Home Featured How Germany is learning to love its army – POLITICO
How Germany is learning to love its army – POLITICO

How Germany is learning to love its army – POLITICO

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Still, at the time of reunification in 1990, defense spending was a healthy 2.5 percent of GDP, and the armed forces numbered 500,000. As Soviet troops began to withdraw from the GDR, however, voters wanted a peace dividend. With so much money needed to revive the East’s moribund economy and infrastructure, why spend it on defense? Why contemplate a career in the armed forces, morally equated by some to Bismarck’s Prussia, or even the Third Reich? And so, under former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s watch, the military was allowed to atrophy.

Of course, decades of such well-meaning but ultimately self-defeating idealism wasn’t going to disappear overnight. It took a long time for the truth to dawn and the political class in Berlin to understand that Putin was playing the West and negotiations would only embolden him. Even on the eve of the Ukraine invasion, some German officials were indulging in wishful thinking, casting doubt on U.S. intelligence warnings.

Even now, occasionally, one still hears from salon pacifists at dinner parties or art soirees, spouting that none of this would have happened if the West hadn’t been so belligerent. At one event, I was forced to endure a quartet playing Sting’s toe-curling “Russians.” But for the vast majority, this attitude has now gone, thanks in no small part to Pistorius’ dogged honesty about the threats facing Germany — and the country’s military weaknesses.

“Pistorius’ appointment in January 2023 was initially seen as underwhelming” | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Moreover, former U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that he’d encourage Putin to go on the attack as a means of punishing European countries that underspend on defense has provided a final wake-up call. Pistorius has been quick to bang the warning drum, urging Germans to be war-ready. Recently, he used a speech at a military academy in Hamburg to appeal to voters directly, asking: “Are we seriously ready to defend this country?”

The problem though, as he is the first to admit, is that Germany’s armed forces aren’t even remotely ready. Troop numbers have fallen to an historic low of 180,000, with some 20,000 new recruits needed just to replace those leaving each year — let alone bring numbers up to a level capable of seriously defending the country.

The reinstatement of conscription, abolished in 2011, is being floated — although the chances of that happening are remote. Another option is to fast-track citizenship claims for applicants who agree to serve. But given the toxicity of the migration debate, that too seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, the most significant problem is the deterioration of military hardware. At one point recently, only half the fleet of military transport aircraft, Tornados and Eurofighter jet aircraft was combat-ready. All six submarines were out of action. And soldiers complain of a lack of weaponry and ammunition, even of thermal underwear for extreme winter weather.

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