German Defense Policy: Two Major Stories

Nader Elhefnawy
4 min readDec 21, 2022

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A couple of weeks ago Der Spiegel broke a story about the German government’s new “Operational Guidelines for the Armed Forces” document. Pretty much ignored in the English-speaking press, and especially the American press (in spite of its obvious significance) it specifically calls for a break from the post-Cold War German (and European) norm of emphasizing lighter forces for brisk out-of-area interventions to large combat forces in the NATO area for resisting major attack.

This sounded to me like a shift to something more like the Cold War-era sizing and structure of its forces.

Just to see how big a shift this would be consider the West German armed forces pre-reunification. These approached a half million personnel, with an army of over 300,000 organized into a dozen divisions, ten of them “heavies,” and six of those armored. These were backed up by 700,000 reservists.

Today’s German army is more like 60,000, with three divisions. Two of them are officially “armored” divisions, but only if one uses the term loosely — combining the armored assets of the two getting you at best only one underpowered armored division. Meanwhile the reserves are down by 99 percent. The result is that if they were totally mobilized you would have, instead of an army of 1 million, a mere 70,000 personnel.

Especially given the operational deficiencies of the German armed forces as they exist now (at least, assuming the reports of low readiness, decrepit facilities, etc. are not just a ploy by officers and industrialists and right-wingers angling for a bigger defense budget), the need to replace aging equipment with very expensive new stuff (F-35s to replace Tornados), plans for pricey new strategic capabilities (anti-ballistic missiles do not come cheap), and grand R & D programs (like Europe’s own sixth-generation fighter), it seemed to me that there was a significant gap between even the announced increase of German defense spending, and any serious expansion of the German armed forces.

Moreover, now it seems that the budgetary increase announced back in February will not be forthcoming.

Under that aforementioned announcement the defense budget was supposed to be ramped up to 2 percent of GDP by 2023, while the government this year committed to a 100 billion euro “one-off” supplement to that projected spending (the equivalent of an extra 2.5 percent). However, the 2 percent target has officially been kicked down the road (to 2025 if one pays the spokesman’s “cautious optimism” any heed), while that 100 billion euros, the value of which has already been eroded by the plummeting of the euro’s value and plain old inflation so that it is already worth less than it was in February, is, if committed, far from actually being used.

Thus far it seems this failure to use the money is not for lack of interest on the part of the government. Instead the principals are giving everyone the old runaround that makes so many the world over hold bureaucrats and politicians in contempt, with the Defense and Finance Ministries each sniveling that “it’s the other ministry’s fault,” all as some bizarrely accuse German industry of failing to move more briskly. (“Is it up to the industry to increase capacity first, or should the government have placed orders more quickly?” asks Deutsche Welle’s Ben Knight — while I ask “Since when were profit-making private companies supposed to sacrifice their bottom lines to enlarging capacity in anticipation of orders that might or might not come?”)

Of course, one may suspect more than that is going on. I have yet to see mention of the continent’s energy woes as a possible factor in slowing the “rearmament” process, or the broader problems manufacturers generally are having with their supply chains post-COVID and post-war, or the way in which rising labor strife and inflation and interest rates and looming recession (so grave that some are speaking of a threat of deindustrialization!) may make business leerier of moving ahead here without bottom line-protecting guarantees. However, it seems implausible that such are not posing some problems for these plans — just as it is by no means implausible that the government would not rush to publicize them. And nor would the media, connecting the dots rarely ever having been a strength of theirs.

* The 100 billion euro commitment was announced as equivalent to $113 billion. Now it is down to $105 billion, while the U.S. dollar has itself lost perhaps 7 percent of its purchasing power between the announcement and the time of this writing (assuming the inflation rate observed in March-October 2022 holds) so that the sum may already amount to 13 percent less in real terms than it did in February. All the signs point to its losing a good deal more of its real value before all the money is spent.

Originally published at https://naderelhefnawy.blogspot.com.

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Nader Elhefnawy

Nader Elhefnawy is the author of the thriller The Shadows of Olympus. Besides Medium, you can find him online at his personal blog, Raritania.