Germany’s “New Defense Policy Guidelines”: Return of Germanic People to Age of Militarism?

Strategic Council Online - Opinion: For the first time in more than a decade, Germany issued its “new defense policy guidelines,” and “Boris Pistorius,” the German Minister of Defense, asked the pillars of his country to be “ready for a war” and “capable of defense.” He has pledged to strengthen the army to become the backbone of European deterrence and collective defense. Hamideh Safamanesh - International relations researcher

In the 19-page document called the “turning point,” while explaining the details of its defense policy, Germany announced changes in the description of the tasks of the “federal defense” with the aim of “turning into a mature country in terms of security policy.” The directive states: A life full of peace and freedom can no longer be taken for granted in Central Europe. That is why we must be able to defend our security and freedom together with our allies”.

When presenting this document, the minister of defense of that country called those changes Berlin’s reaction to the new reality that was formed by Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which brought the war back to Europe and raised the threat level.

The German defense minister said: This threat has fundamentally altered the role of Germany and the armed forces, and we must become the backbone of deterrence and collective defense in Europe. German forces must refocus on their primary mission of defending Germany and its allies and be ready to fight. This situation transformation needs time, and after decades of neglect in which the necessary military structures and capabilities have been destroyed, the federal defense is forced to prioritize increasing its ability and capabilities in various fields for the near future.

Germany’s new defense policy guidelines consider that successful total defense requires the close coordination and cooperation of all relevant stakeholders, including the government, the society, and the industry, even in peacetime, and by encouraging a change in the attitude of the armed forces and the people, determine war as the “primary duty” of the armed forces. Such guidelines, while clearly describing the German threats and their military dimensions, reflect this national security strategy assessment that Russia will remain the biggest threat to Euro-Atlantic security “in the near future” and will act as the most critical security issue for the armed forces. This document identifies Russia’s nuclear power as the main adversary and considers the Russian armed forces as an enemy of NATO’s deterrence and collective defense mission.

Security in the Euro-Atlantic is implicitly the document’s top priority, and crisis management and stabilization operations, which were once central to German defense planning, are no longer a priority. The tensions and instabilities around Europe, including Africa, the Arctic, the Indo-Pacific, and the Middle East, are important but have been given secondary priority.

Meanwhile, this defense guideline shows Germany’s greater interest in defense engagement with the Indo-Pacific region compared to 2011. When it comes to “maintaining and strengthening the international rules-based order,” the region is increasingly important. Because, this document pays special attention to the challenge created by China. The document states that Beijing is “simultaneously a partner, rival, and challenger to a system that seeks to reshape the rules-based international order as it sees fit, and is increasingly aggressive in its pursuit of regional supremacy, frequently acting in ways which conflict with the values and interests of (Germany).” The document also states that conducting joint military exercises with partners in the Indo-Pacific region will help “strengthen the rules-based international order.”

In this document, the German Ministry of Defense named Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and especially India among its “key partners,” who can increasingly expect defense presence and interaction with Germany in the region.

The purpose of the German defense guideline is to reassure allies, especially those on NATO’s eastern wing, of Germany’s willingness to play a central role in collective defense. In this regard, the document reiterates the objectives of the German armed forces to assist smaller European armies and strengthen its position as a logistics center for military operations within the “framework of nations” initiative on the European continent. The initiative called “framework of nations” was proposed by Germany in 2013, in which the defense capabilities of the countries, initially ten countries and now 21 member countries, are gathered and put at each other’s disposal. This military strategy proposed by Germany was approved by NATO in 2014.

Also, this document considers the permanent deployment of a whole brigade in Lithuania, which started under the title of “Lighthouse Project,” as a reflection of Germany’s commitment to collective defense, which is the beginning of a forward presence for the armed forces, and over time, Germany can add more military equipment to the eastern wing and other places.

This document declares that combat capability should be the “guiding principle” for the German soldiers. Despite criticism from within his party, the German minister of defense tried to use this approach in official documents, which had not been used in Germany before. This issue shows that the armed forces will remain incomplete without making a cognitive change about military power, especially in creating the desire and ability to fight and win against an enemy like Russia.

Finally, this defense guideline notes the urgent need for structural reforms of the Ministry of Defense to reduce slow bureaucratic processes. It emphasizes that “redundancies should be reduced, unclear relationships should be eliminated, and more efficient structures should be developed.”

But creating a combat-ready, deployable, and sustainable German fighting force will be difficult. It is unclear whether a sufficient number of parliamentarians, employees, and the general public will accompany the change in Germany’s strategic culture. When it comes to defense spending, the document states that at least 2 percent of GDP is needed to provide the capabilities necessary to meet such commitments. This suggests that the authors were not sure whether the government would still be able to meet the target of 2 percent of GDP after using the 100 billion euros it is set to use from “special funds” for this purpose over the next few years.

Germany’s new defense policy guidelines warn that the country will not be able to cover the gaps quickly after “neglecting national defense for decades” and that time is of the essence for this purpose. The brigade’s planned deployment in Lithuania has been challenging for the armed forces.

This new strategy has been published while critics believe that Germany, despite its historical crimes, is now using the war to realize its long-standing weapons plans to change the military direction to the East and, like the World War II era, speaks of the “preparedness of the German people for a war” and “the ability to defend itself.” While the working population has to pay the price of this war madness through cuts in wages and social services to finance more weapons and a severe reduction of their democratic rights.

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