Germany plans to alleviate the chronic shortages of manpower and equipment that have dogged its armed forces for decades and exposed it to criticism from US President Donald Trump. The defense ministry wants to increase Germany's military budget to €60 billion ($69.7 billion) by 2023 from just under €43 billion in 2019, according to a secret defense ministry paper that will be shown to lawmakers today.
“The urgently needed funds must be made available,” said Henning Ott, defense policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.
A defense funding turnaround
The plan, called the “Capability Profile of the Bundeswehr,” is to remain confidential for now. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had proposed amping up army funding in 2016 in response to Russia increasingly being perceived as a threat following its annexation of Crimea.
The planned rise, following decades of decline, is likely to run into opposition from the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partners in Ms. Merkel’s coalition, because current plans by the SPD-controlled finance ministry only increase the defense budget to €43.9 billion in 2022.
Coalition sources told Handelsblatt that the defense ministry paper provides details for the first time on the planned increase in army personnel and equipment plus a timeframe for meeting the targets, a succession of four-year goals to 2023, 2027 and 2031.
Meeting NATO commitments
The aim is in part to defuse fierce criticism from Mr. Trump, who has accused Germany of failing to honor the commitment of NATO countries to increase military spending to 2 percent of their GDP. German defense spending stood at just 1.24 percent of GDP last year.
Mrs. von der Leyen has also come under increasing pressure to relieve equipment shortages in the military.
Complaints about a lack of working tanks, spare parts, bulletproof vests, tents and winter clothing have cast doubt on Germany’s pledges to take on more responsibilities within NATO and to forge joint EU military capabilities.
The shortages had become so bad that, according to a leaked army report, German troops taking part in a NATO exercise in Norway in 2014 used broomsticks to simulate missing guns on armored fighting vehicles.
The need for extra funding became even more urgent since NATO decided at its July summit to have 30 land battalions, 30 air fighter squadrons and 30 ships ready to deploy within 30 days of being put on alert.
Still falling short
Current plans include the formation of three divisions in Germany with eight fully equipped brigades and four air force units. The number of brigades is to rise to 10 from 2032. The paper is less detailed on plans for the navy aside from saying it should get 11 frigates, which coalition sources called “ambitious.”
A defense budget of €60 billion by 2023 would amount to 1.5 percent of GDP, meaning that Mrs. Merkel’s stated goal of 1.5 percent by 2024 would be reached a bit sooner than originally planned, but it's still short of 2 percent.
Lawmakers have welcomed that the ministry has finally provided details on recruitment and procurement, and they appealed to the government to make the plans public.
Mr. Ott voiced a hint of skepticism at whether the defense ministry will be able to implement its spending plans. “It’s important that the procurement system will be optimized in a way that the modernization of and increase in the material and the structures can succeed,” he said.
Donata Riedel has worked for Handelsblatt for 20 years and writes about economic policy. To contact the author: [email protected]