mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
NATO Defense
Germany Ponders Big Increase in Defense Spending

In a surprise move that is sure to bring smiles to the faces of many Atlanticists across Europe and the United States, German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the lower house of the country’s parliament to make “an appropriate” addition to the country’s defense budget for the next year. While Merkel did not name a specific number, she is said to have made reference to bridging the gap between what Germany is supposed to spend as a member of NATO and what it in fact does. Handelsblatt reports:

In 2014, the United States spent around 4 percent of GDP, or €560 billion, in defense for NATO, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Germany, by comparison, contributed about 1 percent of spending to defense, or €35 billion.

Both countries are members of NATO.

“We must make a reasonable, significant contribution so that others — on the other side of the Atlantic — can be ready to engage,” Ms. Merkel told the committee, according to Bild, the popular German tabloid newspaper.

Germany has consistently devoted about half of what NATO has asked of its members. To meet NATO spending levels, Germany would have to commit another €25 billion to defense, experts say.

It remains to be seen whether the German Bundestag will vote to raise spending by anything close to that amount. Nevertheless, Merkel has little domestic incentive to bring up such a dramatic increase unless she really means it; framing the conversation in these terms seems to suggest a genuine conviction that the amount German spends on defense needs to increase dramatically, rather than by the 3.6 percent that had been projected for this year. If Germany were to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense (it currently spends around one percent), in accord with the NATO target, that would mean a 70 percent increase in the absolute amount the country spends in one year.

As Christian Moelling, senior resident transatlantic fellow for security at The Marshall Fund in Berlin, told Handlesblatt, hitting the NATO target in one year “would be completely unrealistic.” “But in general,” he continued, “it is realistic for Germany to invest more; we have enough money. We can pay for it. Plus the current constellation in government with the Social Democrats and Conservatives in power looks like they are willing to do it.” Presumably, this is precisely the conversation Frau Merkel is trying to frame.

If so, kudos to the Obama Administration, for according to German sources, Merkel specifically referenced “pressure from our American partners,” as well as economic growth, as the reason for her request. But it’s also not hard to see the role of the refugee crisis, and President Vladmir Putin’s increased adventurism, in this request.

In 2014-5, history came roaring back with a vengeance, and Germany in particular was exposed as unready. Germany has the third largest economy in the world, is technologically advanced, and is surrounded by wealthy allies. And yet it’s struggling, due both to the collapse of a poor, distant country (Syria) and the moves of a second-rate collapsing power (Russia). In both cases, the common problem is a lack of German hard power and the will to use it—neither of which Germany anticipated needing. One thing the Obama Administration’s withdrawal from the Middle East (and its comparative neglect of European affairs) may have done is to teach mainland Europe the hard way why it needs to take defense seriously.

But it will be a long, tough road to get back to readiness. As we’ve noted before, European members of NATO treated defense spending as a piggy bank they could raid at will during the financial crisis, collectively shedding the equivalent in manpower of the entire German army in the years that followed 2008. Measured from the end of the Cold War, the drop-off is even more dramatic. While Merkel may not get all of what she asks for, this request does point to the scale of the challenge involved—for Germany and the rest of Europe.

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • gabrielsyme

    So, what is the over/under on the actual increase? I call 7%, and I will say here that Germany will be ruled by Muslims before they spend 2% of GDP on national defence.

    • Blackbeard

      Well said!

  • jeburke

    In 2014, Russia spent 3.7 % of its GDP on its military or about $70 billion. With its much larger GDP, Germany could easily match that dollar amount. It should, but it won’t.

  • Fat_Man

    A day late, a dollar short.

  • csthor

    Be very careful about this. German politicians have always been great at “talking big” but the reality afterwards was generally much less grandiose and bright. Secondly do not expect a 2% of GDP budget – that would mean another 25 billion Euros on top of the current one (34.something billion Euros) and that is simply unrealistic. No MP is going to propose that and no MP is going to vote for that. The society would tear them to shreds.

    Wait for what really comes out of it. I’ve long since adopted a very skeptical view on such things because I’ve seen big words followed by minimal actions a few times too often.

    • Jim__L

      Do you think that events in Cologne could change society’s view?

      • csthor

        No. If anything it would probably reinforce the conviction that military interventions in muslim countries serve no purpose and only cause us trouble. Given german history we have a very drastic separation of internal and external security. The result is that the Bundeswehr is not allowed to operate on “domestic security terrain” (although that general rule was recently somewhat weakened for the most extreme cases). Things like what happened in Cologne are seen as the responsibility of the police.
        The german mentality vis-a-vis the Bundeswehr is – all things considered – rather simple: it’s not meant to go out in other countries and “do shit” but stay at home. But since currently nobody here really considers any nation a direct military threat (no, not even Russia) there is very little (or rather no) public support for increased defense outlays. I personally think to frame it as a reaction to US pressure was and is a stupid stunt by Merkel, but unfortunately consistent with her general refusal to take responsibility for any political decision. Apparently her dislike for security affairs is so marked that she even has to couch such a decision (which, if I may remind you again, has yet to be explained in detail and which may be much smaller than the grandiose rhetoric suggests) in such terms.

        • Jim__L

          Germans may not be interested in Middle Eastern politics, but Middle Eastern politics are interested in them.

          If she’s framed it as pressure from the US, I wouldn’t be surprised if asking for “appropriate” defense increases was an invitation to decline any defense increases at all.

          • bannedforselfcensorship

            Have there been any large scale attacks in Germany?

            If not, they may just think their police are good enough.

          • Jim__L

            I guess the Berlin nightclub bombing was 30 years ago now, wasn’t it. And the Munich Olympics fifteen years or so before that.

            I wonder though, how much freedom does that mean are they surrendering to a surveillance state?

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I’ve been advocating the American withdrawal from NATO for years. Not only are almost all the Europeans parasites, expecting America to ride to their rescue if they need them, while they loot their defense establishment to pay for their socialist states. But, Turkey has been a horrible ally, that has repeatedly stabbed America in the back in America’s Iraq campaigns. NATO has clearly outlived its usefulness now that the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact are gone, and America should abandon it to sink or swim on its own. There are still nations in Europe that America should have bilateral defense arrangements with, like Great Britain and Poland, but even those should be limited to logistical support, as well as intelligence and technical sharing. America should withdraw all boots on the ground and most if not all basing in Europe, which in anyway might obligate America to fight those nation’s wars for them.

    • csthor

      You have no idea what Socialism really is (having grown up in East Germany I unfortunately do). So please spare us Euros the diatribe and your unsubstantiated claims, will you?

      • bannedforselfcensorship

        That was communism.

        • csthor

          No, it wasn’t. Communism was a supposed “ideal” (I’d call it a mirage, though) that would only be reached at the final point of development. Kind of like the medieval promise of eternal life in heaven given out by the church if you only followed the tenets of the church etc etc to placate the downtrodden ordinary people and peasants. The East German government used the term “Real existing Socialism” in its propaganda.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service