Germany debates bigger military budget

Country sits uneasy amid US calls to share responsibility on defence

BERLIN • As the Trump administration ratchets up the pressure on allied nations to shoulder more of their own defence, no country is more in the crosshairs than Germany.

If it meets the goals that Washington is pushing for, Germany - the region's economic powerhouse - would be on the fast track to again become Western Europe's biggest military power. Any renaissance of German might has long been resisted first and foremost by the Germans themselves - the nation largely rejected militarism in the aftermath of the Nazi horror.

Yet a rethinking of German power is quickly emerging as one of the most significant twists of United States President Donald Trump's transatlantic policy.

Since the November election in the US, the Germans - caught between Mr Trump's America and President Vladimir Putin's Russia - are feeling less and less secure.

Coupled with Mr Trump's push to have allies step up, the Germans are debating a military build-up in a manner rarely witnessed since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Since Mr Trump's victory, German politicians, pundits and media have agonised over the issue, with more and louder voices calling for a stronger military.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for cool heads, but also for increased military spending.

Her Defence Minister, Dr Ursula von der Leyen, has been more forceful, saying recently that Germany cannot "duck away" from its military responsibility.

Last month, the defence ministry announced plans to increase Germany's standing military to nearly 200,000 troops by 2024, up from a historical low of 166,500 in June last year. After 26 years of cuts, defence spending is going up by 8 per cent this year.

For many Germans, there are many reasons against a resurgence of its military power - including overspending and fears of sparking a new arms race.

According to a poll commissioned by Stern magazine and published this year, 55 per cent of Germans are against increasing defence spending in the coming years, while 42 per cent are in favour.

In 2014, German officials agreed with other Nato nations to spend at least 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence within 10 years - up from about 1.2 per cent last year.

Until recently, however, many German officials privately acknowledged that such a goal - which would see Germany leapfrog Britain and France in military spending - was politically untenable.

Although considered a distant possibility, some outlier voices are mentioning the once inconceivable - the advent of a German nuclear bomb.

"If Trump sticks to his line, America will leave Europe's defence to the Europeans to an extent that it hasn't known since 1945," Mr Berthold Kohler, publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, wrote in a recent opinion piece.

That could mean "higher defence spending, the revival of the draft, the drawing of red lines and the utterly unthinkable for German brains - the question of one's own nuclear defence capability".

Germany, along with its regional allies, has begun exploring an increase of military activity through joint European operations.

Experts see that, and Nato, as the most likely funnels for German military power.

And as Germany grows bolder, outdated imagery is roaring back to life through Russian propaganda.

Last week, the Russian defence ministry announced the building of a reproduction of the old German Reichstag at a military theme park near Moscow, offering young Russians a chance to re-enact the 1945 storming of the structure during the fall of Berlin.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'Germany debates bigger military budget'. Print Edition | Subscribe