The Corner

Germany: Neglect On Another Front

I’m not quite sure how to describe the chancellorship of Angela Merkel beyond the obvious observation that the “indispensable  European” (The  Economist) is by some margin the worst of all the postwar chancellors. She plays the political game skillfully, but when it comes to policy, her approach seems to comprise long periods of inertia punctuated by poorly-managed panics.

So far as Germany’s military is concerned, inertia has been the rule for a long time now.

John Vinocur begins an article on this topic in the Wall Street Journal with remarkable understatement:

As symbolism or strategy, Germany’s decision to increase the size of its armed forces by 7,000 troops over the next seven years doesn’t really deal with its essential military problem: Russia.

7,000.

NATO members hardly need an internal fault line, but they must deal with this contradiction: On one side, the Alliance’s new supreme commander, U.S. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, has spoken of his expectation of expanding Russian aggression in the coming years. His predecessor, Gen. Philip Breedlove, described Vladimir Putin’s Russia as having “chosen a path of belligerence.”

On the other side, there is a persistent German unwillingness to identify Russia as revitalized and warlike, or to abandon hopes that Moscow can be eased into returning to predictability as a profit center for Western business. Party politics often make the German approach one appearing as a reality-distant, nonadversarial middleman. Two years ago, after the Kremlin invasion of Crimea, Russian troops’ entry into Ukraine, and Moscow’s threatening posture in relation to the NATO allies of the Baltic States, Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Social Democratic vice chancellor, came up with this order of the day on Germany’s military position: “The impression must not be given that we’re playing with military options even in theoretical terms.”

Two months ago, while Germany considered sending a rotating battalion-size unit of a few hundred men to support NATO-member Lithuania, which borders on Russian territory, Social Democratic Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier chose to note that an unnamed “neighboring state” of Ukraine wasn’t respecting Kiev’s sovereignty….

After 10 years in office, Chancellor Angela Merkel seemingly hasn’t accepted that credible military power, and clarity on Berlin’s willingness to use it, is an integral component of her diplomacy in relation to Russia.

This, incidentally, is the same Merkel who has been agitating for the creation, over time, of an EU army, an army that would inevitably be deployed at the pace of the slowest. There’s a legitimate debate to be had over whether such a force will ever see the light of day, but if it did, the consequences for NATO’s European pillar (such as it is) would be grim.

Speaking of which:

In talking about bringing the armed forces’ numbers up to 241,000—yet not spending nearly enough to meet NATO’s target of 2% of gross domestic product allocated to defense—Ms. von der Leyen, a Christian Democrat [and Germany’s defense minister], didn’t touch on the white paper. Neither did the defense minister push back against a new Kremlin threat to permanently deploy nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad enclave, within notional range of Berlin’s eastern suburbs.

That is the kind of bad but real news politicians from the German government coalition tend to flee. A nonbrave reason: Polling in March by the Bertelsmann Foundation showed that 56% of the Germans don’t think Russia is a military threat, that they offer no majority support for sanctions against Russia, and that, despairingly, 57% oppose German soldiers defending Poland and the Baltic states “if they are attacked by Russia.”

Mr Vinocur notes that this sentiment is something that is “said to disturb” Merkel. Maybe, but she has done very little to counter it.

Too much trouble. Or something. 

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