19 Mar 15. There may have been nothing of great note for defence from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget statement yesterday apart from some positive news for veterans but over in Berlin it really does seem now that Angela Merkel’s coalition Government is getting the message on the need to increase rather than decrease spending on defence if they are as an important member of NATO to meet the rising challenge and threat that the West now faces.
With a backdrop that the Merkel Government expects the German economy to grow at a slightly fast 1.6% rate next year (forecast for FY15 is 1.5%) the draft budget launched yesterday envisages plans for boosting spend on development aid along with climate protection and social services. It is worthy of note here that social services in Germany are by 2019 anticipated to represent close to half of all public expenditure.
But it is the planned increase in outlay on defence and security in the face of the increased threat from terrorism and the overall threat to peace and stability that stands out from yesterday’s announcement in Berlin and that could and that we may hope might set a pattern for other NATO member states to follow.
In terms of defence spending as a percentage of GDP Germany is way behind countries like Britain and France. France may have cut the amount of spend that it devotes to NATO but it still spends around 1.9% of GDP on defence. Britain currently spend just over 2% of GDP on defence but this too will fall back on the basis of anticipated economic expansion unless spending on defence is significantly raised.
Germany’s spending on defence as a percentage of GDP currently stands at just 1.3%, a figure that is well below the planned ‘work toward 2% if GDP spending on defence’ standard that was brokered at the NATO summit in Wales last September.
The new budget plan envisages that Germany’s total defence budget will rise by EUR8.5bn (6.2%) to EUR 35bn over the next five years. Although this will leave the country still well short of the 2% GDP target it is the first signal of positive change of attitude by the Merkel Government in terms of defence spending for some considerable time.
That Germany recognises the greater threat that NATO member states now face first started to become more obvious when the Government abruptly cancelled plans to scrap more of its Leopard tanks and in January Berlin also announced substantial capability modernisation plans.
Germany has a powerful and very capable military forces and capability but there is still little evidence of a change of attitude and approach of the Government in terms of willingness to engage with allies in international conflict zones. Nowhere was this more obvious that in the Libya campaign when despite a poll that had indicated over half of Germans interviewed thought that intervention by NATO allied forces was justified the Government chose to abstain from the UN resolution authorising intervention and then opting out of collective NATO intervention fearing that engaging in a role in what was described as another foreign venture with an uncertain outcome would have gone down badly with the electorate on the eve of regional elections.
It is probably far too early yet to envisage Germany changing long held views over deep conflict engagement or that it sees itself better as a much larger version of Switzerland meaning that it prefers to remain neutral. But Germany is a member of NATO and this it has signed up to all the articles that define the organisation including Article 5. Germany has of course engaged its armed forces in conflict zones such as Kosovo and in Afghanistan. But both deployments were ring fenced by “caveats” limiting what their soldiers could do – a reference to firing shots in anger. But in Afghanistan for the first time German soldiers did fire back and in future I could envisage a situation emerging when German forces would take a much more active part in conflict deployment.
Germany has strong and powerful armed forces and it is particularly strong in terms of air power. With a total number of 116 Panavia Tornado IDS and ECR variants some of which are planned to be life-extend to at least 2025 and maybe as far out as as 2030 plus three wings of Eurofighter Typhoons that will when all are delivered comprise 143 aircraft no one should underestimate the strength of German air power. A fleet of 40 Airbus A400M Atlas will when all are delivered over the next few years provide formidable medium and heavylift capability and these are replacing a fleet of forty year old Transall C-160 aircraft that although little used over the decades have served Germany well over that time. These are backed up by a 79 strong large of the venerable yet still superb Sikorsky CH-53 (Sea King equivalent) and that provide fast response transport capability.
Like Britain, Germany is shrinking numbers of armed force personnel and I believe on current known estimates these are planned to fall to 185,000 within the next three years. That is fair enough and it is acceptable to recognise that the need for greater efficiency should be recognised and also that technology plays and will further play a very much greater role in future conflict engagement and wars.
That Germany is now planning to increase spending on defence and the hope is that Berlin will gradually change its stance in terms of recognising the need to fully engage with its allies and play a larger role within NATO. Until then many will continue to question why this great nation which is the engine of the European economy and that has excellent military capability in terms of equipment and trained personnel leaves the former in the garage and the later stuck in barracks.
For now in terms of large European nations meeting the 2% GDP spend on defence it will need to be France and Britain that will be the only one’s carrying the flag. I am on record of saying that I am far from sure that using this particular calculation was the best way forward preferring what I see as a much better method of a nation being required to spend a minimum of 5% of total annual public spending on defence. I shall be opening that debate in Brussels at the end of this month.
CHW (London 19th March 2015)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Tel: 07710 779785