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Why Germany and France Hesitate to Join Yemen Strikes

As the United States and the United Kingdom persist in their air strikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, a notable absence is evident among European allies. Despite the European Union ministers agreeing on a naval mission to patrol the Red Sea to counter Houthi attacks, only the UK has actively participated in the strikes. This reluctance can be attributed to a combination of historical reservations, differing military capabilities, and a strategic focus on maritime security.


The reluctance of European nations, particularly Germany and France, to engage in military interventions in the Middle East stems partly from the dubious legacy of Western involvement in the region. The aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War and its long-lasting repercussions have left a cautious approach to military actions in the region. Historical reservations play a significant role in shaping European attitudes toward military interventions, with memories of past conflicts influencing decision-making.


Military capacity and capability also play a crucial role in shaping the European response. The US and the UK possess advanced resources and technology that enable them to conduct ground strikes effectively. The US, with its carrier-based air power configured for strikes, and the UK, albeit to a lesser extent, have the necessary capabilities. On the other hand, France currently lacks the specific ground strike capabilities required for the Yemen conflict.


France has been actively deploying military power in Africa and the Sahel region, indicating that it is not a reluctance to use military power but rather a lack of relevant capabilities in the specific Yemeni context. This discrepancy in military capacities creates a divergence in the ability of European nations to contribute to the strikes.


The European Union's decision to launch a naval mission in the Red Sea reflects a strategic emphasis on maritime security as a meaningful and pragmatic contribution. Europe and the US share a common interest in maritime security capabilities. The naval mission, slated to begin by the end of February, will involve at least three European warships and airborne early warning systems, focusing on safeguarding cargo ships in the region.


Europe's interest in protecting the Red Sea shipping lanes is evident due to its significance as the world's busiest shipping bottleneck. These lanes connect Europe to key markets in Asia and Africa, and any disruption poses a threat to global trade. The Houthi attacks have already forced commercial shippers to divert vessels to alternative routes, causing delays and economic consequences.


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