At the 2014 Munich Security Conference, German Defence Minister Von der Leyen declared that she wanted Germany to take on more international responsibility in the field of security and military affairs. However, this promise is only rhetoric unless Germany drastically improves the Bundeswehr, changes its security culture and starts working effectively within multilateral institutions in partnership with its allies.
As it stands, there are three serious threats to German security: the US 'Pivot to Asia', Russian aggression in the East, and failed states in the Middle East and Northern Africa. The first of these three is by far the greatest challenge to Germany. Indeed, the US 'Pivot to Asia' leaves Europe and Germany weaker and at their most vulnerable since 1945.
The withdrawal of US troops has serious implications for Germany. Since 1949, German security has been 'free riding' of American troops and the US nuclear umbrella to act as deterrent against the Soviet Union. At first glance, one could argue that the withdrawal of US troops is long overdue - after all, the USSR collapsed more than 20 years ago. But upon further investigation, the need for a strong deterrent in Europe is needed now more than ever. Under the control of President Putin, Russia has become an antidemocratic, imperialist and aggressive state intent on restoring the Soviet Empire at the expense of peace and order in Europe. President Putin has already dismembered Ukraine and is threatening to do the same to the Baltic States.
In addition to the threats in the East, the failed states in North Africa and the Middle East pose a grave danger to European and, as a consequence, German security. With the rise of the Islamic State and Civil War breaking out in Libya, Islamists are on Europe's doorstep. Germany must be ready to assist NATO or the EU in any possible missions in the future. I am certainly not advocating a western intervention in Libya or Syria at the moment - as I have argued in my previous article, a military intervention will not solve those crises - but one can never be certain what the future holds. As a consequence, Germany must be ready and willing to militarily assist its allies within multilateral institutions if any future mission is backed by a UN resolution. With these looming challenges to security, one would presume that the Bundeswehr would be supplied with the best weapons and vehicles, and receive the highest levels of support. Yet it is apparent this is not the case in the slightest.
In the modern world, to be a serious military player it is imperative to be able to move troops and assets to the conflict areas as quickly as possible. To achieve this, the state needs a large and effective helicopter and transport plane fleet. Von der Leyen commissioned KPMG to complete a study to assess the readiness of the helicopter fleet, and it is fair to say the results were less than satisfactory. The study showed that 50% of the helicopters were unusable and some were even dangerous to fly. Needless to say, this caused a scandal. But the controversy doesn't end there: a flagship foreign policy of the government is to assist the Kurdish fighters by transporting weapons to their bases in Northern Iraq. Yet when the transport plane tried to set off, it couldn't get off the runway - so much for Germany seeking to play a more active role in the world. As if matters couldn't get any worse for the Bundeswehr, Der SPIEGEL sensationally revealed that the main assault rifle for all personnel, the G36, is not accurate when it is fired continuously in hot conditions. It is shocking that this is the case for a NATO state. These three scandals have sunk, for now, Von der Leyen's desire for Germany to play a more active role in the international system.
Moreover, these controversies show how deep and serious the problems for the Bundeswehr have become. Since the end of the Cold War, spending for defence has not been prioritised. The high cost of reunification and the soaring costs of the welfare state are certainly reasons for this, but the overriding concern is that if the Government increases defence spending they will be accused of dragging Germany back to its militaristic and nationalistic past. The German public are deeply pacifist and as a result defence spending and military operations are always controversial, even if the missions are legal and are focused on the softer, civilian side of security provision.
Now is the time when the public must wake up, release itself from the chains of the Nazi legacy and accept reality: Germany is in danger and must defend itself. Putin and Al Baghdadi will be laughing when Germany, a key NATO state with a budget of 43.9 billion dollars, can't transport its soldiers given the lamentable state of the helicopters and planes, and even if the soldiers did arrive, they wouldn't be able to shoot straight.
As a result of scandals and security crises at Europe's borders, Herr Schäuble has promised to spend an extra billion dollars on defence. This is desperately needed and will be welcomed if this policy does indeed come to fruition. In order to effectively maximise its potential, Germany should cooperate further with its allies in multilateral institutions. NATO as an effective military organisation will be fatally weakened, if not made redundant, when the US withdraws from Europe and the European members do not fill the resulting gap in military capabilities. Therefore, European states must take more responsibility for their own security. The framework for European cooperation exists within the Common Defence and Security Program (CSDP) and the European Union Battle groups. Whilst this is all good in theory, in reality the smaller EU states are very reluctant to increase defence spending and far too often the burden is placed on an ungrateful Britain and France.
Some critics would say that the effective armament of the Bundeswehr, which is what I am advocating for, is dangerous, provocative and will create the conditions for an aggressive unilateralist foreign policy. They are very mistaken, as since its reunification, Germany has shown its continued commitment to multilateral organisations and military operations supported by international law and it will continue to do so. Others will say that hard power is useless in today's world and that diplomacy is the best form of solving crises - but look at the failure of the Minsk Treaty and the massacres in Syria and Iraq: sadly, diplomacy and talks are not guaranteed to succeed. When we are confronted with leaders like Putin and Baghdadi we have to confront them in ways that will make them think twice about escalating aggression. That is the willingness to use force to defend ourselves. In effect, a serious deterrent is our best defence. Germany has taken the first step to recognise this, now it must go further and develop concrete policies.