Germany: the prospects of the German Defense after the Grosse Koalition

(To Federico Castiglioni)

It seems that in the last twenty-four hours a stall has been avoided that could prove to be one of the most destructive in the German history of the last twenty years. Following long and complicated talks between the CDU, the conservative party of Angela Merkel, and the socialists of the SPD, led by former European Parliament president Martin Schulz, a sufficient consensus was created on some programmatic points to create a new executive to Berlin. Once again it seems that the CDU will lead a "big coalition" with the left, a model of government that is going on now from the 2005 almost continuously (the SPD in fact for a few years have replaced the liberals). One of the controversial points of these talks, so much so that many commentators put it as one of the main obstacles to a new agreement between the two parties, was precisely the strategic route to be taken to the German Defense.

In fact, the last Merkel government in recent years had found itself repeatedly stalled, at the center of two crossed fires: on the one hand the Socialists of the SPD, who already supported the previous government as they said, are historically opposed to new expenses for defense and new military missions abroad, they therefore tend to see a minimalist role for Germany when it comes to security; on the other, international partners, especially NATO and the United States, have been insisting for more than a decade that Germany contributes more to international security, both increasing the budget allocated to the Bundeswehr and authorizing new peacekeeping missions in the hottest scenarios. of the planet. Last July, the Ministry of Defense published a White paper which signaled the need to rethink the entire German security system. The hot fronts were three: Russia and its aggressive attitude in the Crimea and the Baltic countries, a particularly sensitive issue for NATO; Africa and the asymmetric war on terrorism, important for the migration issue and therefore especially for Europeans; the institutional architecture of the EU and new developments in terms of enhanced cooperation, in particular and possible repercussions on German exports. Against the background of this document was the need, repeatedly underlined, for a return of Germany in international politics and its neighborhood. Moreover, this desire for greater commitment was perceptible in Central Europe already between the 2014 and the 2015, when the Bundeswehr signed several mini-training and joint command agreements with Poland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

The election campaign this fall was an example of the differences within the "grand coalition" that has governed Germany in the past few years. For example, one of the main points of the socialist candidate Schulz was to categorically rule out that the military budget could be increased for the next five years, when Angela Merkel had proposed to reach the 2% target of defense spending on GDP (minimum required standard from NATO) within the 2024. An increase of this kind would mean allocating over the next few years 24 additional billions of euros to the German armed forces, which is absolutely possible given the constant trend of economic growth that Berlin is experiencing from the 2010. According to the economy minister Gabriel, belonging to the socialist area of ​​the former coalition government, those resources should have been earmarked for public housing, increasingly necessary in a country like Germany where low wages do not allow investments on the brick. Two totally different ideas then on how to spend the "treasure" accumulated in recent years.

However, the difference between conservatives and socialists in the matter of Defense is not a matter of resources, but also and perhaps above all of a broad strategy. Traditionally, the CDU is more sensitive to the "Atlantic" objectives of the Alliance and therefore is highly susceptible to overseas demands. For example, the Merkel government in 2015 chose to support NATO by sending almost a thousand men to Afghanistan for the Resolute Support Mission, which makes the German contingent currently the third largest in the Asian country, immediately after the Italian one. Merkel's convinced campaign to achieve the 2% defense investment required by both Obama and Trump also reflects this propensity for the Atlantic dialogue. On the contrary, the socialists have always been very critical of the Alliance and the American role in Europe.

The candidate, Schulz, had asked for the complete withdrawal of US atomic weapons from Germany on the electoral campaign, a proposal that clearly can be a sword of Damocles in relations between Washinton and Berlin, especially given the situation of tension in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, the German socialists have invested and worked hard to reach the agreement on enhanced cooperation on European defense and have also called for, through their leader Martin Schulz, that a single defense ministry can be reached in a few years. The CDU has always been very cautious and sometimes skeptical about this issue. It must be remembered that the alliance issue for Germany is much more sensitive and sensitive than for its European partners, such as France or Italy. In fact, according to German law, written after the Second World War, it is impossible for Berlin not only to deploy military missions abroad but also simply to intervene, for example with a logistical contribution, if a framework of international legitimacy is not clearly defined. for the operation. Lacking the United Nations in recent years, the two alliances represent the framework of legitimacy within which German politics can move to regain its own international role.

