Monday, May 22, 2017

Defense vs. Foreign Aid: The German Fight to 2%

Especially for the American ear, this sounds very reasonable;
Both defense and crisis prevention require greater German contributions. Right now, Germany spends barely 1.6 percent of its more than 3 billion euros annual economic output on diplomacy, defense, and development altogether. That is not good enough. The Bundeswehr needs more ships, transport aircraft, helicopters, medics, reconnaissance, and much more, and most of it is equally necessary for peace operations as well as for common defense through EU and NATO. It is not just about military capabilities, however. We also need to get better at helping Iraqis in the liberated areas to rebuild their lives, to restart their economy, and to reform their political order in such a way that Iraq will not be such easy prey for the next gang of militant demagogues that will follow the demise of the Islamic State. We also need to be able to invest in real conflict prevention, particularly through smart development and diplomacy, where the next big refugee crisis is most likely in the making: in the Sahel.

For all that, the German government needs more effective instruments of crisis prevention, stabilization, and peacebuilding. It all starts with foreign policy. As long as we cannot afford more than a single political officer in our embassies’ political “departments” in many potential crisis countries, a lack of strategy should not surprise us. Similarly, development cooperation has barely started to adapt to the specific challenges of violence and conflict. There are not enough police officers, judges, and prosecutors for even small numbers to deploy to training missions in foreign countries. What we really need, then, is not just a cash injection for the Bundeswehr but a strategic buildup of diplomacy, development, and defense as a whole – in the service of an overarching peace and security strategy within a common European framework.
In the USA we have parallel discussions - or at least used to until the left side of the natsec community lost their collective minds earlier this year in a spiraling case of Trump Derangement Syndrome and have difficulty talking about anything else - but we have to remember two things. 

As Philipp Rotmann over at GPPI reminds us, the Germans have an election, and they ... well ... are Germans;
The 2017 election season has barely begun, but foreign policy is already caught up in politics. It all started with President Trump’s demands for higher military spending and a rhetorical gaffe by Jens Spahn, a deputy minister of finance from Angela Merkel’s CDU party, who said the country should invest in arms instead of social services. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel responded during his SPD party’s recent conference by railing against a “spiral” of military buildup. The fans cheered. Double the defense budget more than 65 billion euros per year? Not a chance, Gabriel said, whatever declarations of intent NATO may have collectively issued. For his social-democratic audience, Gabriel played the 2-percent goal for defense spending against the equally unattained 0.7-percent goal for aid. “The other way around, I’d get it,” he roared. His party delegates celebrated. A touch of then-Chancellor Gerhard Schr√∂der’s successful mobilization against the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was in the air.

Both Gabriel and the SPD know full well that Germany’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr, urgently need to modernize. Already in 2014, responding to Putin’s aggression, conservatives and social-democrats agreed to reverse the longstanding downward trend in German defense budgets. Since 2015, that trend has been reversed, and the military now has more money than it can spend. Trump’s bluster makes it look as if German political leaders wimpishly followed orders from the worst-liked US president in remembered history. Trump wants to cut billions from diplomacy and development to build up the military, and Germany follows like a poodle?

That image will not work for any party in German elections, but just opposing the 2-percent goal is not good enough. We lack a modern vision for a European strategy for peace and security, one that spells out what Germany can do to help Europe become a strategic, preventative foreign policy actor. This would be a debate worth having during this electoral season. We will not get there if some ask for huge increases in military spending while others ritualistically counter with demands for more aid.

A quick look at the numbers: There are basically three “international” budgets – those of diplomacy, defense, and development. In 2017, a good 70 percent (37 billion euros) of those budgets are earmarked for the Bundeswehr. Were the CDU to prevail with its demand to meet the goal of 2 percent of GDP by 2024, the relative weight of the military would rise to almost 85 percent of Germany’s combined international budgets. The others would barely rise at all, according to the government’s mid-term financial planning, which CDU (and its sister party, CSU) and SPD jointly approved. In relative terms, the weight of foreign policy would decline from 10 to 6 percent, the weight of development aid from 16 to 10 percent. The relative significance of diplomacy, defense, and development would massively change, and the resulting message would be stark: Germany wants to be a military power again.
I hope the CDU can make the point, rightfully, that they started increasing defense spending before Trump became CINC. Reading their press and "thought leaders" quickly lets you know that any association with Trump is toxic - and that is becoming a headwind to Germany doing the right thing in the face of emerging security requirements.

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