Germany’s Defense Pledges Are Uncertain As Costs Of War Bite, Experts Say

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • Germany has become the fourth largest military supporter of Ukraine after the Russian invasion in February sparked new commitments to defend Ukraine and deter Russia.
  • Economic pressures, thinning domestic weapons stocks and, most importantly, fear of escalation now threaten Germany’s ability to follow through on its promises, according to experts.
  • “Scholz’s primary objective is to chart a middle way — a managerial path which he believes is not only virtuous and responsible but broadly in line with German public opinion,” Hudson Institute senior fellow Peter Rough told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Germany will fall short of its own defense commitments for 2022, rendering its continued support for Ukraine uncertain while domestic factors steer it toward conciliation with Russia, according to experts.

Germany reversed course on a post-Cold War non-confrontational posture toward Russia in February, after Russia invaded Ukraine, issuing new commitments to ramp up defense spending and military assistance to Ukraine, Politico reported. Eight months later, Germany has become the fourth largest military supporter of Ukraine, but some of the country’s defense promises have begun to look thin, driven by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ aversion to hostilities with Russia, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Scholz’ primary objective is to chart a middle way — a managerial path which he believes is not only virtuous and responsible but broadly in line with German public opinion,” Hudson Institute senior fellow Peter Rough told the DCNF. (RELATED: Country’s Security Chief Sacked Over Possible Ties To Russia)

After Russia invaded, Germany ditched a rapprochement strategy of Scholz’ center-left Social Democrats (SPD) for a plan to meet the NATO requirement that it spend 2% of GDP on defense from 2022 onward. Ministers also established a $100 billion “special fund” to finance procurement of U.S.-made equipment and authorized arms shipments to Ukraine despite the majority coalition’s prior rules against sending weapons to active conflict zones, Deutsche Welle reported.

States across western Europe may soon have to choose between further intruding upon rapidly dwindling domestic stocks to supply the Ukrainian army and maintaining their own defense, The Associated Press reported in October. While Germany has contracted Stinger missiles and entered a $519 million agreement to procure 600 new Navy guided missiles in September, delivery will not begin until at least 2024.

“Yes, the Bundeswehr’s stocks are limited,” Germany’s Ministry of Defense told the AP .

“I cannot tell you what the exact stockpiles are because of security aspects. However, we are working to close the current gaps,” the ministry added.

Germany has committed over $3 billion for Ukraine, of which $1.5 billion is for defense, and is using its inventories to backfill equipment other European countries have sent to Ukraine, according to DW. However, Kyiv has accused Berlin of bowing to “abstract fears” in excuse for stonewalling the delivery of Leopard II tanks, Marder infantry fighting vehicles and howitzers, Business Insider reported.

However, Germany may not reach the 2% target this year, the German Economic Institute found in an August report after researchers failed to track the necessary government spending. The organization also projected a $18 billion shortfall in 2023 despite funds being set aside for the purpose, according to Politico.

“Germany’s military continues to suffer serious equipment and readiness issues overall. Because its equipment was already in such a dilapidated state, maybe you hit that wall sooner,” said Daniel Kochis, a senior policy analyst or European affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

“With the German economy continuing to battle rough seas, I’m not very optimistic 2% will actually ever be attained,” Kochis added.

The government has also gutted the procurement budget, compromising a desire not to cancel the fund wholesale with the reality of dwindling purchasing power and an energy crisis, German-language paper Handelsblatt reported on Oct. 24, citing defense officials.

“Inflation is eating away at the special fund which was financed via loans, and is simultaneously degrading German purchasing power especially when you’re talking about U.S. systems. The government doesn’t want to wholesale cancel procurements, which is why the numbers of platforms procured are seemingly up in the air and trending downward,” explained Kochis.

The European Union also employs a collaborative procurement facility, but many members have viewed the joint fund as a means to beef up their own defense-industrial complexes, fueling intense internal disputes that further delay the process of procuring and transferring weapons to Ukraine, Bruxelles2 reported on Oct. 18.

Scholz pushed for a larger, stronger European Union that includes Ukraine at an Oct. 15 meeting with EU counterparts, DW reported. He also advocated to scrap a rule requiring unanimous assent on matters relating to foreign policy, a move that could potentially hasten decision making on arms transfers to Ukraine.

However, neither the EU nor Germany’s dire economic state — the country’s four major economic institutes in September predicted recession through 2023 — will influence German arms transfers as much as concerns over a future relationship with Russia, Rough told the DCNF.

“The economic situation has little influence on specific weapon transfer decisions. [Scholz’s] team is far more concerned about the prospect of escalation,” said Rough.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, also a member of Scholz’ SPD, on Friday said “there is no room for old dreams” with Russia.

However, within the SPD “there is some pressure … to find a way forward with Moscow, even if the days of chummy relations are over,” Rough told the DCNF.

Other leaders, such as Christian Democratic Union party co-chair and Saxony Premier, Michael Kretschmer, have called to re-establish ties with Moscow, according to DW. On Oct. 23, he said gas imports from Russia should resume after the war even though the Kremlin has been accused of weaponizing energy resources to weaken Europe.

“German defense spending levels are entirely a matter of political will. It may be that Germany rearms; on the other hand, it is also possible that Russia’s collapse in Ukraine leads Berlin to cut defense spending once more,” said Rough.

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