Here's the good news: In 2017, discussions of politics will be livelier than they have been for decades.
Alongside the question whether Germany should turn back the clock on its economic policy, the focus will be above all on one issue: security. Rightly so, because the situation is serious and it's time to wake up. In doing so, it would be good – if unlikely – to distinguish between the overt, the current and essential aspects of security and to discuss them separately.
The overt question is that of defense spending. Ten years have passed since all NATO member states committed to spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. They confirmed this commitment in 2014, and agreed that 10 years later, in 2024, all countries would meet this standard.
So far though, nothing has changed. One country exceeds the target: the United States spends 3.6 percent. Other than that, a handful of countries meet the target, and more than 20 lie below 2 percent, some way below.
For 2017, Germany raised its defense budget by 8 percent compared to the previous year, hoisting spending to 1.22 percent of GDP – a figure set to decline once more in 2018 if economic growth is higher than planned defense expenditures.
The shameful question is whether NATO takes itself seriously, and if the non-complying countries do too?
This brings us to the next aspect of our security. This isn't the first time an American president has complained about defense and free-riding Europeans, that frustrated Barack Obama too, as he revealed in an interview with The Atlantic last April.
What's changed isn't only the tone we're hearing from the White House.
In terms of German and European security and stability, we should bear in mind that Syria and Libya don't lie south of the United States, they're our neighbors.
The new twist is that non-complying Europeans, particularly Germany, will lose credibility if they continue this way. Paying the defense dues we agreed on now determines how far we can shape foreign policy. That's how Washington and Moscow see it – we shouldn't kid ourselves otherwise.
Any attempts at creative bookkeeping, for example by including refugee costs, would only make things worse. Which brings us neatly to the core question - whether or not we understand what's really at stake here. In terms of German and European security and stability, we should bear in mind that Syria and Libya don't lie south of the United States, they're our neighbors.
The Cold War is over, along with its bipolarity and orientation toward the status quo. With its new nationalism and militarism, Russia's aim is to change the status quo.
Non-state protagonists and terrorist groups, religious hatred, the struggle for dominance and proxy wars in the Middle East have all created a toxic mixture whose impact is reaching Europe. It’s time for Europeans to wake up.
Security is one justification for state sovereignty and thus for Germany and the European Union, which share this sovereignty. So we Germans and Europeans must do everything in our power to protect our citizens, the stability of our societies and the security of our countries. Everything within our power is never a purely national matter when our security is at stake.
Without better European cooperation and coordination, spending more on defense wouldn't help much. National egotism leads Europeans to spend their already insufficient defense funds in extremely inefficiently, which would only change if politicians decide to create a European defense industry. The purpose of state spending on defense financed by taxpayers is to produce a public asset – security – and not create jobs in different countries.
We should be honest with ourselves that security must never be reduced to a purely military perspective. We need a comprehensive security concept that includes all aspects and instruments of prevention, long-term development, humanitarian assistance and reaction to crises, diplomacy and – should necessity require – available military capabilities.
The Ischinger formula, which goes beyond 2 percent for defense and sets a goal of 3 percent, is a good one. In all, the target sees 3 percent of GDP being allotted to defense, developmental cooperation, humanitarian assistance and diplomacy. This formula expresses what we need at the moment: a feasible vision.
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