Germany has rejected Merkel's military legacy

28 February 2022

11:30 PM

28 February 2022

11:30 PM

‘We are witnessing a turning point… the world is not the same anymore,’ said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz yesterday in a speech that will be remembered as the country’s biggest military shift since 1945. Staring down the barrel of Putin’s gun, Scholz announced a massive and immediate cash injection for Germany’s armed forces as well as a long-term commitment to higher defence spending.

Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine has pulled Germany out of decades of complacency and misguided pacifism. Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock seemed genuinely shocked at the discrepancy between Putin’s words during her visit to Moscow last month and his actions in Ukraine. She has said she feels betrayed: ‘stone-cold lied to.’

Now Baerbock feels the moment has come for ‘a 180 degree’ turn. ‘Germany will leave the era of reluctant foreign policy behind’. The Chancellor too stepped up his tone. He said Putin had ‘provoked a coldblooded offensive war’ against Ukraine, solely because Ukrainian freedom ‘puts into question his own oppressive regime’. Scholz’s emotional speech condemned Russian actions as ‘inhumane’, ‘unscrupulous’ and ‘appallingly unjust’ — words that were met with long spells of applause from the German parliament.

The realisation has clearly sunk in that the long underfunding of Germany’s armed forces has left them hollowed out. The country’s ability to act in times of crisis has been hindered.

Scholz announced that, in the short term, the Bundeswehr, Germany’s military, will receive a massive one-off cash injection of €100 billion ‘in order to put the troops in a position where they can do their duty’. To put this remarkable sum into perspective: the entire defence budget for the year 2021 was €47 billion, less than half the special boost it has just received. Scholz’s pledge that this money will be used for ‘necessary investment and planned rearmament’ sends a welcome message of support to Nato allies.

In the long term, Scholz committed to building a stronger Bundeswehr from the ground up. While the long trend of defence cuts and stagnation had begun to be reversed in 2019, following pressure from the US and other Nato allies, the forces had already been depleted to such a degree that Germany’s military chief said last week that he was ‘pissed off’. Now Scholz is promising a return to a Bundeswehr that can act effectively when called upon.

‘From now on we will invest more than 2 per cent of GDP in our defence year on year,’ the Chancellor said — breaking years of German resistance to foreign pressure over the Nato commitment. But he emphasised that this was done not just to foreign calls for collective defence but ‘also for our own security’.

Scholz was also deliberately explicit about the type of gear that might be acquired with the increased budget. He vowed to replace Germany’s ageing Tornado jets that could be used to deliver US nuclear bombs and are a vital part of Nato deterrence. A possible upgrade could be coming in the form of American F-35 fighter jets, although Scholz wants to ‘build the next generation of war planes and tanks together with European partners — particularly France — here in Europe.’

The German Chancellor also acknowledged that modern warfare required new technologies which he wants to direct some of the money towards. He mentioned defence systems against cyber attacks and misinformation, the planned acquisition of the Heron Drone from Israel and greater investment in the Eurodrone project, the contracts for which were signed last week.

Scholz was right. Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has marked a turning point for Germany. Having won the election on a continuity ticket, this German chancellor would happily have continued the path of indecisive foreign policy laid out by his predecessor Angela Merkel. Instead, he has found himself confronted with the consequences of her inaction. The fact that he has faced the mistakes of the past and is starting to address them has to be applauded. Germany’s difficult past has rightly created a long legacy of military caution. Now Germany must find the courage to look forward, not just back.

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