The Atlantic Initiative held a public event in Berlin in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation on The Cost of Peace and Freedom: What is security worth to us today? The panel included a security expert and a member of the Bundestag’s budgetary and defense committees. Panelists discussed Germany’s role in global defense alliances in light of the Ukraine crisis and security issues in the Middle East and Africa.
To discuss Germany’s role in today’s European and global security agenda, a panel of experts spoke about Germany’s defense spending and the country’s role in global defense alliances in front of an audience of about 80 attendees. The discussion began following an opening statement by Gregor Enste of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Dr. Johannes Bohnen of Atlantic Initiative. Panelists included Dr. Reinhard Brandl, a member of governing party in the Bundestag CDU/CSU, and Dr. Christian Mölling, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The discussion was chaired by Dr. Jana Puglierin of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).
The panelists focused on three main issues: whether Germany needs to take on greater responsibilities in regional and global security in light of its relationship with its allies; whether Germany’s defense attitude regarding the situation in Libya was justified, and; whether development assistance is a better use of Germany’s funds than increased defense spending.
Germany’s Security Responsibilities
Both Dr. Brandl and Dr. Mölling agreed that Germany taking on greater responsibility for regional and global security does not necessarily entail increased military involvement. Security can be achieved through diplomatic and civilian means, and conflict prevention is always preferable to conflict resolution through military means. However, prevention needs to happen early, and if it fails, Germany should be ready to consider military options. That does not mean that Germany will always resort to military solutions, simply that it can have a choice to do so. In order for military invention to be a credible choice, the panelists argued that Germany needs to have a reliable, well trained, and efficiently-funded military.
One thing that Germany should not do is to always refuse to use military options simply out of principle. The panelists argued that the decision not to use military force should always be backed by good policy and legitimate, valid reasoning. Dr. Brandl also added that when Germany accepts its security responsibilities, as it has in Kosovo and Afghanistan, then it has proven capable of following through on those responsibilities to the end. That is because, to approve military action, the government seeks the support of not only the majority coalition parties, but also that of at least one party in the opposition. This ensures that Germany can maintain its commitment to completing missions even if there is a change of government in the meantime.
The panelists also discussed whether Germany’s security responsibilities require an increase in budget allocations for defense. Both stated that there should not be a decrease in Germany’s defense budget. However, they also added that expecting Germany to reach the 2% of GDP target for defense spending, as NATO and the United States request, is, according to Dr. Mölling, „pure fantasy.“ Dr. Brandl added that what is needed is not necessarily more defense spending, but rather a better allocation of current resources to invest in projects that cost less money than traditional, more expensive expenditure, but still have a significant impact for defense and security measures.
Dr. Mölling endorsed better training for the Bundeswehr as a way of strengthening Germany’s defense capabilities. Dr. Brandl added that resources need to be properly reallocated in order to provide for more special forces units and increased investment in military intelligence.
Dr. Mölling echoed the significance of enhanced defense analysis capabilities. When it came to Russia’s action in Ukraine, for example, he argued that if Western countries had better analysis of information that was already available to them, then Putin’s actions in Ukraine would not have come as a surprise and they would have been better prepared. Warning signs were available, he said.
Germany’s Response to Libya and Its Implications
The speakers were critical of the situation in Libya in the aftermath of military operations. Dr. Brandl supported the decision not to participate in the NATO mission, and Dr. Mölling stated that he was against it as well, but added that the reasons that Germany gave its allies for staying out of Libya were inadequate. The government could have argued that it had reservations about the strategy or potential for success in the region, especially without a large number of ground troops to secure the borders. Instead, the governing coalition was primarily concerned about the anti-war mood among voters ahead of regional elections and did not want to risk the lives of Bundeswehr soldiers.
Rather than remaining on the side of its main allies, the US, the UK and France, Germany, along with Russia and China, abstained from voting on intervention in Libya at the UN Security Council. This, along with actions taken in the 13 days after the vote, including withdrawing from maritime patrols in the Mediterranean, sent disastrous political messages to its allies and shaped Germany’s lingering reputation as a scarcely reliable partner. Or perhaps it does make Berlin a reliable partner, as Dr. Mölling quipped, in the sense that its allies can always rely on it to say „No!“
Development Assistance vs Defense
A third main issue that was debated was whether development assistance is a better use of funds than defense spending. Both panelists stated that development assistance alone is not enough. Dr. Mölling argued that development assistance is important and civilian methods of ensuring global security are necessary, but that there are legitimate cases when a military response is needed even in light of development assistance.
Dr. Brandl provided an illustrative example of the need for both development and defense by discussing the situation in Mali. Germany, he argued, gave extensive development aid to Mali. However, the security crisis that took place there threatened all improvements and investments that came as a result of the aid that Mali received. Without military intervention, all the development resources that not only Germany but other countries provided to Mali would have gone to waste. Therefore, it’s critically important to avoid relying solely on development assistance.
In order to expand the dialog and include members of the audience, thirty minutes were reserved for audience feedback and questions. However, because of a fruitful and engaging discussion, audience members chose to stay beyond the allocated Q&A time and the event when on nearly 10 minutes overtime.
Audience members had a diverse view on the issues. The topic of development assistance versus defense spending was important for the audience, with several members stating that development assistance can be an efficient use of Germany’s funds. One audience member pointed out that Germany is surrounded by peaceful neighbors, and therefore questioned the need for increased defense spending, to which Mölling responded that while Germany’s neighbors are peaceful, the neighbors of some of Germany’s friends and allies are not necessarily so.
Another audience member argued in favor of improving the Bundeswehr’s equipment, which he said were outdated, while another echoed that sentiment and added that Germany should invest in military research if it wants to be a leader in technology that is necessary for 21st century defense.
In the closing comments, Dr. Puglierin stated that Germany has benefited from an open world and free trade, and that, as one of the winners of the current international system, it has a responsibility to maintain that system. Just because Germany accepts that responsibility, however, that does not necessarily mean there would be increased military missions for the country. A comprehensive security and defense agenda should always include strategies for both military interventions as well as civilian measures.
Our thanks to the NATO Public Diplomacy Division for their generous support.