By Tian Yuan
The German Defense Ministry’s spokesperson Frank Finrich said in a recent press conference that Germany’s military expenditure in 2019 was EUR47.9 billion, about 1.39 percent of its GDP. The country plans to increase the military budget to about EUR50.3 billion, or about 1.42 percent of GDP, in 2020, which will be the largest military budget increase in recent years.
Some believed that by increasing its military budget, Germany aims to endorse Europe’s “strategic independence”, but others held that it is just answering to America’s request for more military expenditure in its European allies. As a matter of fact, this round of increase continues Germany’s traditional security path of relying on NATO and EU while also reflecting its re-considerations for international standing and strategic goals.
Seeking a balance between NATO and EU
Germany and France have prominent divergences on EU’s “strategic independence”.
Although the EU and the NATO share many member states, those in Europe rely more on NATO for military and security and more on EU for political and economic purposes.
After Macron came in power, he has displayed a growing desire for diplomatic independence and has repeatedly called for a stronger “strategic independence” for EU. Germany stressed such independence too and supported closer cooperation with France, but it could not put too much emphasis on military development like France did due to historical reasons.
Berlin hopes to strike a balance between NATO and EU and relies more on NATO than on the Paris-led European Security Frame for security. After French President Macron made remarks about NATO being “brain-dead”, German chancellor Merkel insisted that NATO was indispensable.
A main reason for the rising military budget in Germany is the pressure from the US. Germany and the US have been close allies even though their relation has been challenged by the Iraqi war and the Prism incident. Economically speaking, Germany’s “2017 Report on Foreign Investment” showed that among 1,910 FDI (foreign direct investment) projects in the country that year, 276 of which were by American investors, ranking first of all foreign investors.
After Trump was elected president of the US, he has imposed pressure on European allies regarding the sharing of military expenses many times. Washington believed that if Germany’s military expenditure does not reach 2% of GDP, it will be harder for other countries to reach that rate, so Germany should set a good example of itself.
Making efforts forbreakthroughs in capabilities
Apart from the external factors such as NATO and EU, there are also internal considerations that drive Berlin to increase the military budget.
Germany wants to change its national defense and security policies for two reasons. First, it wants to re-establish itself as a major country. Germany has kept a low profile in international affairs after WWII, and “military” has almost become its taboo. But with its rising national strength and consolidated peaceful image, it is no longer content with being a “marginalized participant” in international affairs. Second, it wants to step up the buildup and use of armed forces. Germany’s military expenditure has been consistently small compared with the UK and France. Much of its equipment is aged and lacking in maintenance, and the size of its Bundeswehr (federal defense force) has been kept small too. Germany hopes to develop an armed force commensurate with its strategic goals.
Moreover, the ruling party Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has seen falling support rate recently and the prospects of it winning the election are not good. Therefore, increasing military expenses and uplifting the Defense Ministry’s image will help earn back the lost constituents. For CDU chairman AnnegretKramp-Karrenbauer, becoming defense minister is critical for her to run for chancellor in the future, so increasing military budget is imperative.
Germany’s ambition amid predicament
According to German Defense Ministry’s suggestions in June this year, the military budget will be mainly spent on equipment, including upgrading the Puma infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and medium rocket launcher system, developing heavy-duty transport helicopters and multi-purpose warships, and replacing some warplanes. Ebenhard Zorn, the 16th and incumbent Inspector General of the Bundeswehr of the Bundeswehr, signed a document last September, asking the Bundeswehr to gradually achieve all-round modernization in 2023, 2027 and 2031 step by step. If this plan is executed, it will form three well-equipped digitalized divisions for the German Army, four air taskforces for the Air Force, and add 25 warships and eight submarines for the Navy, turning the German military into a powerful modernized force.
It must be noted that the German economy is growing at a reduced rate and there may be a financial shortfall, so it’s unknown whether the country is able to meet its military needs. Besides, the consistent shortage of military input in the past subjects the German military to many difficulties on the way of transformation. Meanwhile, there are arguments within the country over the future role of the Bundeswehr. The Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) opposes the increase of military expenditure on the grounds that it means the increase of “war machines”, whereas the most pressing issue now is “disarmament and military control”. SPD is worried that the massive increase of military budget will squeeze the allocation to education, transport and social sectors.