19 December 2019

Germany and the new vision on its international military commitment

Negoiţă Sorin

There were many talks lately about Germany’s role and commitments on the international plan. A pro-European and transatlantic Germany, seeking more responsibilities throughout the world, aiming at defending its strategic interests, was the starting point of German defence minister’s speech, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, held at Bundeswehr University , in Munich (November 7th). Conservatory leader’s proposals are quite daring and got the attention of both partners and opponents.

Image source: Mediafax

Where German defence minister’s initiative comes from?

Back in 2016, the German Federal Defence Ministry, decided to modify its security and defence policy, concurrently with defining Bundeswehr’s new architecture. The established objectives were results of the international security environment’s changes and international relations’ developments, but especially Germany’s pro-European and Trans-Atlantic directions, as well as its desire to become a great power.

Therefore, the Federal Cabinet adopted (July 13th 2016), through a common ministerial agreement, the document “White Paper on Bundeswehr’s security policy and future”, wherein the power center was represented by national and collective defence missions, North-Atlantic Alliance’s solidarity and deterrence capacity. The new document was going to become the benchmark of Bundeswehr’s development, and the other departmental planning documents were going to implement its provisions and establish additional development lines.

Starting from the demands on the new White Paper, it was established (March 2017), by the Planning Department within the Federal Defence Ministry, a preliminary conceptual document on defence planning regarding Bundeswehr’s new orientation and strategic restructuring, called “Guidelines for the capabilities of the Bundeswehr”. This internal document was necessary for the general exploitation and clarification of specific measures that were about to be developed by Bundeswehr, for 15 years, to implements the strategic decisions defined by the White Paper.

Bundeswehr’s conceptual modernization process was completed in the summer of 2018 (July 20th), with the adoption of “Bundeswehr Conception” (KdB), which established the common principles for its leadership and organization. This departmental planning document expresses Germany’s willingness, defined in the 2016 White Paper, to commit to more responsibilities worldwide and take the lead and framework-nation role in all cooperation fields: security, defence, armament, but also during international mission and multinational capabilities development.

Germany can no longer be left out in the cold

Following the programmatic documents adopted previously, the German defence minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Angela Merkel’s successor for Christian-Democratic Union’s presidency and, most likely, Germany’s future chancellor, has firmly claimed, at the beginning of November, that Bundeswehr should be more active in more foreign missions. Asked if Germany is not enough committed, from a military perspective, in foreign missions, the German chancellor praised the German military men’s involvement in different areas of the world,  but she claimed that, alike other states, the German state must go after its own economic, political and strategic interests.

This is the second time, in the last months, when the German minister of defence addressed a delicate foreign policy topic, after its NATO counterparts’ proposal, within the Brussels meeting (November 24-25) on the development of a security area led by UN in North of Syria, including Bundeswehr’s interference. Even if the Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas (Social-Democrat) has clearly said that he does not support his Christian-Democratic colleague process, and he was even bothered by the lack of previous consultation and criticized her initiative, during a visit in Ankara (October 26th).

The German Minister of Defence says that, now that US is no longer that committed, Europe experiences new security challenges and Germany must get involved, take the lead and come with new options: “A country like ours, with our size, economic and technological power, a country like ours, with our geo-strategic situation and our global security interests, can no longer stay out and watch”. Germany could become more active on an international plan, given that it has security partners from many global interest areas, not just the Euro-Atlantic one. For example, the minister mentioned the commitments in Sahel area, but also the Indo-Pacific region, where she calls on a deeper cooperation with states like South Korea, Japan and India, but also Australia, to combat China’s strategic threat.

Furthermore, Kramp-Karrenbauer wants to increase the cooperation relations with France and Great Britain, on a European plan, an initiative that will not be that welcomed by some NATO partners. In fact, the NATO Secretary General himself, Jens Stoltenberg, stated that European unity cannot replace the transatlantic unity. Additionally, he said that Germany is a great ally, having important contributions within international missions and should further have an important role for the Alliance. Hereof, he agreed with German defence minister’s statements that Germany can no longer stay out of important moment and must get involved more on an international plan.

