Thursday, December 15, 2016

Merkel and Whose Army?

From Hans Kundnani, at Foreign Policy, "A German military that practices with broomsticks isn't in a position to become the new “leader of the free world”":

In Germany, Angela Merkel is known as “mommy” — and judging from the desperate global reactions to the election as U.S. president of Donald Trump, it won’t be long before the rest of the world starts calling her that, too. With Trump having indicated an intention to abdicate America’s role as “leader of the free world,” a chorus of commentators have pointed to Germany under Merkel’s leadership as the most obvious replacement.

However, as Merkel herself has been quick to acknowledge — including on Nov. 20 when she announced she would run for a fourth term as chancellor — the idea is absurd. First, German power has always been regional, not global, which means it has little to offer vulnerable Western allies in Asia; Germany could therefore at most replace the United States as the “leader of a free Europe.”

But even that notion is a fantasy. If the leadership in question were purely a question of moral symbolism, Germany might qualify for it — though even that is questionable. But it also describes a set of concrete military responsibilities, stretching back to the Cold War, to defend the security of other democracies. These are responsibilities that Germany — which has only minimal military power and deep-seated reluctance, both political and cultural, to deploy what power it has — is singularly unable to fulfill.

Carol Giacomo of the New York Times suggested shortly after the U.S. election that Germany “replace America in leading NATO.” But any country either obliged or inclined — as Germany was, during a 2014 NATO exercise — to have its soldiers paint wooden sticks black and attach them to armored vehicles in lieu of heavy machine guns is not in a position to claim military leadership.

A simple comparison of the military budgets of Germany and the United States serves to illustrate the problem. In 2015, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the U.S. defense budget was $597.5 billion. Germany’s was $36.7 billion — about one-twentieth the size of America’s. Germany’s military budget is small even in comparison to that of France ($46.8 billion) and the United Kingdom ($56.2 billion), which are also, like the United Sates and unlike Germany, nuclear powers. In that sense, despite the political challenges they currently face, the heads of the French and British governments have a greater claim to be the “leader of the free world” than the chancellor of Germany.

Germany’s level of defense spending looks even more inadequate when one considers it in relation to the size of the German economy. NATO members collectively commit to spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, but only four members apart from the United States (Greece, Estonia, Poland, and the United Kingdom) actually do so. For years, Germany had spent 1.3 percent — at the lower end of the scale of NATO members. But it has fallen further in the last couple of years and is now under 1.2 percent. This year, Merkel finally committed eventually to reach the 2 percent target — after the election of Trump, she has simply restated this position — but has not specified when she will do so. Berlin’s only hard commitment is an 8 percent uptick in defense spending in 2017, which will bring it to 1.22 percent of GDP.

A similar picture emerges when one goes beyond the figures on defense spending and considers capabilities...
Keep reading.

It's a good piece. I'm cutting Foreign Policy a little slack on this one.