Germany’s under-equipped military, the Bundeswehr, wants to spend hundreds of millions on new weapons. Some of the money will go toward leasing drones from Israel, but first the government needs a new budget.
Amidst criticism that the Germany’s military hardware is fast becoming obsolete, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen will ask the government for a massive cash injection to update its equipment.
According to a list obtained by two German newspapers, von der Leyen is requesting 450 million euros ($553 million) for 18 separate items. A defense ministry spokesman said the Bundeswehr would present its procurement requests to the Bundestag “soon.”
“We hope that the material situation of the Bundeswehr will be improved,” Defense Ministry spokesman Holger Neumann said at the government’s Monday press conference.
Part of the money is intended for upgrades to Germany’s Puma tanks and maintenance of its NH90 helicopters. Money would also go toward a nine-year contract to lease Heron TP drones capable of carrying arms — all in all the cost of this deal will be one billion euros.
Plans for the future
The coalition agreement signed between the conservatives and the Social Democrats in March sanctions the leasing of the Israeli drones as a stop-gap measure until the development of a European drone within the framework of the European Defense Union.
The coalition agreement foresees investments of 10 billion euros to modernize the Bundeswehr, but von der Leyen has said she doesn’t think that sum will be sufficient. The latest request for funds will have to be approved by the government when it draws up its budget for 2018.
Earlier this year, an internal Bundeswehr document that was leaked to the press questioned whether the German military was well enough equipped to fulfill its duties — a situation termed “scandalous” by members of the opposition.
Germany spent around 37 billion euros on defense in 2017 — the ninth highest defense budget in the world. That sum is scheduled to increase to 39 billion euros in 2018. But German military spending falls far short of the 2 percent of national GDP targeted by NATO.
On this day in 1876, Erich Raeder, proponent of an aggressive naval strategy and the man who convinced Adolf Hitler to invade Norway, is born.
Raeder began his career by violating the terms of the post-World War I Treaty of Versailles, advocating the construction of submarines in 1928 to strengthen the German navy. He was made grand admiral during World War II and executed the invasion of Norway and Denmark. He fell out with Hitler over strategy and was ultimately removed from his command. He would end his career before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Sentenced to life imprisonment for “instigation of the navy to violate the rules of war,” he was released because of ill health in 1955.
On this day in 1942, in retaliation for the British raid on Lubeck, German bombers strike Exeter and later Bath, Norwick, York, and other “medieval-city centres.” Almost 1,000 English civilians are killed in the bombing attacks nicknamed “Baedeker Raids.”
On March 28 of the same year, 234 British bombers struck the German port of Lubeck, an industrial town of only “moderate importance.” The attack was ordered (according to Sir Arthur Harris, head of British Bomber Command) as more of a morale booster for British flyers than anything else, but the destruction wreaked on Lubeck was significant: Two thousand buildings were totaled, 312 German civilians were killed, and 15,000 Germans were left homeless.
As an act of reprisal, the Germans attacked cathedral cities of great historical significance. The 15th-century Guildhall, in York, as an example, was destroyed. The Germans called their air attacks “Baedeker Raids,” named for the German publishing company famous for guidebooks popular with tourists. The Luftwaffe vowed to bomb every building in Britain that the Baedeker guide had awarded “three stars.”
On this day in 1945, Adolf Hitler, learning from one of his generals that no German defense was offered to the Russian assault at Eberswalde, admits to all in his underground bunker that the war is lost and that suicide is his only recourse. Almost as confirmation of Hitler’s assessment, a Soviet mechanized corps reaches Treuenbrietzen, 40 miles southwest of Berlin, liberates a POW camp and releases, among others, Norwegian Commander in Chief Otto Ruge.
Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan: When it comes to the German military’s foreign missions, leaders in Berlin tend to be hesitant. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rejection of a Syrian deployment continues that tradition.
Germany is one of the world’s leading industrialized nations, a firmly established NATO member and closely aligned with other Western democracies. Militarily, however, the most economically powerful country in the European Union is comparatively conservative. Currently, some 4,000 German soldiers are involved in 19 foreign deployments — from Afghanistan to Mali.
Yet, they are rarely on the front lines. German soldiers man reconnaissance planes (as in the fight against the Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq) and train allied military groups (such as the Kurds in northern Iraq). Politicians in Berlin repeatedly concede that the country’s allies expect more of Germany militarily. Nevertheless, those leaders are extremely reluctant to shift away from the military reluctance that Germany has traditionally exhibited since the end of the Second World War.
Of course there are historical reasons for that reluctance. Following the foundation of West Germany in the wake of World War II and Nazism, the country’s new military, the Bundeswehr, was created in 1955. Germany became a member of NATO at that time as well. For decades, German soldiers in the allied West were strictly concentrated on defending the country.
Politically, a divided Germany was at the center of the Cold War and in the 1970s, under Social Democratic (SPD) Chancellor Willy Brandt, it took the initiative to change that fact: by engaging in a policy of detente with the Soviet Union, establishing channels of communication and treaties rather than weapons.
Germany’s special relationship with Russia stems from that time. To this day, Russia, which lost 6.2 million citizens fighting Nazi Germany — the most of any of the belligerents in WWII — still has a special place in the minds of most Germans. That is also why voices could still be heard calling for rapprochement with President Vladimir Putin after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, although Germany also supported sanctions against the Kremlin. Germany’s former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel even called for a loosening of sanctions shortly before leaving office in March of this year.
Controversial foreign deployments
When a reunified Germany began participating in foreign deployments after 1990 it sparked national debate. More than any other, the controversial decision to send soldiers to Kosovo in 1999 caused an uproar. It was the first time that Bundeswehr soldiers had been in combat, and the murky legal situation in which the decision was made troubled many. The subsequent deployment of German soldiers to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States has come to define the Bundeswehr’s international engagement for almost two decades.
As with all foreign deployments, Afghanistan, too, was and remains extremely unpopular among German citizens. Thus the government has repeatedly been forced to seek parliamentary approval for the smallest of military missions — the Bundeswehr is, by definition, a parliamentary army.
SPD foreign policy expert Rolf Mützenich recently explained the limitations put on the Bundeswehr when it comes to foreign deployments. “Germany can only do its part with a mandate from the United Nations Security Council and with parliamentary approval,” he said. Regarding Syria, neither is within sight.
No to the Iraq War
Fears tend to be greatest in Germany when the US gets active militarily. In 2002, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the SPD won a surprising re-election victory despite the fact that his party’s coalition with the Greens was hopelessly unpopular among voters. The reason: Schröder clearly stated that he would not allow German soldiers to participate in then-US President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. That stance struck a chord with German voters.
The leader of the opposition conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at the time happened to be Angela Merkel. She had actively called for German support for the American military operation, a position that proved unpopular with the country’s electorate. The politically astute chancellor seems unlikely to make that mistake again.
Almost all of Germany’s political parties have foreign policy and security experts who call for more military engagement. They argue it is the only way Germany can truly play a role in solving the world’s problems. Nevertheless, they tend to be in the minority with such views. A recent survey shows that roughly 60 percent of Germans are against foreign deployments of the Bundeswehr.