect civilian cargo vessels.
“If you put the Iranians and the Americans opposite each other, you can set a timer to when things will explode,” Omid Nouripour, foreign policy spokesman for the Green Party, told the newspaper Die Welt.
Berlin’s hope to save the Iran nuclear deal explains some of the country’s dithering on helping to protect the Strait of Hormuz, said Sebastian Bruns, who heads the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security at the University of Kiel in northern Germany.
At the same time, he argued, Germany doesn't seem to have that many options. “We don't have the ships, and it seems like we also don't have the political will,” he told Defense News.
But keeping the prospect of a European naval mission alive buys Berlin a few days’ time. With such an option on the horizon, however distant, rebutting the Americans outright would be seen less as a capitulation, according to the analyst.
Meanwhile, Britain’s initial idea of a European-led mission to secure Hormuz may still be a possibility. The Telegraph reported early Wednesday that British officials had invited German, French and other European military officials to discuss options at a meeting in Bahrain.
Either way, the particulars would amount to a major lift for Germany and its European allies. To make things easier, Bruns proposed the European Union could expand its anti-piracy mission off Somalia roughly 1,300 miles northeastward to include the Strait of Hormuz.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.