Christine Lambrecht is out. Now Germany is waiting to see who will succeed her at the head of the Defense Ministry. It should be someone with expertise and leadership qualities, demands military expert Joachim Weber. He sees the Bundeswehr in a deplorable state.
It has been clear since Monday morning: Germany needs a new defense minister. In an interview with FOCUS online, Joachim Weber describes what this person will find in the ministry and the troops as “dysfunctional”. With war in Europe, it’s not something to get a good night’s sleep.
FOCUS online: Mr. Weber, what awaits the new head of the Defense Ministry?
Joachim Weber: A truly Herculean task awaits this unenviable person, for which you need a very special personality. I am very curious to see who the coalition partners want to mobilize for this. In view of a major war in the middle of Europe, the Ministry of Defense is a key department in German politics. At the same time, we have the situation that our country’s armed forces are not really operational. Against this background, there is an urgent need for action, especially with regard to the structures, which unfortunately can only be described as dysfunctional.
In view of this dramatic state of affairs, did Mrs. Lambrecht even have a chance?
Weber: Ms. Lambrecht should have at least tried. Instead, she tried, clearly listless and unfamiliar with the matter, to continue to administer the Bundeswehr in the old routine. This does not correspond in any way to the requirements that currently arise in this job.
dr Joachim Weber is a Senior Fellow at the CASSIS Strategy Center at the University of Bonn, where he teaches and researches strategy and security policy. He is considered an expert on Russian issues and the Far North, maritime security, armaments policy and armed forces. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel (ISPK). The author looks back on a lengthy career in various federal authorities and ministries with previous activities in the field of civil protection and critical infrastructure, maritime security and armaments industry.
High time to put a military man at the helm of the Department of Defense?
Weber: At least that wouldn’t do any harm, because then the professional competence would definitely be there. Not everyone can do every job, especially in an area as specialized as security and defense policy. It is now about nothing less than making a dysfunctional large organization, i.e. ministry as well as troops, functional again.
Who would be the right person for the job?
Weber: I don’t see anyone in the group of coalition partners who would be fully up to this task. You need someone like Helmut Schmidt now. Someone with deep expertise, the will to act boldly and the ability to truly lead. I don’t see anyone imposing themselves for the task.
It will probably come down to someone from the SPD.
Weber: You have to assume that. In any case, the parliamentary Defense Secretary of State Siemtje Möller has a certain level of expertise, which she acquired through her interest in the subject. However, I don’t know whether it is also able to turn everything inside out with the necessary penetrating power that would be necessary now. The Federal Commissioner for the Armed Forces, Eva Högl, may not be a specialist, but she has earned respect in the troops for her commitment. But even with it, the question of the necessary penetrating power arises.
What are the biggest construction sites in the Bundeswehr?
Weber: The troops are least responsible for the state they are in. I am always amazed at how many tens of thousands of women and men in this Bundeswehr are still doing their service faithfully and with commitment, even though they have been let down from above. The troops are doing what they can, but they can’t simply reverse the top-down processes.
Things need to be reordered above. And then the Bundeswehr must be managed in functional structures. The necessary funds must also be made available for this. There is a problem with both.
Is the Bundeswehr ready for defence?
Weber: We are definitely not prepared to defend ourselves. That’s what those in charge at the Bundeswehr say. If there were a war, probably none of the eight brigades in the army would be really operational. It would be all the more important now to use clever politics to ensure that nobody even thinks about attacking us. But for that we need a powerful, modern Bundeswehr. We’re miles away from that at the moment.
How do countries with sometimes smaller military budgets, such as Israel, still manage to set up a powerful army?
Weber: That mainly has to do with the different ways people look at the military. In Germany, social discourse has allowed security policy to be turned into a kind of sleazy topic. But now we realize there’s a fire, but we don’t have the insurance. We have completely run down the fire brigade. Now who should delete it? Or to put it another way: do we want to be able to defend ourselves or not?
Do we need a return to conscription?
Weber: We probably won’t be spared that. If we really want to moderately strengthen the Bundeswehr, it won’t be possible with the current number of applicants. In the overall situation, I think that makes sense, for example in the context of general service.
Is there an area in the Bundeswehr where things are going well?
Weber: It’s hard to find at the moment. Either the quality of the equipment is lacking or the quantity of the forces is lacking, usually both at the same time.