In Germany, negotiations between the parties to form a government in power are continuing. It’s a safe bet that a “red light” coalition of the Reds (Social Democratic Party), Yellows (Free Democratic Party) and Greens (Green Party) will take over before the end of the year.
While the final governance platform has yet to be worked out, these three parties have now defined a preliminary agreement to guide their negotiations. In the document’s list of 10 priorities, defense comes last, which does not bode well for Western security.
The parties pledge to improve German military equipment in the preliminary document, but worryingly, they do not reiterate NATO’s commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense. This commitment is essential. Here’s why.
The amount of money spent on defense is ultimately a political decision, and as with any expenditure of public money, it must be continually justified. It is the responsibility of the next German government to advocate for additional military spending and commitments and to remind the German public that its security and economic prosperity are closely linked to transatlantic obligations.
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Military capabilities and the security they help provide are the basis for peace and prosperity. This argument must be presented to the German public to overcome a deep cultural and historical antipathy and hostility towards defense spending and military service.
Failure to re-commit to the 2% mark would signal to the German public that Berlin no longer sees defense as a priority. This would send a negative signal to the United States and other NATO allies and encourage NATO adversaries.
It would be a mistake. The world is becoming more and more dangerous, more competitive, which leaves NATO no longer in need of a Germany ready to assume a more important role within the alliance – commensurate with its economic and political weight.
A coherent and convincing argument about the need to increase defense spending would likely meet with public support. A recent poll found that 68% of Germans think NATO is either very important or quite important to the security of the nation. A strong NATO requires member states to be endowed with sufficient robust military capabilities to deter Russia and deflect increased Chinese aggression. And, let’s be honest, it will take a while for Germany to get adequate, much less robust capabilities. It is a file that must be defended by whoever fills the chancellery, and federal ministries must then be prepared to advocate for sustained major investments in the military.
To encourage such investments, NATO set in 2006 a target for member states to devote 2% of gross domestic product per year to defense. At the 2014 Wales Summit, Member States re-committed to the 2% benchmark by 2024 and pledged that 20% of their defense budgets will be spent on purchasing ” Major equipment ‘.
But Berlin dropped the ball. In 2019, Germany announced that it would miss the 2024 deadline, instead of reaching 2% in … 2031.
That’s not to say that Germany hasn’t made any progress since the Wales summit. Berlin is now spending $ 25 billion more on defense than in 2015, going from a meager 1.19% of GDP to 1.53%.
Much of the impetus for this increase has come from the Trump administration’s continued insistence on the need for NATO members to keep their funding pledges. Now, however, Trump is gone.
Shifting national priorities, combined with a false belief that 2% no longer matters to the United States, could lead a possible red-light coalition government to throw in the red for further increases in defense.
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Such a signal would be interpreted in Moscow as weakness and in Eastern Europe as recklessness. In the United States, that would give ammunition to those who believe that low European defense spending is reason enough for the United States to disengage from Europe.
Outgoing Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer recently reiterated the importance of meeting the 2% commitment: so I believe that was the completely wrong answer for Germany, and also for the security of this countries and the security of our partners.
Whoever becomes the next Chancellor has a duty to point out to the German people that it is time for the nation to start exercising its military weight within NATO at a level commensurate with its economic and political weight.
NATO’s 2% target will make that much easier for them. Political negotiators in Berlin should think twice before getting rid of it.