Germany weighs role in Red Sea naval protection force



COLOGNE, Germany — The German government is weighing its scant options for contributing to an international mission aimed at protecting maritime traffic in the Red Sea from missile attacks by Yemen-based Houthi rebels.

The considerations come as the United States initiated Operation Prosperity Guardian last month following attacks on civilian cargo ships transiting the vital trade route. The Houthis have claimed solidarity with Palestine amid the Israel-Hamas war as their motive.

Germany, meanwhile, is prepared to contribute to a European Union-led naval protection force, an option still under examination by bloc officials in Brussels, German foreign affairs office spokesman Sebastian Fischer told reporters Dec. 3.

Fischer noted that a dedicated, EU-led Red Sea mission is the most likely course at the moment because one member state still opposes expanding the mandate of an existing EU effort in the region — the Atalanta anti-piracy mission based on the Red Sea’s southern end in Djibouti.

Germany is not listed as a participant in the American-led Operation Prosperity Guardian. But other European members include the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Norway, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in announcing the initiative on Dec. 18. A spokesperson for the Spanish Defence Ministry subsequently told Defense News that Madrid had yet to make that decision.

The Danish government announced in late December it would contribute a frigate, pending parliamentary approval, Reuters reported.

The German government doesn’t appear to have a preference about which group to join — the U.S. initiative or a prospective EU push, according to Sebastian Bruns, a senior naval researcher at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University. But there are “political implications” associated with either option, he said.

More important is the question of exactly what the German Navy would be able to contribute, as the service’s ships are stretched to the brink. “There are no reserve forces available for situations like this,” Bruns said.

What’s more, the Navy’s frigate inventory includes certain types — four vessels of the Baden-Württemberg class — that are “under-gunned” for missions that involve the threat of anti-ship missiles, which the Houthis appear to possess, Bruns added.

Germany has three Sachsen-class air defense frigates with force-protection capabilities suitable for guarding the Red Sea, according to the analyst, and so a headquarters personnel contribution to either naval protection mission seems the most likely outcome at the moment.

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.

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