Terror response Germany Weighs Upping Defense Spending

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a major policy change, has asked parliament to raise defense spending. Such a move would thrill NATO, but ignite a vigorous debate over the country's post-war pacifist profile.
Two German Eurofighter jets take off from a base in Rostock in 2008.

After decades of adhering to a post-war pacifist role, Germany may be poised to significantly boost military defense spending in the wake of political instability on Europe’s periphery and global terror attacks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday asked the defense committee of the Bundestag, the lower house of German parliament, to consider raising the amount of money the country spends on defense, which has historically been about half of what the North Atlantic Treaty Organization recommends.

Rainer Arnold, a Social Democrat and member of the defense committee, said Ms. Merkel asked the group to consider making “an appropriate” increase in defense spending, which this year is planned to be €34 billion ($37 billion), up from €32.8 billion last year. Ms. Merkel was “wonderfully inexact” in the amount of the increase, Mr. Arnold said in an interview with Handelsblatt Global Edition.

“Ms. Merkel basically said that we should contribute appropriately more to NATO especially in the light of our strong economic performance and in response to pressure from our American partners,” Mr. Arnold said.

Even with the refugee crisis going on in Germany, there is enough money to distribute. Christian Moelling, Senior resident transatlantic fellow for security at The Marshall Fund in Berlin

In 2014, the United States spent around 4 percent of GDP, or €560 billion, in defense for NATO, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Germany, by comparison, contributed about 1 percent of spending to defense, or €35 billion.

Both countries are members of NATO.

“We must make a reasonable, significant contribution so that others — on the other side of the Atlantic — can be ready to engage,” Ms. Merkel told the committee, according to Bild, the popular German tabloid newspaper.

Germany has consistently devoted about half of what NATO has asked of its members. To meet NATO spending levels, Germany would have to commit another €25 billion to defense, experts say.

“This would be completely unrealistic,” said Christian Moelling, senior resident transatlantic fellow for security at The Marshall Fund in Berlin. “But in general it is realistic for Germany to invest more; we have enough money. We can pay for it. Plus the current constellation in government with the Social Democrats and Conservatives in power looks like they are willing to do it.”

Ms. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrat and Bavarian Christian Social parties lead a ruling coalition with Social Democrats. A doubling of the country’s defense spending has always been controversial given its pacifist post-war policies and the legacy of its Nazi past.

The country has opted to keep its military out of joint efforts, such as the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq after 9-11, and the bombing of Libya.

But despite ideological opposition, including from the far-left Left Party, Germany under Ms. Merkel has contributed logistical and sometimes a limited number of combat troops to western military efforts in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Mali and off the coast of Somalia.


German soldiers at a military ceremony in Berlin.


Germany is supplying a naval frigate and tanker and reconnaissance aircraft to aid the French military mission in Syria following IS attacks in Paris. The German aircraft reportedly are helping French jets identify bombing targets, but are not dropping bombs themselves.

“It took us by surprise that Germany is getting involved. I would not have predicted that a few years ago,” said Markus Kaim, a senior fellow for security policy at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Mr. Kaim said events such as the Ukraine crisis, IS and terror attacks in Europe, as well as instability in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, have intensified the situation on Europe's periphery. As a result, the German government is taking a greater interest in foreign affairs and security.

“It seems like the government has come to realize over the last one or two years that we have to do something for our security,'' Mr. Kaim said. "It is not a gift of God anymore.”

The Interior Ministry on Thursday warned that Germany is a potential target for Paris-style terrorist attacks now, according to Bild newspaper.

The request from Ms. Merkel comes two days after ten German tourists were killed in Istanbul by a suicide bomber. The country has been on edge since late last year after the Paris bombings, and concerns that some of the 1 million refugees admitted last year could be “sleepers” planted by terror organizations.


Refugee at Lageso reception center in Berlin.


But government officials say the attacks did not prompt Ms. Merkel’s request. She reportedly mentioned a strengthening of military expenditure at a recent party conference of Germany's Christian Social Union this month before the Istanbul attacks.

“Ms. Merkel said in Wildbad Kreuth that we need to start showing that we are willing to spend more money on defense,” said Julia Obermeier, a CSU member who attended the conference. “I think the change and trend towards increasing military spending started long before that. I think greater awareness within the government and the German public started after the Ukraine crisis began in 2013.”

Germany is currently in a comfortable position to increase military spending, experts say.

“Even with the refugee crisis going on in Germany, there is enough money to distribute,” Mr. Moelling said.


Franziska Scheven is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the author: [email protected]