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Germany’s €100 billion defence pivot

Germany’s €100 billion defence pivot

The recent invasion of Ukraine has prompted the German government – made up of social democrats, greens and liberals – to reverse decades of German pacifism and pivot toward building a stronger military and defence industry.

The recent invasion of Ukraine has prompted the German government – made up of social democrats, greens and liberals – to reverse decades of German pacifism and pivot toward building a stronger military and defence industry.

Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has prompted governments the world over to reflect on their defence capabilities. Even in an era marked by relative stability, the recent conflict has demonstrated that the threat of war between two nuclear powers nevertheless presents an immediate threat and cannot be overlooked.

Few countries felt this wake up call like Germany. Overnight, the German government reversed its longstanding defence policy and announced swathes of reforms to bring its defence spending in line with the 2 per cent NATO requirement.


Writing in Forbes, Loren Thompson succinctly summarised the recent conflict and German rearmament: “Putin’s biggest blunder is that he has managed to clear the path for Germany’s return to its traditional status as central Europe’s dominant military power.”

In fact, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has gone as far as to suggest that overreliance on diplomacy in the current era was “naïve” – marking an end to decades of German pacifism.  

However, Sophia Besch, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, and Sarah Brockmeier, doctoral researcher at the Peache Research Institute Frankfurt, writing in War on the Rocks this week explained that there would be some growing pains for the Bundeswehr despite its expanded budget.

The pair argued that Germany’s key political decision makers ignored, “crafting strategy; reforming government bureaucracies; altering the structures and processes of decision-making on foreign, security, and defense policy; and explaining all this to the wider public.”

Without the necessary systems in place to support the Bundeswehr, money alone will not be a sufficient remedy for years of military neglect.

There is also significant uncertainty surrounding the budget.

While the pair note that the recent spending commitments would make Germany the world’s third largest military spender, there remains little insight into where the additional funds will be allocated. There is also extreme uncertainty considering the ideological mixture of the ruling coalition’s member parties.

“This major shift in German defense was decided by a government led by a chancellor from the Social Democratic Party, which has traditionally supported Russia-friendly policies, with a foreign minister from the Green party, which has roots in the pacifist movement, and a finance minister from the Free Democratic Party, long committed to tight budgets,” the pair note.

Besch and Brockmeier were not alone in their analysis.

Bastian Giegerich, director of defence and military analysis at the IISS, and Ben Schreer, executive director of ISS-Europe, note that increased spending is no panacea for a nation’s military woes.

“However, more money does not automatically translate into military capability: it is an enabler only. Germany needs to tie increased military-related spending to geopolitics, strategy, people, and its defence industry,” the pair assess.

“Moreover, Berlin needs to urgently reform and streamline its defence procurement and acquisition process. The new defence minister, Christine Lambrecht, seems to have identified this as a priority even before Sunday’s revelations.”

It will likely take years for the Bundeswehr to realise the benefits of an expanded military budget as Berlin seeks to build and reinforce the civilian and military structures that support a nation’s warfighters.

Will the UK follow suit?

Over to the West, and analysts are expecting that UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak will announce increased defence funding in next week’s spring statement. A necessary step to reverse the inflation adjusted cuts to British military expenditure.

Under the British government’s current force structure plan, Downing Street has resolved to reduce the size of the British Army by 9,500 soldiers to 72,500 by 2025. Such a reduction marks the smallest British Army since 1714.

To compensate, Downing Street hopes to court a model of qualitative advantage in which smaller units of deployed troops are supported by better technology including robot-human teaming and increased electronic warfare capabilities.

Explaining the shake up, Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse, CBE, MC, noted, “Future Soldier is the next step in the evolution of the British Army; it is the most radical change for the British Army in 20 years. It will change the way we fight and operate, and make us more lethal, agile and lean.

“It will be underpinned by changes to structure, technology, and workforce. Future Soldier is fundamentally about ensuring the British Army is a competitive and resilient organisation able to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, wherever they may be.”

Despite this, the British government’s cuts have hit all sectors of defence. Last year it was announced that the Royal Navy would lose an estimated two to three frigates over the next five years, while the RAF is expected to retire the C-130J Hercules next year, reduce the number of Typhoons by 24 and halve the original order of F-35Bs.

