BONN -- As German politicians campaign feverishly around their reunited nation for parliamentary elections next month, the situation in the Persian Gulf goes virtually unmentioned.

"It is not in our interest for the gulf to be a campaign issue," said member of parliament Karl Lamers, a security expert for the ruling Christian Democratic party. "My constituency is overwhelmingly interested in German unity and that's all."

With a month to go before the Dec. 2 German elections, the country's leading newsmagazine conducted a wide-ranging opinion poll on everything from abortion rights to the future of the east German Trabant automobiles -- but not a single query about the gulf.

A private research group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, issued a report last month detailing a "special relationship" between German companies and Iraq's development of chemical and biological weapons.

But the news drew little attention and no public protest or show of indignation.

Soon after the gulf crisis erupted three months ago with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, public opinion in a number of allied countries, especially the United States, appeared impatient and critical of Germany's failure to make some military contribution to help press Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait that went beyond Bonn's financial and rhetorical support.

Although nearly every German political party has endorsed a constitutional change to allow troops to participate in a United Nations-led military operation, no party wants to move on the issue before sometime next year.

"There is a general lack of interest in military matters here," said Jochen Thies, editor of the foreign policy journal Europa-Archiv. "The attitude is, we came under pressure and paid $2.2 billion to support U.S. troops in the gulf and now we are out of it. We paid our ransom."

Japan, like Germany, also has come under fire from abroad for failure to lend more than verbal and fiscal support to the gulf effort. But unlike Germany, Japan has undergone a major national debate over the government's unsuccessful proposal to send non-combat military forces to the region.

The Bonn government wants to postpone all decisions on the gulf, Thies said, because West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl knows that German elections traditionally turn on domestic issues.

But for politicians, Iraq remains an inescapable issue that keeps resurfacing. On Wednesday, former chancellor Willy Brandt announced that he might undertake a personal peace mission to Baghdad in an effort to free 400 Germans held by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Yesterday, Brandt said that he was going for sure, telling reporters in Greencastle, Ind., where he concluded a U.S. speaking tour, that he would travel to Baghdad Monday at Saddam's invitation and hoped to meet with some of the 400 German hostages. Brandt said that he intended to tell Saddam "about the degree of his isolation."

Karsten Voigt, a parliamentary leader of Brandt's opposition Social Democratic Party, which is running far behind Kohl's Christian Democrats in opinion polls, said that "Brandt can accomplish something {in Iraq} that the Foreign Ministry hasn't been able to."

Kohl worries that a trip by Brandt might present an occasion for allies to raise doubts about Germany's commitment to the international effort in the gulf.

Together, Brandt's planned solo diplomacy, the revelations on German companies' military-related exports to Iraq and the German reluctance to send troops to the gulf depict a country not entirely comfortable with its allies' policy toward Iraq.

To be sure, after weeks of pressure from the Bush administration, Kohl agreed to pay $2.2 billion toward the military deployment in the gulf.

But then, the allies' confidence in Bonn was shaken by the revelations on German companies' involvement in exporting nuclear and chemical weapons technology to Iraq, Libya and other belligerent nations.

The Wiesenthal report concluded that 86 of the 207 companies that could be identified as helping Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological warfare programs were German.

A study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called Germany the "weak link" in the world's nuclear export control system. And German Economics Minister Helmut Haussmann gave a parliamentary committee a secret report that said the role German companies played in Iraq was "absolutely dominant, much deeper than the administration ever had let on," a committee source said.

German companies helped Iraq build six poison gas plants, the source said. And German firms have been accused of helping Iraq upgrade Soviet missiles, obtain parts for a supercannon and advance its nuclear capability. Three German companies supplied the technology -- available only from the Germans and Dutch -- that Iraq required to build gas centrifuges capable of making enriched uranium cheaply.

The German-Iraqi connection confronted the Kohl government with the legacy of Germany's historic ties to chemical weapons, which the country used in World War I in mustard gas attacks on the French, and in the Nazi concentration camps, where millions of victims were killed with the German-developed Zyklon-B gas.

In response to the revelations, the Germans tightened their export controls sufficiently to satisfy U.S. intelligence officials. Germany has tripled the staff of its export control agency and changed its laws to allow the prosecution of Germans who leave the country to continue their illegal exporting.

But Bonn acknowledges that it cannot completely stop German companies from supplying the latest in weaponry to outlaw nations.

"In the old days, we didn't have the people -- the experts and technicians to inspect the exports," said Lutz Stavenhagen, Kohl's top intelligence adviser. "The customers are much shrewder now. They buy a little here, a little there and have someone in a third country put it all together."

Another government official offered: "We don't have more crooks than other countries. But we do export more than most countries, so we have more than our share of export problems."

Kohl has repeatedly said the reunited Germany bears a greater responsibility in global affairs and that the wealth and political stature of Europe's richest nation require it to support its allies in crises. The chancellor wants to amend the constitution to allow German troops to participate in military operations mounted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or any other alliance to which Germany might belong.

Lamers, the member of parliament, and other conservatives believe the Germans' aversion to any use of force will ease, however, as Germans realize that their country has a new role to play in the world beyond the superpower standoff.

"The involvement of the British, French, Dutch and Italians in the gulf has already produced in political circles a willingness to change the constitution," Lamers said.

But Germans are not about to drop overnight values that have become deeply rooted during 45 years of postwar history. Unification means a bigger, but not necessarily bolder Germany, many citizens say. A poll by the magazine Der Spiegel last week found that only 23 percent of the sample believe Germany should be a major power in Europe; 47 percent oppose the idea and 28 percent do not care.

Opinion polls also show a deep opposition to the use of German force anywhere, but especially in the Middle East, within range of Israel -- an alliance Germany cherishes because of its Nazi legacy.

Reflecting that attitude, the opposition Social Democrats propose a more limited constitutional change, allowing German troops to be used only in United Nations peace-keeping forces, not in a situation like that in the gulf.