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Europe

Germany 'in need of a more proactive defense policy'

It is high time that Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, assumes the mantle of a military leader too, says the former military advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Erich Vad, in an interview with DW.

During a week-long visit to Washington DC to promote his ideas for a new German defense strategy, Brigadier General Dr. Erich Vad told DW that this would mean a bigger military budget and more long-term engagements to stabilize conflict zones in its neighborhood. He supports the United States maintaining its military presence in Germany and is opposed to providing lethal weapons to Ukraine.

DW: You call Germany's defense policy "an ivory tower of pacifism that has utterly and completely failed." What concretely do you suggest Germany do differently in response to the many conflicts in its neighborhood?

Brigadier General Erich Vad: I would suggest that Germany open itself up to the possibility of taking a leadership role in security policy on the European continent. This can only be done in conjunction with our partners, either through joint German-French cooperation, the Weimar Triangle (Germany, France and Poland) or other joint cooperation possibilities. But this would be my foremost suggestion for taking steps toward a more proactive foreign policy.

Doesn't the chaos and bloodshed that engulfed Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya after the West's military interventions bolster the arguments for less, not more, military engagement?

We cannot stand by and allow brutal dictatorships to continue to exist on our borders. In the case of Afghanistan, there was a broad international consensus for action, something that was lacking in the case of Iraq. When looking specifically at Libya in this context, we can identify it as a uniquely European problem, considering how closely the country borders us. We need to understand that if we set out to remove a dictator, we must also be prepared to bear the sacrifices of stabilizing the country afterward.

On Syria, you said "maybe it is better to support the Russians [to] do the job" in attacking the "Islamic State." Won't this embolden President Putin to continue his aggressive actions?

man talking copyright: Brian Beary

Brigadier General Dr. Erich Vad

So far the Russians have shown that they are the only ones taking decisive actions in Syria. We in the West have drawn red lines in the past and then they were crossed with impunity. Launching missiles from ships in the Caspian Sea is no doubt Putin's nod to President Obama's "shot across the bow" that never happened in 2013. But we can't simply make the Russians leave and their presence has seriously complicated if not killed plans for a no-fly zone. But if the Russians are going to engage in aggressive actions, it should be against IS, a common enemy for all of us. Of course, now we need to make sure the Russians are, in fact, attacking IS.

You said that "we must accept the strategic influence of the Russians" in eastern Europe. Does that mean you oppose giving lethal arms to the Ukrainian government?

I do not think the question of delivering arms to Ukraine is relevant any more. After the signing of the second Minsk agreement, it became obvious that delivery of lethal (defensive or not) weapons would not allow the Ukrainians to decisively change the calculus on the ground and would only serve to escalate the situation. Likewise, it is not clear that the Kyiv government would be able to keep the weapons out of the hands of some of the volunteer battalions which are not properly integrated into the central command of the armed forces of Ukraine.

Were Germany to assume the military leadership role you advocate, would there still be a need for a continued US military presence in Europe?

The military leadership of Germany would have no impact on the American troops staying in Germany, other than that the Americans would not have to send more troops to maintain security in Europe. It is about time that Germany step forward and be the partner that the Americans expect us to be. We should continue to rely on them but they must also be able to rely on us.

Germany currently spends 1.2 percent of its GDP on its military, way below the 2 percent target for NATO members, with little indication of a change. How could Germany be Europe's military leader without a drastic increase in military spending?

There is definitely a need for Germany to increase its defense spending. However, my proposal goes far beyond simply increasing a defense budget. We need a new culture that can accept a Germany in a more active role. That is much more important that just spending more.

Erich Vad has been lecturer at the Chair for International Relations at Geschwister-Scholl-Institute for Political Science in Munich since March 2015. His research focus is foreign affairs and security policy, as well as strategy. From 2007-2013 he was a military advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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