Germany gets a new defense minister. Boris Pistorius not only has to build a new Bundeswehr. But also answer three big questions. Will his chancellor help him?

Germany’s new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius will already have his hands full with the “turning point”. Beyond the fast pace of day-to-day business, there are also strategic questions, and at least three.

Only on Wednesday did Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov paint an up-to-date picture of his country. The Americans sought a “final solution” in relation to his country. “Final Solution” is an established term for the annihilation of the Jews in Germany and Europe, and here especially in Poland and Ukraine.

So Lavrov compares Americans to Nazi Germany, Joe Biden to Adolf Hitler. Russia is a long way from “negotiations” with and about Ukraine, and a “partnership” is no longer an option. A majority in the German Bundestag sees it this way – the Union, Liberals and Greens are largely in agreement on this. But the opinion of the Social Democrats is shimmering.

For Eastern Europe – with the exception of Hungary and Serbia – the matter is clear: Russia is a threat. Poland, the Baltics and Romania are rearming for one reason only: to prevent Russia from attacking their countries. It is no longer enough for Poland to spend two percent of its gross national product on defense. In Germany it is considered an achievement to even reach these two percent.

And even the 100 billion euros announced by Olaf Scholz are far from enough for defense experts like the military commissioner Eva Högl from his own social democratic party. Högl demands three times as much, and the Union’s defense politicians applaud.

How much and what weapons when Germany gives Ukraine depends on the answer to the question of who Russia is for Germany. This does not only result in the upcoming “rearmament”.

Germany’s first “rearmament” started ten years after the Second World War. The then Chancellor Konrad Adenauer justified it like this: “Protection of our freedom and protection of our homeland and protection of Europe from the advancing Soviet Russia, which wants Europe.”

Does Germany, does the federal government believe that Russia is where the Soviet Union was in 1955? Aggressive and out for conquest? Is Germany threatened? Everything else follows from this, namely:

The Ukraine war shows that Europe alone could not defend the invaded country. Without US help, Ukraine would be lost. And what applies to Ukraine also applies to all European countries, including Germany. Not only is Germany not defensible because its army is unable to protect the country from a Russian attack. But also because there is no European army strong enough to deter Russia.

The strongest deterrent for Russia are the American nuclear missiles, in connection with Article Five of the NATO treaty, the mutual assistance obligation. How much Germany’s security depends on the USA was shown by the NATO double-track decision in the 1980s: only the threat to retrofit Germany and Europe with American medium-range missiles brought Russia to nuclear deterrence. This leads to the following strategic question:

Should there only be an American nuclear protective shield for Germany and Europe – or should the Europeans protect themselves with nuclear weapons?

Olaf Scholz and Boris Pistorius shouldn’t think that this question isn’t coming up now. First, French President Emmanuel Macron has already proposed a discussion about extending France’s nuclear shield to Germany, and second, American engagement in Europe depends on the next US election. And not only Donald Trump thinks this question over Europe, but also Ron DeSantis, currently the most likely Republican alternative to him.

Until February 24 last year, the focus was on the debate on how to achieve a global ban on nuclear weapons. With Russia’s “imperialist aggression” (Olaf Scholz) in the Ukraine, “secured” by Russian nuclear missiles, this pacifist question is likely to have been resolved for years to come.

This is the real break in the epoch: the “pacifist paradise” of the past 30 years is being replaced by a new, militaristic reality.

And the question of German nuclear armament, which was already discussed in the 1950s, is returning. Just like another question that seemed to have been answered long ago:

Conscription was abolished because Angela Merkel and her Defense Minister zu Guttenberg believed ten years ago that eternal peace had broken out. In addition, Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble wanted to make drastic cuts in the army. The Bundeswehr was trimmed for foreign missions in order to defend freedom “in the Hindu Kush”, as Minister Peter Struck put it so succinctly.

Incidentally, “eternal peace” was already laid down in the Two Plus Four Treaty. In March 1991, the Bundeswehr and the National People’s Army of the GDR together had around 600,000 soldiers at their disposal, with a target strength of 170,000 men. In addition, conscription was drastically reduced to just six months before zu Guttenberg did not abolish it two years later, but “suspended” it. It might even turn out to be far-sighted.

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A return to conscription is anything but utopian. The military commissioner Eva Högl, who was already skeptical about the de facto abolition of conscription, regretted just over a year ago that nobody followed her suggestion to reconsider it. And that was before the Ukraine war.

With this war, the main reason for the abolition of conscription has disappeared. The Russian threat is back. A new debate on conscription is overdue. Perhaps it can be combined with the discussion that the Federal President has already initiated about general service.

According to the Chancellor, Germany should be the “leading power” in Europe. But if you want to lead, you have to start looking for answers to uncomfortable questions.