With Russia menacing Europe again, the German public is finally coming around to the need for hard-power defense. The Financial Times reports:
[T]he Russian threat to European stability has galvanised backing for a more active military. A recent YouGov poll showed 49 per cent support for increased defence spending, versus 36 per cent against. Christian Mölling of the Berlin-based SWP think-tank says: “We didn’t really understand about sending expeditions to other parts of the world. But this is the old narrative about the defence of our homeland.”
After limiting defence spending for 25 years, Berlin will boost the military budget by 6 per cent over the next five years, starting with a €1.2bn increase next year to €34.2bn.
The Germans will have a long way to go, though:
The armed forces have been cut from 500,000 for the then West Germany alone in 1990 to 180,000 now. Conscription has gone. So has a vast battle tank fleet, the mainstay of cold war European defence, with numbers dropping from 2,125 to about 250. With funds tight, the government abandoned trying to keep the military fully equipped and limited levels to 70 per cent.
Not only that, much of the equipment they do have doesn’t work. The current budget is anemic (at 1.3% of GDP, well below than the 2% NATO target). And as the FT points out, because of procurement and training processes, even big changes may take a while to translate into actual capabilities.
However, those who would like to see a stronger Germany have had a few strokes of luck. One is that the hard-charging Ursula van der Leyen, Angela Merkel’s heir apparent, is the Defense Minister. She’s used it effectively to bring attention to a portfolio that often isn’t as highly regarded in Europe as it is in the U.S.
More than that, the German public, as both the polls and political situation indicate, has finally started to come to terms with the necessity of balancing between pacifism and militarism. As we’ve noted before, the ability to maintain and control an effective military responsibly is part of being a mature democracy. We understand why it’s taken Germany so long to get here again, and that delay is certainly a good thing. But Germany has had two generations of liberal parliamentary democracy, and now is the leading power in an increasingly threatened Europe. This kind of shift in opinion and stance is both promising and necessary.