During a special session in the Bundestag, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday announced a historic shift in Germany’s defense policy. In light of an emboldened Russia, Scholz proposed to write a €100 billion defense fund in the country’s constitution, thereby exceeding NATO’s annual spending goal.
Solemnity pervaded the sun-lit German Parliament, when Chancellor Scholz declared that February 24th, the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was “a turning point in history.”
After recognizing that the world is “no longer the same as the world before,” he asked rhetorically whether “might breaks right” and whether Russian President Vladimir Putin “can be allowed to turn back the clock to the days of the 19th century’s great powers.” To countervail that prospect, a mustering of “strength to set limits to warmongers like Putin,” the SPD politician proposed, is needed. “We need to invest significantly more in the security of our country in order to protect our freedom and our democracy in this way,” Scholz concluded. Through a special fund he seeks to establish a powerful, state-of-the-art, and progressive Bundeswehr.
Such moves to rebuild the country’s armed forces would amount to an “unprecedented, common effort” to which he would dedicate the power of his office, Scholz said. The additional funds would help establish Germany as a “reliable and capable partner” with an “appropriate” role in the NATO alliance, he added. Replacing the aging Tornado jets by new atomic weapons-capable aircraft is on the table, while “priority projects” such as the Future Combat Air System, developed in cooperation with France and Spain, as well as the Eurodrone, are already being fast-tracked. Scholz called on all parliamentary groups in the Bundestag to incorporate this special fund in the country’s constitution.
For a long time, Germany’s defense spending had been anemic. Currently, it annually spends upwards of €45 billion, or around 1.5% of its GDP. Scholz’ measures, in addition to the earlier decision to at last provide ‘lethal’ military aid to war-torn Ukraine, would in effect make Germany—Europe’s largest economy—the continent’s preeminent military entity as well. On the world stage, Germany would no longer be solely reliant on its economic and diplomatic prowess.
Ever since NATO decided, in 2014, on a 2% of GDP figure to be spent on defense by each member, Germany’s allies had prodded it to meet that goal. Former U.S. president Donald Trump had also repeatedly chided Berlin for not stepping up and meeting its obligations.
Outright criticisms of the proposal followed. Left-wing faction leader Amira Mohamed Ali (Die Linke) admitted to a mea culpa, in that her party had misjudged Putin’s intentions. Yet, she rejected it should be responded to by an increase in defense spending, remarking that “history teaches us that arms races don’t create security.”
Alice Weidel, leader of the AfD parliamentary group, spoke of the “reprehensibility of the Russian invasion” but blamed the West for forcing it to mount such an attack. It had not expressly denied Ukraine the prospect of joining NATO and had thereby offended Russia, she said.
Leader of the opposition Friedrich Merz (CDU) was quick to denounce such voices, passing them off as “bona fide stakeholders” of the Russian vanguard in Germany—”on the far right and on the far left.” There are too many “Putinversteher” (those who understand Putin) here, he added. “Calling them useful idiots is probably the friendliest way of describing this activity.”
For him, some matters still need to be ironed out. While he expressed support for Scholz’ proposal, and praised his resolve, he remains unwilling to throw his parliamentary group’s support behind the plan. While they’d offer “comprehensive, concrete assistance and support,” Merz made it clear that more discussion is needed on how to cope with debt which would certainly accrue “at the expense of the younger generation.”
Military matters are not all that is on Scholz’s mind. Concurrently, for Germany to become less dependent on Russia for its natural gas, he wants to massively expand so-called renewable energies. To that end, he announced the construction of two liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in Germany. Additional coal and gas reserves are in the offing as well.
Renewable energies would however remain a fixture in Germany’s energy policy. Finance Minister Christian Lindner (Freie Demokratische Partei) stressed that one should not rely on answers from the past. “Renewable energies free us from dependencies. Renewable energies are therefore freedom energies,” he said.
Germany as well as Europe are determined to isolate Russia “economically, financially and politically,” Lindner added. The economic sanctions his country had already imposed on Russia would not only hurt Putin and his country, but Germany as well. It is prepared to bear the consequences, however, because “they are the price of freedom,” he said.
To this, Vice Chancellor and Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) added that the aim is to keep the consequences of the sanctions for Germany small. “The German government will do everything it can to prevent damage— insofar as it is possible—to the German people.”
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock meanwhile focused her attention on aid for refugees. She announced that humanitarian aid for the people in Ukraine would be increased. Accordingly, Germany has upped its contribution to the UN humanitarian aid fund for Ukraine by €5 million. In addition, the German government intends to provide €10 million in the short term to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is active in Ukraine and neighboring countries. “Germany will live up to its humanitarian responsibility. We will have to make provisions for this in the budget and hope for your support in this,” Baerbock told her fellow MP’s.
Faced with fresh challenges, Scholz wants his country to integrate into the EU even more. “Europe is the framework for Germany’s actions,” he said. Mere rhetoric too, is now a thing of the past, it seems. “No talking for the sake of talking,” Scholz stressed. “Dialogue is needed on both sides, but there is an obvious lack of it on Putin’s side. Germany will not rest until peace is secured in Europe.”
Germany, rudely awoken to a new reality, now appears ready to be NATO’s point man on the continent.