Olaf Scholz is all talk, no tank
The Chancellor's €100bn military promise hasn't materialised
When Russia invaded Ukraine, the immediate reaction of almost every Western country was to pledge a new focus on defence, including significant increases in military spending and a reduced dependency on potentially hostile nations. Poland, for example, has decided to move forward with nuclear power and push its defence spending from 2.4% of GDP (already the third highest among NATO states) to 4%, making it the most formidable military power on the old continent. Even smaller and traditionally non-aligned states like Sweden and Finland altered course, applying for NATO membership and closer ties to the US and its allies.
Most vocal about a new era, however, was Germany. Turning away from Ostpolitik, which aimed at rapprochement with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the so-called Zeitenwende (historic shift) on February 27, only three days after Moscow’s invasion. It promised an immediate €100bn injection into Germany’s armed forces and the intention to rebuild the Bundeswehr into Europe’s most powerful military.
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Over a year after Scholz’s speech, the Zeitenwende plan has involved more talk than action. According to an annual report cited in the Financial Times, at current pace the hyped military upgrade would take “half a century”. When asked how much of the “immediate” €100bn has been invested into the armed forces, Eva Högl, the parliamentary commissioner for the Bundeswehr, had to admit with some reluctance: “not a cent.”
A closer inspection of the numbers shows that the current budget would once again fail to meet the NATO obligation of 2% of GDP dedicated to defence, having barely met 1.44% in 2022. It has not always been like this. As the former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby has pointed out, a geographically smaller and economically weaker Germany managed to arm and maintain the largest European armed forces during the Cold War.
The problem isn’t technical or economic: it’s political. Despite their vocal support for Ukraine, neither the SPD nor the Greens are willing to spend the necessary money to fulfil their promises. Given that the government is prepared to spend nearly a trillion euros over the next 25 years on climate change, there is little room left for upgrading the armed forces. Besides, the move would likely not be especially popular anyway: according to polling from earlier this month, barely 20% of Germans would be willing to fight for their country, compared with 47% in Poland or 74% in Finland. Berlin knows that talking about providing money for the Bundeswehr is more popular than actually carrying through with the funding.
Support for Ukraine and the German military is more a form of contemporary virtue signalling than a serious change in attitude. It is not just the lack of military spending that stands out: similarly, there are no serious plans to become truly energy-independent. The German government still intends to double its gas power plants (which will be hard to supply solely by LNG, making a return to Russian gas likely), phase out nuclear power, and increase dependency on Russia’s most important partner, China.
The Zeitenwende is akin to these empty pledges on energy independence, or for that matter my passion for going to the opera. I like to talk about it, but it never really happens.
More than happy for the Germans not to have a military to be honest.
But seriously a Country the size of Germany should have the ability to defend itself against rogue nations like the US, if they don’t the more attacks like the nordstream will happen again
Well if that’s your theory then NATO ought to be responding on their behalf!
The Germans need to grow some b***s and stand up for themselves, telling the neocons where to go would be a good start
Germany is still immersed in a sea of guilt. They might see themselves as the leaders of Europe but this is very much in a commercial sense. In times when A invades B, the Germans will never do anything.
We, on the other hand, don’t seem to have this feeling of guilt so we are doing a lot of shouting and posturing. Maybe we should start to feel some guilt? How far does guilt go back? Some people would say back to the time of slavery.
I feel that our guilt doesn’t have to go back as far as that. We could show our feelings to the world by prosecuting Blair as a war criminal. By doing that we would demonstrate that we really care what is happening in other parts of the world. It would give us a right to comment, for a start.
Blair will wiggle and wriggle his way out of that by maintaining that HM The Queen was Head of State and therefore head of the Armed Forces. HM Ships, Royal Air Force, Royal Regiment of Wales, Scotland, Etc.
Yes but you can start proceedings and see where it leads.
I never supported Blair’s illegal war, so I guess I do have the right to comment.
I wonder what Germany’s geopolitical future will be. As a merchantile nation it has built it’s recent past on business with China backed by cheap Russian energy. Germany would like to be Janus looking both east and west. The US has made it clear that this isn’t an acceptable option; time will tell us whether Hersch’s assertion about Nord stream is correct and how far the US went in enforcing that policy. Perhaps Scholz’s ambiguity is calculated beyond the political. Perhaps Ostpolitik in the broadest sense still has life in it.
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