Germany Assisting Ukraine With Mammoth Military Package But Awaits Its Own ‘Zeitenwende’

OPED By Amb Gurjit Singh

A few days after Russia precipitated the Ukraine crisis with its invasion in February 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a new defense package of €100 billion. This would place Germany on track to become Europe’s most potent defense force.

In his speech to the Bundestag, Scholz also said that Germany would regularly invest more than 2% of its GDP on defense. This was part of the German Zeitenwende (“turning point” in English), a historic reorientation of its foreign policy.

In 2021, German defense expenditure had been 1.53% of GDP. The Zeitenwende was considered a historical turning point when Germany converted its economic and technological might into developing its neglected defense establishment.

The threat perception of Germany had never been high; thus, for three decades since the end of the Cold War, German governments had diminished the development of their defense forces.

Germany To Increase Its Defense Expenditure

The German decision would lead many other European NATO members to increase their defense expenditure and meet the American demand that they spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Germany had been the strongest holdout.

While agreeing to work with NATO, the coalition compact of the new German government in December 2021 had not explicitly said that they would meet the 2% target. The Russian invasion of Ukraine changed that.

In an elaborate policy paper on The Global Zeitenwende: How to Avoid a New Cold War in a Multipolar Era, in the Foreign Affairs for the first quarter of 2023, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has outlined how Germany has altered the scope of its Russian and defense policies. In this, he proposes Germany as a guarantor of European security.

“The crucial role for Germany at this moment is to step up as one of the main providers of security in Europe by investing in our military, strengthening the European defense industry, beefing up our military presence on NATO’s eastern flank, and training and equipping Ukraine’s armed forces,” he wrote.

Olaf Scholz
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

Germany now sees that Europe has moved from an era of peace to new security challenges, including cyber attacks and conventional attacks on territory, as in Ukraine. Germany seeks to build a new strategic culture, and the New Security Strategy due in 2023 will likely define these challenges.

In his essay, Scholz said that Germany would invest 2% of GDP on defense and build a stronger Bundeswehr, and the special €100 billion funds were enunciated through a constitutional amendment. For the first time, Germany has delivered weapons into a war zone since 1955.

A new EU mission will offer training for up to 15,000 Ukrainian troops, including a brigade of 5,000 in Germany. German support to Ukraine includes antitank weapons, armored troop carriers, antiaircraft guns and missiles, and counterbattery radar systems. “Germany will also contribute an armored division, as well as significant air and naval assets (all in high readiness) to NATO’s New Force Model, designed to improve the alliance’s ability to respond quickly to any contingency,” Scholz wrote.

Germany led the European Sky Shield Initiative, with 14 other European members since October 2022. Joint air defense in Europe will be more efficient and cost-effective through this and be supportive of NATO.

However, even as the Chancellor’s important essay appeared in Foreign Affairs, criticism of the German defense ministry has emerged in Berlin, particularly from the Greens and the Free Democrats since the defense minister Christine Lambrecht belongs to Scholz’s SPD. She is challenged by a slow utilization of the €100 billion Special Defense Fund, which has been approved by the Bundestag but has not been used much.

Germany Facing Ammo Shortage

Nine months after the start of the Ukraine crisis and the immediate announcement of the Chancellor of the Zeitenwende, the turning point, in reality, seems to be slower than thought. For instance, earlier ammunition shortages for the German forces don’t seem to have been fulfilled.

IRIS-T SLM ground-based air defense system

German defense equipment shortages have increased since Germany started supplying grenades for the impactful Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers to Ukraine out of its stocks.

There are loud voices now that the transfer of assets to Ukraine was slow and has ultimately dented Germany’s defense capabilities. Now, the defense and finance ministries are squabbling over the speed of disbursement of larger budgets to purchase new ammunition in particular and equipment in general.

The Finance Ministry believes that the Defense Ministry never projected requirements of additional funds to buy ammunition for the German defense forces ever in their budget discussions, leading to perhaps a lack of provision for such purchases.

The Finance Ministry in Germany, led by the FDP partners, believes that the Defense Ministry is not constrained by budgetary shortfalls but by its bureaucratic planning and procurement processes.

The Greens, through their defense spokesman, have also been critical, saying that German shortages of ammunition required to meet the NATO standards to which they are committed has long been known and why this did not make the Defense Ministry’s list of purchases even after the Ukraine crisis unfolded is a matter of concern.

The media has hinted that the German ambition to become Europe’s major military power is not being implemented in a determined manner.

There are suspicions among Bundestag members that the commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense is not being met for 2022 and is unlikely for 2023, if not beyond. This shows the cleavage between public commitment and practical implementation.

Germany’s support to Ukraine will only be sustained if Germany handles its procurement processes better. Unless it procures its forces, its ability to export to Ukraine or other allies in Eastern Europe will remain in doubt.

There is also criticism that the exports to Ukraine have not been structured and well thought out. Germany started by sending helmets and ended up sending armored vehicles. Much of this seems to have happened under US pressure rather than their own considered policy.

While Germany has a policy Zeitenwende, its governmental approach requires domestic reorientation. The German defense ministry had never had the focus or importance for three decades that it is now required to respond to.

Its procurement processes were for a largely unutilized defense force that was limited in size and impact. Now it has to alter its mindset and become more strategic. This is easier said than done, as can be seen.