ANBOUND’s Observation: Historic Shift in German Defense Policy Benefits Politicians

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz surprised his own party and coalition partners as he announced a historic 180-degree policy shift on defense spending and the export of lethal weapons, yet he is apparently welcoming a wave of public support.

In a speech at the Bundestag on Sunday, Scholz crossed several red lines of his own party in less than half an hour when he announced that Germany would send missiles and anti-tank weapons to aid Ukraine defending against Russian aggression. He also pledged to establish a special fund of EUR 100 billion to beef up Germany’s defense. February 24 this year “marks a historic turning point in the history of our continent”, said Scholz.

While the size of the German military’s one-off “special fund” was brokered by his Free Democratic Party (FDP) finance minister Christian Lindner, German media quoted sources as saying that Scholz left his Green Party coalition partners in the dark concerning the scale of the defense budget boost. Meanwhile, Scholz’s allies are briefing that Green ministers have been informed of the exact amount but prefer to feign ignorance in an attempt to save face for the environmental party, which was created as a result of protest movement against the Cold War arms race.

The chancellor’s announcement has also surprised ministers in his center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) as well. As recent as 2017, the SPD has opposed increased military spending and the meeting of NATO’s 2% spending target. In a televised interview on Tuesday night, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser could not confirm that she had been informed in advance of the size of the new fund. “There was very little consultation,” she said.

According to Der Spiegel, the transcript of Scholz’s speech was distributed to parliamentary leaders of all parties except the far-right AfD only shortly before the commencement of the special session at the Bundestag, allowing some politicians to adjust the speeches, but without notifying all the representatives.

However, the three partners in Germany’s “traffic light” coalition have largely quelled what could have amounted to a betrayal and a government crisis at other times in history, as the urgency of the war in Ukraine prompted the government to show a united front.

Speaking before the United Nations on Tuesday night, Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock backed up Scholz’s remarks about an epochal change in German foreign policy. “When our peaceful order is being attack, we need to face up to this new reality,” she said.

For now, Scholz’s call to reconsider Germany’s reluctance on military matters also appears to have the backing of society as a whole. A survey by the pollster forsa showed that 78% of respondents supported both in the export of lethal weapons to Ukraine and boosting the Bundeswehr through a new fund.

So far, only the Greens’ youth group and a group of backbenchers from Scholz’s party have expressed opposition to the government’s plans for military spending.

The co-leader of the Green Youth movement said there was no political or social debate in the changes, though a paper by the SPD Forum Democratic Left group cited by Der Spiegel opposes the spending plan on the grounds that Germany’s military is not underfunded, only poorly managed. “The Bundeswehr has to be reformed, not geared up,” the paper said.

In 2021, Germany’s defense budget is EUR 53 billion, the seventh largest in the world and a national record high. Those who support the new defense fund say it is crucial to allow long-term procurement projects that are prone to delays and unable to be facilitated through annual budgets alone.

In his remarks on Sunday, Scholz said a significant portion of the new defense fund would be used to build a successor to the German military’s outdated Tornado fighter jets, as well as new transport helicopters and ammunition.

Writer by Chan Kung
Founder of ANBOUND Think Tank (established in 1993), Mr. Chan Kung is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chan Kung‘s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.

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ANBOUND is a multinational independent think tank, specializing in public policy research, incl. economy, urban and industry, geopolitical issues. Est. 1993.