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Can Germany Be a Great Military Power Again?


Germany has long occupied a particularly comfortable place in the world. The country has an export-dependent economy, selling cars and machinery everywhere — plus tanks and submarines, as one of the world’s largest arms exporters. But when it comes to countering perceived security threats – whether Islamic State or Putin – it has allowed allies to take the lead. German leaders have sent troops to Afghanistan but have largely avoided calling it a “war,” even as German troops fought on the ground there for the first time since World War II. Germany’s aversion to military might has been perpetuated by one obvious fact: its defenses are guaranteed by the world’s leading superpower, the United States, within the framework of NATO. President Donald Trump, who tends to question foreign policy about who steals from whom, is particularly obsessed with what he sees as German defense liberalization, calling Germany a “the laggard” in military spending. But it’s not just Trump. Every recent US administration has tried, and most failed, to get the Germans and other European allies to bolster their militaries and meet NATO’s defense spending target of 2%. gross domestic product, a goal that Germany has long achieved.

Even as Putin’s words and actions become increasingly belligerent, a mantra “Wandel durch Handel,” or “change through trade,” goes on to define German foreign policy toward Russia. It is thought that economic interdependence with Russia will encourage Russia’s democratization, or at least a rules-based international order that prevents acts of aggression. It is also good for business. By 2015, Putin’s imperial ambitions were becoming increasingly apparent. However, German officials have backed the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will bring Russian natural gas to Germany directly via the Baltic Sea, bypassing the existing pipelines in Ukraine. (Nord Stream 1, which runs the same route, opened in 2011.) The Germans pursued the project despite warnings from US lawmakers, who were concerned that Germany’s dependence on Russian gas had leverage Putin. Those lawmakers, along with the leaders of Eastern European countries, who are increasingly worried about Putin’s aggression, also worry that the new pipeline will compromise the security of isolated, Ukraine. country and deprive them of lucrative transshipment fees for transporting gas from Russia to Europe.

Revenue from Germany’s fossil fuel purchases has helped the Kremlin fund military expansion. At the same time, German military spending as a share of GDP remains near post-World War II lows. The leaders of Eastern European countries such as Poland and Ukraine – which had suffered great geographical misfortune when sandwiched between Germany and Russia and suffered greatly under both Hitler and Stalin – were became exasperated with Germany’s approach to Russia. As early as 2006, Poland’s then-Defense Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, likened plans to build the first Nord Stream pipeline to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty – the non-aggression agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. . “Poland is particularly sensitive to corridors and transactions above our heads,” Sikorski said at a security conference in Brussels. “It’s the 20th century. We don’t want to repeat that.”

For Germany, history has shown that soft power adjustment is more effective than hard power threat. Wandel durch Handel was in many ways an extension of West Germany’s Cold War imposed policy, a policy of resumption of relations with Russia introduced by the Social Democratic government in the late 1960s, amid fears of nuclear war. Although West Germany subsequently maintained a strong military to stave off a Soviet invasion, West German leaders believed that economic interdependence was crucial to avert the apocalypse. . According to the now familiar pattern, pipelines were built to bring Soviet natural gas to Germany. For years, American presidents expressed concern that Germany was becoming too dependent on the Soviet Union and provided revenue for its military. But in Germany, imposed policy seen, especially on the political left, as instrumental in ending the Cold War.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the failures of German policy became apparent even to the Germans: The German army consisted of an aging force of about 183,000 men. The German soldiers lacked not only heavy weapons and ammunition, but also basic things such as protective vests, helmets and backpacks. On the day of the invasion, Lieutenant General Alfons Mais, head of the German Army, one of the three branches of the Bundeswehr, used his LinkedIn page to express his disappointment. “The army I had the honor to lead was more or less naked,” tomorrow wrote. “This doesn’t feel good!” In April, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrats who served as foreign minister under Angela Merkel and architect of Germany’s Russia policy, acknowledged mistakes . “We have kept bridges that Russia no longer trusts and our partners have warned us about it,” he told journalists in Berlin. “We have failed to build a common European home that includes Russia.”

Few countries have been as fundamentally shaken by the Russian invasion as Germany. Rising energy costs are weakening German industries. Wandel durch Handel has been discredited, raising questions not only about Germany’s past Russia policy but also its current relationship with an autocratic China – Germany’s largest trading partner – at the time. where President Xi Jinping is consolidating power and China is building up its armed forces and threatening military action against Taiwan. German leaders are now frantically searching for new sources of energy and debating the need for hard power.

Be a part of him Zeitenwende In the speech, Scholz vowed to meet NATO’s defense spending target “from now on,” although his government has since made no announcement on when that might happen. In part, this is due to entrenched bureaucracy that slows down the process of spending money on weapons. If German leaders deliver on their promises, Germany will become the third or fourth largest military spender in the world. Before the war, such an increase would have been very unpopular. But in a poll conducted on German public television shortly after the invasion, 69% of Germans supported it.

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