Karl-Heinz Kamp Fear Returns to the Kitchen Table

Germany may be poised to dramatically increase military spending, a leading government defense adviser told Handelsblatt Global in a video interview, as the debate over security returns to kitchen tables in the wake of terror attacks in France.
kamp with arrow

 

In January, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen called for an historic increase in defense spending, given the threats posed by terrorism in Europe and Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and border war in eastern Ukraine.

Ms. Von der Leyen urged the German government to spend €130 billion ($143 billion) over the next 15 years on military equipment and readiness, which if adopted would reverse a decades-long downsizing during the peace dividend following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has also spoken of the need for Germany to step up its defense spending, which is currently 1.18 percent of its annual GDP, little more than half of the 2 percent level recommended for most members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Whether Ms. Merkel can push through the historic increase in spending remains to be seen, but one of the government’s leading security advisers, Karl-Heinz Kamp, said her proposal underlines a new reality in Germany: Defense spending is no longer taboo.

Mr. Kamp, the president of the German Federal Academy for Security Policy, a government research institute in Berlin, said the reception to Ms. Von der Leyen’s proposal was telling.

“The important thing is that we did not have a public outcry when she requested this, so there is an awareness within the public that hesitantly you have to accept bigger defense spending, and not only defense, but security spending in general,’’ Mr. Kamp said in an interview. “No one likes this, but this is something we have to do given the challenges which we have.’’

Mr. Kamp said he was not sure whether Ms. Von der Leyen would get the full increase she is seeking, but the commitment would probably be raised. At the same time, he did not think it likely Germany would reinstate military conscription, which it abolished a few years ago.

Germany has about 3,300 active-duty soldiers deployed in hot spots around the world such as Afghanistan, Kosovo and Mali, as part of international missions.

 

Terror attacks like those in Nice, France, are raising concerns in Germany over security and reducing the public's resistance to a stronger military role for the Bundeswehr, experts say.

 

“I currently do not see neither a need nor a readiness in politics to discuss this,’’ Mr. Kamp said, referring to a resumption of conscription.

The stability of the Turkish government is a concern to Germany and other NATO members, Mr. Kamp said, given the Islamic country’s importance as a hub for NATO missions to the Middle East. Germans are concerned, he said, about Turkey’s crackdown after the failed military coup last week, and hopes the NATO ally adheres to a set of “common behaviors, values and political principles,’’ he said.

After terrorism, the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia is Germany’s second-biggest security concern, he said. Russia's fulfillment of the Minsk agreements negotiated by Germany continues to be unsatisfactory, he said, and economic sanctions will remain in place.

Russia says it has adhered to the Minsk conditions and blames the Ukraine government in Kiev for violating the agreement. Mr. Kamp said Russia has to do more to defuse the conflict.

``As long as it is a declared position of the government, as long as Russia has not done more to fulfill the agreements which we have, to settle the situation in eastern Ukraine, as long as this is not the case, the sanctions are going to remain,’’ he said.

 

Kevin O'Brien is the Editor-in-Chief of Handelsblatt Global Edition. To reach him: [email protected]