Bundeswehr’s foreign military commitments on quaky field

German minister of defence’s proposal is nothing new. It only strengthens German conservative politicians’ proposal from recent years, who were asking a greater military commitment from Germany. One these proposals’ promoters was the former German president, Joachim Gauck (2012-2017), who repeatedly called on it. Also, one of Gauck’s predecessors, Horst Kohler (2004-2010) has even resigned due to many German politicians’ critics on Bundeswehr’s necessity to protect the foreign trade routes and avoid regional instabilities, which were affecting Germany’s commercial opportunities.

Through this initiative, Kramp-Karrenbauer takes a great risk, given that the surveys on current international missions, whereat German soldiers are participating, had no favorable majority. An eloquent example of German leadership’s diplomatic approach in that matter, lately, was German Chancellor’s, Angela Merkel, at the press conference following the G7 Summit in Biarritz (June 2019), where she mentioned, regarding Germany’s commitment in the Sahel area, that it can provide advice, if necessary, but they will not deploy troops in the area. This approach shows us very clearly German security policy’s guidelines so far and makes us believe that a Merkel-led government, at least in the latter part of the mandate, will not act too aggressively against public opinion. Perhaps that is why the Defence German Minister has, however, supported the need for a public debate on all these important issues on defining the German security interests.

The Federal defence minister proposal for Bundeswehr’s additional commitment in foreign operations has raised many debates within the German political spectrum.

The Bundestag defence Ombudsman, Hans-Peter Bartels (Social Democrat), welcomed, to some extent, the vision of governing partner on Germanys’ "global responsibility" (in terms of the largest country in Europe and fourth world’s economic power), but wanted to specify that for important military missions, the Federal Army lacks the necessary personnel and equipment. The politician said that Germany has displaced more than 3,000 troops in Afghanistan, Mali, Niger, the Balkans, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, Jordan and Iraq, as well as NATO commitments in Europe and Bundeswehr is already facing some blockages. Also, social-democratic politicians Norbert Walter Borjans and Saskia Esken, recently elected at the head of Social-Democratic Party (November 30), are rejecting Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer's plan and are claiming that the discussion about sending German military personnel anywhere in the world, in favor of diplomacy, cooperation for sustainable development and conflict prevention, is completely false.

As expected, there were many critics from the other parliamentary parties. Thus, the Greens are not very pleased with Minister of Defence’s initiative, considering that foreign missions should not be "a goal in itself". They are also asking whether the Bundeswehr would allow more international missions than those already participating at.

Neither German left did not take too long to react. Party’s president, Bernd Riexinger, was much sharper, calling the defense minister's proposal a "renewed German imperialism", which aims to raise awareness of economic wars and follow a wrong, even dangerous, geopolitical direction. According to him, securing German economic interests by force leads to "an irresponsible historical foundation".

More money for defence

To support the presented initiative, the Defence German Minister again questioned the need for increased defense spending and reiterated very clearly the commitment to reach these expenditures at 2% of gross domestic product (GDP), by 2031. She wanted to point out that this must be understood, not necessarily because it has repeatedly been asked by President Trump from all North Atlantic Alliance’s member states, but by the fact that it is matching their own German security interests.

Indeed, since 2014, the defense budget has increased by 40%, whereof 12% in 2019 only (1.35% of GDP) and should reach 1.5% of GDP in the next five years.

In fact, the minister Kramp-Karrenbauer had already requested, in September, a further defence budget increase for the following year, considering that the planned one, worth of only 1.7 billion euros compared to this year (43.23 billion euros), is insufficient and would have endangered key projects. She also stated that Bundeswehr’s medium-term consolidation is a must. In this endeavor, now, she was supported by the social-democratic governing partners. Thus, through the voice of defense issues expert of Bundestag’s social-democratic faction, Fritz Felgentreu, it is revealed that Germany relies on a quite small army, which must be properly equipped and, therefore, defense spending must be increased.

