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Still not enough

Max Hofmann / mgrJune 20, 2014

Germany wants to take on more responsibility, Defense Minister von der Leyen stated during her visit to the US. But that does not make Germany a military force to be reckoned with, writes DW’s Max Hofmann.

Maximilian Hofmann, DW Washington (Photo: DW)
Image: DW

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, of course, knows that his German colleague Ursula von der Leyen has to be considerate of the sensitivities back home. And those are pretty distinctive when it comes to military issues. Therefore, the decision makers in Washington did acknowledge that von der Leyen - supported by German President Joachim Gauck - announced that Germany internationally would take a stronger stand, even with arms, if necessary.

But what does that actually mean? During her visit to the US, time and again buzzwords, like medical services, logistics and training, are mentioned when it comes to the German contribution. Certainly, all of these are important issues for a military operation - just not the most important ones. Even if Germany stepped up and possibly led a UN peacekeeping mission in the near future, like the minister said in New York, from the American perspective that would still not be enough.

The truth is: In military matters, Germany relies on the Americans too much. And that does not even take foreign deployments into account. It is about defending the nation and the alliance, both basic military tasks. According to some estimates, the US spends more on European security than the Europeans do themselves. The perfect example is well-known; namely, the 1997 commitment of NATO members to apply two percent of their GDP to military spending. 17 years later, the US spends about 4.2 percent, the Germans 1.3 percent.

The Germans keep saying that it is not only about quantity, but also quality. A view that is absolutely comprehensible. And it is anything but desirable to spend as much money as possible to bomb every conflict in the world to its core. Under current President Obama, even a majority of the Americans take this view. But, while the Germans certainly embrace this view, it also implies a problem for German defense policy: The Americans, weary of war, are less eager to shoulder additional military burdens just because the Europeans will not do their homework.

In Washington, von der Leyen repeatedly stressed the importance of a multilateral approach to fill the NATO alliance with life. Given a mushrooming conflagration in the Middle East, an unpredictable Russia - whose military expenditure in terms of GDP even exceed spending by the US - that means: The German defense minister will have to do more than she has promised in New York and Washington, even if the majority of Germans won't like it.