Considering these capability reductions, it is not yet evident how the UK could follow a policy of “increased deployability and technological advantage” (as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace outlines).

To compare Britain’s military footprint to that of a global superpower, in 2019 an image of a Chinese shipyard was posted online in which a single shipyard was constructing nine destroyers. Former Forbes contributor HI Sutton provided a sobering thought: “To put that into context, the Royal Navy’s entire destroyer fleet is just six ships. And this yard is just part of a much bigger construction program.”

However, such cuts to the size of the military have faced political scrutiny.

According to the BBC, the Labour opposition emerged against many of the proposed reforms, saying that “size matters” in the military. An interesting insight given 91 per cent of veterans represented in the House of Commons are members of the Conservative Party.

Writing in War on the Rocks this week, Chris Morris explained that British defence policy has planned for the war it wants rather than the war it will necessarily get.

“This, at least, was Britain’s approach when it drafted its global trends report in 2018. Now, several years into that imagined future, the limitations of such wishful thinking are becoming ever more clear. Rather than realistically confront its budget limitations, the British government remains committed to planning for an unrealistic scenario in which it can cut spending and reduce its conventional forces without sacrificing global military power,” Morris wrote.

In response to this policy, he recommends that the British government “insulate” those undertaking future military projections from the broader government apparatus including those determining budgets and marketing the widespread changes.

Silver linings

However, the UK’s Global Strategic Trends report published in 2018 does possess some crucial strategic insights including the need for a resilient cyber space capability and a strong defence industry capability that can rapidly scale up in times of conflict.

“The construction of a National Cyber Centre, for example, serves as an indication that the United Kingdom believes offensive cyber operations represent an effective, more economical alternative to the use of conventional force. Concurrent investments in space further emphasise that the United Kingdom imagines fighting future wars with different tools,” Morris notes.

“Consistent with this recognition, the 2021 integrated review recommends the United Kingdom also allocate significant funds to the Royal Navy, as well as securing the aspects of British industry needed to support the fleet.”

Nevertheless, these benefits are likely to be eclipsed by the threats posed by large-scale changes in Britain’s force structure and the inability for a nation to speedily undo the impacts of ageing infrastructure and fleets.

“The extent to which these new capabilities can offset the loss of concrete and established capabilities is also uncertain. As many pieces of older equipment age out of service, a clear schedule for replacements is often difficult to determine. The United Kingdom may keenly feel these losses, given that it may see its forces deployed more frequently and for longer periods,” Morris contends.

While admirable that the UK should seek qualitative superiority in the domains of cyber and space, it should not come at the expense of reducing kinetic fighting capabilities.

Coalition building

Neither the faltering British economy nor the country’s middling population favour a larger standing military, however, the United Kingdom has boosted its policy of coalition building to overcome these shortfalls and project its interests the world over.

Late 2021, the British and Ukrainian government embarked on negotiations to commence the UK’s first arms deal with the country. This week, it was announced that the British would sell anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainian government and provide training on their use. The deal coincided with a fiery speech from SEC Ben Wallace on the rights of an independent Ukraine.

Last November, the United Kingdom deployed troops to Poland and Lithuania to support the countries amid last year’s weaponised migrant crisis with Belarus. Speaking to the BBC, Secretary Wallace noted, “What we will do is send some Royal Engineers - that is part of the Army designed for building or making fences or roads or putting in infrastructure. We are going to be using that part of our forces to help the Poles and potentially other Baltic states to secure their border.”

At the same time, the Polish and British governments announced that they would undertake technology sharing arrangements to design and develop “Poland’s future Ground-Based Air Defence System”, with Secretary Wallace noting that “this agreement will deliver a step change in our defence co-operation with Poland and paves the way for our militaries to operate even more closely".

Just last year, the Five Power Defence Arrangements between Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the US celebrated its 50th anniversary a month before the Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined Prime Minister Scott Morrison and President Joe Biden to announce the AUKUS trilateral security arrangement.

While Britain may intend to scale back on the size of its military, the nation's projection of power through coalition building remains stable.

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