Germany’s allies want it to do more. In 2011, Poland’s then-Foreign Minister, Radosław Sikorski, wrote that he feared German power less than its inactivity. More recently, US President Donald Trump has openly berated German Chancellor Angela Merkel for failing to meet NATO targets on defence spending.
Germany’s military ombudsman has warned the German army is “short of almost everything”. There are a record low number of personnel, not enough planes and tanks, and equipment is almost uniformly outdated and shoddy. Yet the security demands on Germany are increasing; from the bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria, to peacekeeping operations in Mali, to the NATO rapid reaction force in Eastern Europe, to managing the refugee crisis at home.
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Marcel arguing that German military spending is a waste of money. In his view, it would be much better to invest in public services such as healthcare or education budgets. Is he right?
To get a response we spoke to journalist Paul Taylor, who recently authored a report for our sister think tank Friends of Europe on Germany stepping “out of the shadow of its past and [taking] more responsibility for defending Europe and itself”. What would he say?
The logical conclusion of that attitude would be: If you don’t spend anything on defence, then you can still be well-defended. I don’t think most people believe that. From the perspective of other nations: Germany is a rich country, and yet it is a country that is defended by others. From the nuclear umbrella of the Americans, to French operations overseas against the “Islamic state”, etc. Germany cannot be allowed to be a free-rider.
Germany has assumed responsibility in terms of political and economic power. [Former German] President Gauck put this very eloquently at the Munich Security Conference, and this responsibility must be fulfilled. The [Social Democratic Party of Germany] did not win a single vote with their anti-defence campaign. This means that the German public understands that security has a price. I don’t think Germany will increase its defence spending to the [NATO target of] two percent [of GDP], or, at least, it will take a very long time to get there. But if they get to 1.5 or 1.6 percent, that would already be good. Then the question becomes how does Germany spend that money? German money can also be spent through Europe, via a common framework. For example, an “armament fund”, which would not frighten Germany’s neighbours.
Should Germany play a bigger role in European defence? Is Germany a “free rider” on security, and should the German government invest more in its armed forces? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!