Lieutenant-General Alfons Mais wrote on LinkedIn, a few hours after Russia invaded Ukraine, ‘The Bundeswehr, the army I have the honour to command, is more or less empty-handed. The options we can offer the government in support of the alliance [NATO] are extremely limited.’ General Egon Ramms, former commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (2007-10), took the same view when a TV journalist asked, ‘If it came down to it, would the Bundeswehr be able to defend Germany?’ His answer was no.
The invasion shocked Berlin. Within a few hours, the new coalition government had broken Germany’s tradition of not selling weapons to countries at war. undertaking to supply Ukraine with antitank rocket launchers, Stinger shoulder-fired air defence missiles, armoured vehicles and fuel. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, who had not made defence policy a central part of his election campaign last September, pledged €100bn to modernise the Bundeswehr and committed to spending more than 2% of GDP on defence annually, more than NATO’s target.
Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, from the Greens, acknowledged that Germany was abandoning ‘a singular and solitary form of restraint in foreign and security policy’. The Greens, for many years a pacifist party, are in coalition with the Social Democrats, often seen as indulgent towards Russia, and the (liberal) Free Democrats, normally inflexible on budgetary austerity, which makes the scale of the turnaround in the past few weeks impressive: warships sent to the Baltic and Mediterranean, Patriot air defence missiles to a number of Eastern European countries, troops sent to join a new NATO battlegroup in Slovakia, reinforcements to Lithuania, Eurofighter jets to Romania…
After 1945, Germany’s political class, riddled with guilt over the atrocities committed during the war and ill at ease in international organisations, took refuge in a kind of geopolitical indifference, and concentrated on growing the German (…)
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