Chancellor Scholz proclaimed the “turn of the era” in February and promised to fundamentally modernize the Bundeswehr. But the package of measures presented for this purpose is based on a false conclusion. Because not 2022, but already 2014 marked a turning point in security policy.
The Russian attack on Ukraine acts as a catalyst for a reorientation of NATO back to collective defense and deterrence, which has been initiated since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. While German politics did not state a “turning point” until February 27, 2022, the alliance had long since established that Russia is again a serious opponent, that defense of the alliance therefore has top priority and that a fundamental military realignment of the alliance must take place.
Germany, too, had promised at summit meetings from Wales to Warsaw to rebuild its national and alliance defense capabilities, but for a long time did not muster the political will to actually and fully implement the promises made.
The ambitious plans of the chancellor and his federal government to build “a powerful, ultra-modern, progressive Bundeswehr” appear to be changing this. However, the extensive package of measures is based on a fundamental fallacy: not 2022, but 2014 will mark a turning point in European security policy.
With the steps now promised, Germany would only comply with the adjustments in defense policy that have been delayed since 2014. In June, however, at its most recent summit in Madrid in response to the Russian attack on Ukraine, NATO agreed on the next steps and, among other things, decided on the most comprehensive reorganization of its armed forces since the end of the Cold War.
At its core, NATO is now conceptually switching to deterrence through strengthened front defense. This means that the alliance wants to strengthen its ability to actually ward off an attack and thus achieve a deterrent effect with a more substantial troop presence in potential conflict regions in Eastern Europe and the advance stationing of equipment, material and ammunition in the “front-line states”.
Philipp Dienstbier is a consultant for transatlantic relations in the Analysis and Consulting department of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation. A detailed version of this text will appear in the next issue of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation’s “Foreign Information”: https://www.kas.de/de/web/auslandsinformationen
To this end, the number of NATO forces on high operational readiness (10 to 30 days) should increase to 300,000 and gradually be reinforced by a further 500,000 troops. A rapidly deployable Allied Reaction Force of 40,000 soldiers is even to be permanently subordinated to the NATO supreme commander in order to be able to act quickly in a rapidly developing crisis.
This creates new, additional requirements for the contributions of NATO member states. In the future, the Allies must be able to mobilize troops the size of a division; This also has an impact on Germany’s tasks within the framework of NATO: With the security policy “turning point” announced in February, Berlin is already lagging behind again.
According to the Madrid decisions, Germany must provide NATO with twice as many forces as previously agreed, namely around 30,000 soldiers and 85 aircraft and ships, with a high level of operational readiness, earlier than originally planned – by 2025. In order to ensure this, Berlin must bring forward to 2025 the already ambitious commitment to provide NATO with a mechanized division with three fully equipped combat brigades by 2027.
In addition, Germany, as the framework nation of the Battlegroup in Lithuania, faces the challenge of having an additional brigade for the Baltic States permanently ready for action in the future. Implementing both will be a tremendous feat within the short remaining time horizon.
The measures to equip and qualify the Bundeswehr announced on February 27 are no longer sufficient. The special fund of over 100 billion euros that was approved before the summer provides the right and sensible steps to ensure that Germany can meet its NATO contributions in the future.
This includes spending on improving the soldiers’ personal equipment, investments in the command and control of the Bundeswehr and a number of central armaments projects in the air and sea dimensions. The area of land forces, which is particularly important because the army is to provide the urgently needed large units and thus the backbone of NATO’s conventional defense in north-eastern Europe, remains comparatively tight with a good 16 billion euros in the special fund.
There is a need for improvement, for example, in the procurement of long-range radar artillery and a mobile army air defense system – both of which are critical skills for warfare, as experience from the war in Ukraine teaches us. In addition, the special fund does not solve one of the Bundeswehr’s greatest weaknesses: the insufficient stocks of ammunition and spare parts – here alone there would be an additional investment requirement of around 20 billion euros.
In addition to these planning gaps, there is also a lack of rapid implementation and expenditure of the special fund. The cumbersome and inefficient military procurement system remains the bottleneck and ensures that not a single cent is to be spent from the special fund in 2022 and only 8.5 billion euros in 2023. The target of two percent of GDP personally promised by Chancellor Olaf Scholz will therefore not be reached by 2024.
In order to accelerate the investments, the responsible federal office would have to be reorganized. It urgently needs additional staff. When it comes to the implementation of joint European armaments projects, such as the deadlocked German-French-Spanish project to develop a future air combat system (FCAS), German politicians and first and foremost the Federal Chancellery are required to do more to ensure successful implementation.
In addition to these improvements, further strategic decisions are necessary, which, in addition to improving equipment and weapon systems, also aim at a personnel trend reversal and the establishment of a strategic culture and closer exchange between the military, politics and society.
A mandatory year of service could help to close the remaining 20,000 unfilled posts in the Bundeswehr and also allow the reserve to grow. Experience before the suspension of compulsory military service has shown that larger proportions of the young population continue to enlist as temporary or professional soldiers, based on the experiences and prospects they gained during military service.
In addition, a year of society could be the nucleus for closer integration between the Bundeswehr and German society. Because after years of estrangement of the German public from security policy realities, society now needs a broader debate on the armed forces and questions of defense policy.
The past few months have shown that it was primarily the United States that played the key role in preventing a Russian victory in Ukraine and the conflict from spilling over into the European neighborhood. However, this may well be the last time that Washington engages militarily in the European arena on this scale. Instead, the USA will shift its focus to the Indo-Pacific and will also have to withdraw militarily from Europe.
This leaves an extremely tight time window – probably just until the end of the 2020s – in which European allies, above all Germany, will have to assume most of the responsibility for the conventional defense of Europe themselves. If German politics does not make the above-mentioned groundbreaking decisions quickly, this will not succeed. Germany would then not only lose international trust and credibility, but would also leave a dangerous gap in Europe’s conventional defense.
Russian veterans from Afghanistan, Chechnya and Ukraine are said to have written a guide with their experiences for recruits in the Ukraine war. The handbook is to be distributed to soldiers before they go to the front, reports say. The chapters range from war propaganda to cooking recipes.
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