The opposition, on the other hand, has strongly criticized Bundeswehr's financial demands, as well as the unsolved procurement issues so far. It is noteworthy the position of far-right Alliance for Germany, which believes that the German state, despite the billions of euros proposed for defense, has an army that cannot fulfill country and Alliance’s defense mission.

Following German Defence Minister’s insistence, the German Parliament approved (November 29th), for 2020, the biggest military budget so far, up to approximately 45.05 billion euros, with an additional allocation for Bundeswehr’s international missions and NATO commitments. Moreover, German Chancellor Merkel promised in the Bundestag (November 27) that Germany would meet the 2% target by the early 1930s, and insisted on the importance of NATO’s conservation, which is a "bastion for peace and freedom."

A new National Security Council and faster and firmer decisions on missions

Kramp-Karrenbauer seems to be very serious in supporting Germany's stronger commitment abroad. It sees various challenges in an intensely changed security policy: Russian aggression in Ukraine, international Islamic terrorism, China's ascension, and so on.

Therefore, German Defence Minister wants to transform the current Federal Security Council[1] into a National Security Council, which should develop a more assertive defense policy, coordinate instruments such as diplomacy, the military system, economy and trade, internal security and development cooperation. The new Security Council should improve the German contribution to international crisis management and it could provide ongoing responses to urgent defence and security issues.

Moreover, the German official requested the Bundestag to analyze Bundeswehr’s mandates quickly, because otherwise it would create "uncertainties about its availability for performance". Therefore, in order for Parliament to make faster decisions on missions led by UN, NATO or with European partners, it calls for a simplification and acceleration of the parliamentary analysis and endorsement process.

To that end, the German minister only seems to get support from the ​​political-military security analysis. Thus, the former chairman of NATO’s Military Committee (2002-2005), the German general in reserve Harald Kujat, sees Mrs. Kramp-Karrenbauer's proposals as a great first step, and Wolfgang Ischinger, the head of Munich Security Conference, fully supports the foundation of a National Security Council.

But, in this case, too, the social-democratic partners from the ruling coalition are refusing Kramp-Karrenbauer's plans. Thus, the foreign policy expert of Bundestag’s social-democratic faction, Nils Schmid, believes that there is no need for an additional decision-making body, but for everyone to do their job, while the federal defense ministry must provide Bundeswehr’s operational capacity. On the other hand, Felgentreu does not really see how this new Council will be more powerful and efficient, unless the Federal Ministry of Defense would like to be more involved in foreign policy issues.


According to information presented during her speech (almost 4 months after taking office), German defense minister's vision on defense and security issues was almost exclusively oriented towards an international crisis management, without referring to national and collective defense, as stated in the 2016 White Paper and which represents defense planning’s basic programmatic document.

All these Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer initiatives would lead to profound structural changes in Germany's foreign and security policy. Such an approach is simply opposed to Angela Merkel’s political view, who has shown "stability" throughout her term. This is because the German analysts have been advocating, for some time, Germany’s more active involvement in maintaining its exporting nation status quo.

Translated by Andreea Soare

[1] The Federal Security Council (BSR) is a committee of the Federal Cabinet (first convened by Konrad Adenauer in 1955). His hearings are conducted by Federal Chancellor and are not available for the public. The Federal Security Council coordinates the security and defense policy of the Federal Government and is responsible for approving arms exports. It may have the final decision, unless a decision of the Federal Government is required under the Fundamental Law or a federal law. The permanent members of the Federal Security Council, in addition to the federal chancellor and the head of the federal chancellery, are the federal ministers of foreign affairs, finance, home affairs, justice, defense, the minister for economic affairs and energy and the federal minister for economic cooperation and development. https://www.bmvg.de/de/bundessicherheitsrat-bsr--14556, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundessicherheitsrat