Until very recently, using the words “Germany” and “military power” together was enough to send chills down the spine of scholars of the 20th century and beyond. Historically, that combination meant misfortune for Europe, twice forced to rise up against the Reich of the day.
The idea of “giving a central role to the armed forces” of Berlin was considered nightmarish: a taboo respected by every chancellor from 1949 until Angela Merkel, who not only said “Nein” to German intervention in Iraq but also reduced the Bundeswehr to below NATO’s minimum operational capacity, as her former defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, knows well.
It took the war in Ukraine to put the tank tracks back on the Locomotive of Europe: the Scholz government is determined to “play a leading global role” in the era when made-in-Germany is no longer pulling its weight as it used to (on Monday, the IFO, the index on business confidence, predicted recession as early as this winter) and energy is a commodity that must be conquered outside of the financial markets.
“Germany’s size, its geographical location, its economic power – in short, its weight – make it a power leader, whether we want it to be or not. Also from a military point of view. We must not be afraid of this responsibility,” summed up Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD), expressing the country’s readiness to “take the burden off the U.S., until now the guarantor of European security but now forced to divert resources to the Pacific.”
These are no longer just words: Germany’s reincarnation as the policeman of the EU is envisaged in the “National Security Strategy,” a plan unprecedented in a country whose sovereignty in this regard has been limited by both the US and USSR for decades.
The document sets out the Scholz government’s guidelines for “tackling global security challenges in a credible way,” that is, by brandishing weapons, and no longer only in defense of the national borders. The first step is precisely Minister Lambrecht’s declaration of “power,” delivered on Monday from the stage of the Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik (a geopolitical think-tank founded in 1955) in the presence of Bundeswehr Inspector General Eberhard Zorn.
The reasons behind this new approach to German Defense are precisely the “implications of the changing times,” no longer those of cheap Russian gas nor of global trade tailor-made for the champions of domestic industry.
And the trigger, officially, is the war in Ukraine, as the German Defense Ministry admits: “The Russian military invasion and its consequences for security in Europe underscore the importance of a national security strategy. Germany and its allies have already responded to the threat by strengthening NATO’s eastern flank militarily, while the alliance has just adopted the new strategic concept at the Madrid summit. In addition, the EU has equipped itself with a strategic compass to guide the Common Security and Defense Policy.”
In short, there was a bit of “Europe is asking us” and a bit of “the U.S. is asking us” in the speech of the SPD minister, who reassured the Biden government by promising to reach the threshold of 2% of GDP in military spending as soon as possible, and especially to maintain it, even after the €100 billion allocated by the “traffic light coalition” to modernize the Bundeswehr runs out.
“The war in Ukraine has shown even us peace-loving Germans that to defend against an enemy that kills, destroys and causes forced displacement, you need the armed forces as a last resort. For this we have to spend money, without ifs and buts, and we need it in the long run so as not to undo the efforts made now” – this is Lambrecht’s public justification.