18 November 2020

The German minister of defence held an important speech at the Bundeswehr University from Hamburg

Negoiţă Sorin

On November 17th, the German minister of defence, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, held, for the second time since taking over the defence portfolio, an important speech, this time online, for the students of the Bundeswehr Herald-Schmidt University from Hamburg. A year ago, approximately during the same period (November 7th 2019), she called, at the Bundeswehr University from Munch, for a “Pro-European and transatlantic Germany, willing to commit more in the world” .

Image source: Profimedia

The general strategic situation is changing

Kramp-Karrenbauer stated in her speech that “the general strategic situation is changing, it is concentrated and it clearly becomes recognized”. According to her, the US elections’ results at the beginning of November opened new opportunities in the international policy and, especially, in the security and defence policy and the Europeans should fully take advantage on that.

On the other hand, China has recently signed the world’s biggest record of free exchange with 14 countries from the Indo-Pacific region, which leads to a change on the global power towards the Pacific. This is happening while Russia, another global actor placed nearby EU, on NATO’s eastern flank, continues to arm itself with conventional and nuclear missile systems.

The German defence minister seemed worried that all these international “actions” are being developed in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, and the economic, political, social and strategic consequences cannot be fully anticipated.

The Berlin leader thinks that Germany will have to prove to be “more responsible” in order to contribute to Europe’s development and of its own nation in terms of foreign policy and security, something that all political groups wish for, but needs a democratic validation from the German citizens.

The German minister of defence continued to talk about the multiple challenges ahead of the European states, among them being the extension of authoritarian systems, the existence of states opposing the Western model of open societies, the democracy and rule of law, the pre-existent pressures on supply chains and trade methods, the cyber attacks on institutions and critical infrastructures, the enlargement of last-generation weapon systems (drones, hypersonic missiles, etc) and, not least, the spread of the terrorist phenomenon, especially the Islamism.

Furthermore, Kramp-Karrenbauer thinks that within both NATO and EU there are some uncertainties in terms of how much can we rely on the US, how decided is Germany but also how much can the Europeans rely on each other when necessary. Also, the German official is interested in how differently threats are perceived, such as Russia, for example, depending on states’ position in Europe (Riga or Stockholm comparing to Paris or Rome).

Pragmatism and stability in the relation European neighbors and the UE

The German minister also stated that Germany was always “dependent on allies for the freedom, peace and wealth” of German citizens. To that end, the most important ally in terms of the defence and security policy was and will continue to be the US, which through its conventional and nuclear capacities dislocated in Europe is providing the protection of European states. According to Kramp-Karrenbauer, 70% of the so-called “strategic facilities” (air reconnaissance, helicopters, air refueling, and satellite communications), almost all defence capabilities against ballistic missiles and, indeed, most of the nuclear deterrence capabilities are provided by the US. Not least, around 76.000 US soldiers are dislocated in and serving Europe.

Thus, the German leader thinks that, according to estimations, the trade-off the US is offering to Europe currently could last for decades and the small defence budgets of the European states could not handle the situations, which make the Europeans extremely interested in keeping US close in the future. But she is convinced that this will not happen if the Europeans will not contribute to their own safety and will not take security more seriously.  To that end, Kramp-Karrenbauer criticized the “strategic autonomy idea”, launched by the French president Emmanuel Macron a while ago, as, according to her, the idea “goes too far if it fosters the illusion that we can guarantee security, stability and prosperity in Europe without NATO and without the US”. Moreover, she thinks that a strategic autonomy as a complete detachment in relation to the US would create bigger costs than the 2% of GDP allotted to the defence field, as the NATO member states committed six years ago, at the Wales summit.

Europe must contribute more to NATO and the EU

According to Annegrett Kramp-Karrenbauer, Germany must reach three important key points in terms of the defence policy, in the following period:

- consolidate the defence budget, even considering the coronavirus pandemic, to enlarge the defence capabilities;

-commit to an active role in the nuclear policy within NATO;

-have a common Europe-US agenda in terms of China, where these two have common interests.

These objectives are matching the German ambitions for Europe, which is for “Europe to do more within NATO and EU”. This is the reason why Germany established important objectives during the EU council presidency, which started in the midst of this year:

 -create a strategic compass, based on a common threats analysis, for a clear orientation of the security and defence policy;

-increase the cooperation between the European medical services, given the experience gained during the coronavirus pandemic;

-get third states to participate to PESCO, so that non-European partners to be able to join it too;

-find a European solution to properly equip the partner armed forces they are training.