German military said to take more assertive role in policy shift

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a working session at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 9.
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a working session at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 9.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (Bloomberg) - Germany will take on greater military leadership in global conflicts, requiring a sustained increase in defense spending and troop strength, according to plans for the nation's first overhaul of security policy in a decade.

A "renaissance of classic power politics" is increasing "the risk of violent conflict between states, including in Europe and its neighborhood, as the example of Russia's actions in Ukraine demonstrate," according to a draft document by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government obtained by Bloomberg.

Merkel's Cabinet is expected to discuss the so-called white paper at its weekly meeting on Wednesday (July 13), just days after she and fellow Nato leaders including President Barack Obama met at the alliance's summit in Poland.

Germany is ready to take on responsibilities and leadership, reflecting "our increased role in international security policy," according to the document, which also backs further consolidation of Europe's defence industry.

Germany's last white paper, adopted in 2006, describes the country only as a "reliable partner" in international military missions.

While containing caveats about self-imposed military restraint and acting in concert with Germany's partners, the draft lays out a shifting view of outside challenges - from Russia to refugees - that's already driving Merkel and her government towards a more assertive stance.

That includes arming Kurdish fighters in Iraq, aiding US-led airstrikes in Syria and leading a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation battalion to be deployed in Lithuania as part of the alliance's deterrence push against Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Germany's armed forces face an unprecedented confluence and range of crises and conflicts, so defence spending and troop strength need to keep rising in the years ahead, according to the draft.

That reflects the stance taken by Merkel and her defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, who in May announced Germany's first buildup of military personnel since the Cold War ended 25 years ago.

Of Germany's 177,000-strong armed forces, 3,300 troops are deployed on international missions, according to the Defense Ministry.

Germany'sbudget includes an almost 7 per cent boost in defence spending to 36.6 billion euros (S$54 billion) in 2017 and further increases in subsequent years. Even so, Merkel said last week that "much remains to be done" before Germany reaches Nato's goal of spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence.

"Germany is taking on responsibility and continually new tasks alongside its partners and allies," while recognising that "military means alone can't lead to lasting solutions," Merkel said in a speech to parliament on Thursday.