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Boris Pistorius to become Germany's new defense minister

January 17, 2023

Boris Pistorius, interior minister of Lower Saxony, is to become Olaf Scholz's new defense minister, with a crucial NATO meeting on Ukraine approaching.

Boris Pistorius
Boris Pistorius will be the new German defense ministerImage: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa/picture alliance

Boris Pistorius, interior minister of the state of Lower Saxony, is to serve as Germany's next defense minister, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday.

The 62-year-old Social Democrat will succeed Christine Lambrecht, who resigned Monday after criticism of her leadership, some leaked from the armed forces.

"I am delighted that Boris Pistorius, an outstanding politician of our country, will be the new Minister of Defense," Scholz said in a tweet. "With his experience, competence and assertiveness, as well as his big heart, he is exactly the right person for the Bundeswehr in this turning of the times."

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has chosen a man who is little known abroad: Boris Pistorius has been interior minister of Lower Saxony for nine years. He is popular in the central German state, where he has gained a reputation for getting policies implemented.

Pistorius joined the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) at 16, and later completed his military service in 1980-81, but has no experience in the military field. 

What he does have is experience in dealing with the police force, which he worked to reform in Lower Saxony, bringing in young recruits and improving citizen outreach. Pistorius sees the security apparatus as an important pillar of democracy, and has spoken of the need to strengthen the police against political extremism.

Nevertheless, he opposed SPD leader Saskia Esken when she spoke of "latent racism" in the security forces in the summer of 2020, saying her remarks exposed the 300,000 police officers in Germany to "unjustified general suspicion."

Though they share a hometown, Osnabrück, Pistorius has a markedly different personality to Olaf Scholz. He is vociferous and favors directness in public statements.

His professional career began with an apprenticeship as a wholesale and export merchant before he studied law in Osnabrück and Münster. He is widowed and has two children. In October 2016, it emerged that he was in a relationship with Doris Schröder-Köpf, previously wife of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The couple has since separated.

German military gets big spending boost

Big challenges await Pistorius

Pistorius main challenge in office will be administering thespecial €100-billion fund that Scholz promised the German armed forces in February. According to military analysts, at least €20 billion is needed to fill up stocks of ammunition alone. New frigates, tanks or F-35 combat aircraft also cost billions, plus investments in infrastructure and digitization. And there is a need to streamline procurement procedures in a military that has been racked with inefficiency.

The former Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht made headlines in December when she put the purchase of new Puma infantry fighting vehicles on hold, after a firing exercise left all 18 of the vehicles with technical defects. In retrospect, this may have been a bit hasty. It has since emerged that most of the Puma's problems were minor, and 17 of them were swiftly repaired. 

The chancellor will expect Lambrecht's successor to get the Bundeswehr on track as far as possible and, beyond that, implement what the chancellor's office decides — such as the initiative to use the Israeli Arrow-3 system for German and European missile defense.

The discussion on whether or not to supply battle tanks to Ukraine is no different. The chancellor is putting on the brakes. He has repeatedly underlined that all decisions will be made in coordination "with our friends and allies."  

'Growing chorus of voices' call for Leopard export approval

"We will also maintain this principle," Scholz stressed. "So it will not come about that we in Germany publish excited statements, quick statements or have the need to have to say something every ten minutes. We decide on serious things that are related to war and peace and the security of our country as well as the security of Europe."

In other words, no matter how much debate there is in Germany and Europe about Leopard 2 deliveries, Scholz insists that sending not to weaken the Bundeswehr with weapons deliveries to Ukraine.

Whether Germany can stick to its line, however, appears questionable in light of the international debate on combat tanks. On January 20, NATO defense ministers will meet at the US Ramstein Airbase in southwestern Germany to discuss further policy on Ukraine. 

The UK wants to give Ukraine 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks. Poland wants to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine, and Finland is also in favor. However, since the Leopard tanks were developed in Germany, the delivery hinges on the permission of the German government for the transfer of German-made armaments to third parties.

Finally, the appointment of Pistorius also means that the Cabinet no longer has gender parity. At the beginning of his term in office, Chancellor Olaf Scholz had said that men and women each make up half of society — and therefore women should also have half of the power. If Scholz wants to maintain parity, another Cabinet reshuffle would be necessary.

This article was originally written in German.

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