NewsGermany struggles to meet NATO defense budget target amid political friction

Germany struggles to meet NATO defense budget target amid political friction

Volodymyr Zelensky visits Olaf Scholz. Germany has been reluctant to help Ukraine for a long time.
Volodymyr Zelensky visits Olaf Scholz. Germany has been reluctant to help Ukraine for a long time.
Images source: © PAP
6:28 AM EST, February 25, 2024

A decade ago, only about 20-30 percent of military equipment was functional, which alarmed Germany. However, there has been a budgetary reallocation since then, which improved readiness in multiple areas. A repair program was also initiated.

The preceding government, led by the Christian Democrats, spearheaded these initiatives, and the current coalition, consisting of the SPD, The Greens, and FDP, is continuing their efforts. In 2022, Bundeswehr received a budget of roughly 50.3 billion euros, equivalent to around $55.9 billion, marking a substantial 7 percent increase compared to the previous year. By 2023, the budget expanded to approximately $71 billion.

The funds exist, but there's a lack of political will

These amounts are significant, but there's a caveat: Berlin has yet to meet NATO's requirement to allocate 2 percent of its GDP towards armament.

Germany plans to reach this level by 2028, leaving it currently short by around $19 billion. NATO refuses to accept a dedicated fund of about $112 billion (allocated solely for technological upgrading) because it's spread out over time and not included in the defense budget.

Out of these $112 billion, Germany intends to spend the majority on expanding its navy. For instance, submarines will cost around $3.1 billion, reconnaissance ones $2.3 billion, and P-8A Poseidon patrol planes around $1.6 billion.

The ground forces have also been sanctioned for military modernization projects, which include the acquisition of Puma infantry combat vehicles and new assault rifles, in addition to new evacuation vehicles, Korsak reconnaissance vehicles, and anti-aircraft "Boxers" equipped with a Skyranger 30 A3 system.

The air forces are set to receive the F-35A Lightning II.

Nevertheless, there are still several gaps that need to be addressed in the coming years, such as short-range air defense.

For Germans, the fundamental problem is time as finances, domestic industry capabilities, and knowledge are already available. However, there's a noticeable lack of political will. This has led to another event of internal friction within the ruling coalition.

Continuous calls for action

For two years, the German Greens have been advocating not only for increased aid to Ukraine, but mainly for more defense spending. Chancellor Scholz, a member of the government's coalition SPD party, has continuously opposed this. Recently, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has advocated for increased military budget.

Baerbock believes that the roughly $112 billion set aside for the army's technical modernization is insufficient. She highlighted that this is not only due to the aid that should be provided to Ukraine but also due to the need for enhanced security for Germany and NATO's eastern flank allies.

Her concerns are driven by declarations made by Donald Trump, a significant candidate in the US presidential race. He has repeatedly stated that the USA should withdraw from the alliance and that Europe should be resolving its problems independently. He recently suggested that he would allow Russians to treat countries that don't contribute enough to defense as they see fit.

That's why Baerbock is emphasizing that European countries should enhance their military capabilities to the extent where they can guarantee security, regardless of the political situation in the USA and its current White House occupant. Similar appeals are heard from the Christian Democratic opposition and leaders in certain states - for example, Bavarian Premier Markus Söder proposed raising defense expenses to 3 percent of GDP.

The chancellor's veto

The chancellor has been unresponsive to these appeals. On Friday, February 16, Olaf Scholz expressed in an interview with 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' that this is an unfavorable idea and that financing the modernization exclusively from the defense budget is sufficient.

Scholz announced that by 2028, approximately $113-115 billion would be designated for the army, contingent on the budget revenues. Finance Minister Christian Linder supported Scholz, stating that Germany currently devotes more than 2 percent GDP to the Bundeswehr, albeit not through budgetary funds but coupled with a special modernization fund.

Since the early days of his chancellorship, Scholz has been hindering the development and modernization of the armed forces, as well as the provision of aid to Ukraine. He has even gone against his own government, turning a deaf ear to pressures from then-Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, his political base, and public opinion. For a long time, no chancellor has faced such universal criticism from all sides of the political spectrum.

Eventually, he removed Lambrecht from her position and appointed his close aid Boris Pistorius in her stead. At a meeting in Ramstein in 2023, Pistorius blocked any plans to assist Ukraine. It took tensions from Washington to force a change in this stance.

Currently, Pistorius, in concert with Scholz and Linder, is attempting to limit defense spending, despite opposition from within the government, federal governments, and the public, which is gradually realizing that the repercussions of years of neglect in defense-related matters are becoming evident.

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