* Great power competition is increasingly shaping Europeans’ security environment, while other security threats are also on the rise, from terrorism and cyber attacks to climate change.
The EU now faces security threats from its east and south – and an uncertain ally in the West.
- But the slow process and bad management of the acquisition policy has always been the Achilles’ heel of the German defence policy and needs to be improved no less urgently than its financial situation.
- But it is again politics not money which remains key to Germany’s expected role as a pillar of Europe’s security policy. Only if the country abandons the shadow of its traditional strategic culture and geopolitical complacency can a breakthrough be possible – including a higher investment in military capabilities.
This process has already started but it is still too early to say whether the glass is half empty or half full. Von der Leyen is right when she says that Germany should not be ashamed of its contribution to European security.
Berlin is the second largest provider of troops for NATO missions (including the strengthening of the Eastern flank) and its engagement has been significantly bolstered in recent years – despite the financial shortages. More than 1000 German soldiers serve in Mali, even more in Afghanistan.
The new concept behind the Bundeswehr foresees important adjustments: it puts more emphasis on territorial defence (an important message especially for Central and Eastern Europeans afraid of Germany’s traditionally soft stance on Russia) and has restored the theoretically obvious principle of full equipment for the entire army which had been officially scuppered over the years.
Germany’s leadership of EU’s security policy is both inevitable and (as things stand) impossible
- On the other hand, there is little clarity about Germany’s strategic goals, how far it is willing to engage to defend Europe’s security and to what ends it intends todeploy its at least modestly increased or new capabilities.
- The debate about Germany’s new security role triggered in 2014 at the Munich Security Conference by seminal speeches by President Gauck and Minister von der Leyen has not yet provided a clear path forward. And, most importantly, they have not managed to significantly shift public perception, still highly scepticalof more security engagement.
- According to a 2017 poll by the Koerber Foundation more than 50% of Germans believe that the country should not get involved in international crises. And only 32% support an increase in the defence budget (this percentage is even lower today – perhaps as a reaction to Trump’s pressure).
The ‘German paradox’ is a European and Transatlantic challenge. Germany bashing as suggested by the American president does not seem to be the right way to sever this Gordian knot. It may lead to a few more hundred million euro beingspent on defence but it won’t help Germany develop the kind of strategic culture required so that the country can take on its inevitable leadership role in Europe’s defense.
As analyst Ulrich Speck notes, the opposite can be true: the current debate strengthens two radical tendencies in German foreign policy – the leftist rejection of the Transatlantic Agreeementand the right-wing ‘Germany first’ approach. Both would be a disaster for Europe.
The other side of the paradox is that Germany’s leadership of EU’s security policy is both inevitable and (as things stand) impossible. The latter is easily understood. But Germany has to lead the EU on defence and security not just because of its sheer economic and political might.
Germany is – not just because of its comfortable Mittellage – the only country in the EU which could broker a much needed security deal for the EU ridden by diverging perceptions of danger and interests between East and West, North and South. Germany is genuinely interested in Europe’s cohesion and unity – and achieving these goals is a much more powerful lever for its security engagement (in Mali or on the Eastern flank) than its narrowly defined national security interests.
But to fulfil its inevitable role it needs to bring more to the table – in terms of political guidance, strategy, engagement and capabilities. Should this continue not to be the case, Europe’s security and the future of NATO will be seriously jeopardised.
The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: ecfr.eu