The talks of the past few days seem to have found a compromise between these different priorities and strategic visions. The issue of Defense in reality was easier to dissolve than expected, especially compared to others (the central issues emerged from the talks between the leaders, which still have to be resolved definitively, concern the migration policy and the delicate proposal of President Macron of create a European finance ministry). The result of the compromise is a joint document presented to the SPD assembly together with a package of proposals on which to build the future coalition. The text outlines a few but clear priorities for the coming years:

1) Africa. The migratory question on the one hand and cooperation with France on the other are pushing Germany increasingly to take an interest in West Africa. From the 2012 German military are present in Mali, within the framework of the European EUTM training mission. After the French intervention in the country of 2014, with the operation Barkhane, France has increasingly tried to internationalize the crisis, involving the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union in the MINUSBA mission. Since last year the German parliament has authorized the dispatch of another nine hundred men, drones and helicopters to Western Sahara.

2) Respect the 2%. One of the major successes of the Merkel line seems to have been to convince the socialists to respect the NATO commitments. These funds will be allocated to new equipment for the Bundeswehr and investment in research. This choice seems to be intelligent and strategic. In fact, if we achieve greater standardization of armaments and European single orders, also thanks to the funds made available by Brussels, the higher research costs would allow German companies to present projects much more advanced than their competitors. In this way, the greatest expense can be used both to satisfy Washington and to strengthen the position of Berlin on the continent.

3) Less German weapons. One of the problems that emerged in the talks of the past few days was the export of German weapons abroad. Germany exports different types of weapons, especially automatic and semi-automatic ones, to warm scenarios like Yemen. However, this market is nothing compared to that of heavy armaments. The sale of German artillery pieces and rockets to Saudi Arabia and Egypt has increased fivefold in the last two years, thanks to the wars in Yemen, the tensions between Egypt and Sudan and the general and well-known instability of the region. The Merkel government had already rejected Ryhad's interest in the purchase of Leopard 2 to be used for "border stabilization" missions at the beginning of the 2017. The two coalition parties seem to have decided to permanently suspend the sale of arms to countries directly involved in the Yemeni humanitarian disaster. This decision probably anticipates the time for a European position on the matter. For a year now, the European Parliament has put pressure on national governments to take a more decisive stance1. The German embargo decision would follow the Norwegian, Belgian and French decision.

4) More Israeli drones. Again on the ethical theme, the German government has been under pressure for several years for having wanted to buy a fleet of US drones, according to several commentators very inaccurate and therefore dangerous for possible side effects. For this reason, since last summer Berlin has developed a growing interest in the Israeli Heron TP drones, considered more precise and efficient than the American ones. The United States, which currently has a technological monopoly in the sector, immediately opposed this decision, also finding some political sides in Berlin. Following a ruling by a German court last June, which excluded the purchase of drones made in USBecause it was so inaccurate that it violated the rules of engagement of the country, it seemed that the question was closed. In fact, despite the skepticism of the SPD, Schulz has given the green light for the purchase of the Israeli drone fleet, more and more necessary in view of the commitment of Berlin in asymmetric scenarios.

In conclusion, the agreement reached for now seems to confirm the direction taken by the last Merkel government. If the SPD leader Martin Schulz as the next foreign minister, "natural" choice given his curriculum in the institutions of Brussels, will be confirmed, we could see a defense cooperation centered on the Paris-Berlin axis even deeper than the one announced so far greater skepticism towards NATO (the election of Trump has not helped anyway, if only because of the negative perception that the German public opinion seems to have until now). In the coming years, there are clearly several factors that can change both the internal strengths of the great coalition and the strategic priorities as outlined so far. Probably the biggest variables will be the Russian attitude at the borders of the EU and the ability of the American administration to avoid a transatlantic separation only compared to that experienced in the Bush years (the last months have seen a certain activism of the Secretary General of the Born, Jens Stoltenberg, to avoid this hypothesis). Germany is one of the few European countries that can afford to significantly increase defense spending and, now that it has the political determination to do so, the direction it will take will necessarily also affect the strategic choices we make at the continental level.


1 The European government that is more involved but less sensitive to the issue seems to be the British one, which in the 2017 alone has sold more than a billion pounds to the Saudi government.

(photo: Bundeswehr)