Germany Strives to Lead in NATO
At the recent 2017 Munich Security Conference, from February 17 to February 19, the United States pressured its European allies to meet their contribution and defense quotas to NATO. Since then, Germany has committed itself to increasing both its own reserve forces and its annual financial contribution to NATO.
During the assembly, US Vice President Pence reconfirmed the U.S.’ obligations to NATO, notwithstanding previous comments from U.S. President Trump that the U.S.’ interests come ahead of any allies’. While Merkel reiterated her pledge to follow through on her NATO responsibilities, she also warned, in response to Trump’s stance, that “no one can handle the world’s problems alone.”
Since the Munich conference, Germany has already begun to follow through on its promises. Merkel has vowed to augment security force enrollment from a current number of 166,500, representing a historic low, to 200,000 by 2023. Germany plans to spend the required 2% of its GDP on NATO, instead of the current 1.2%, an increase which would call for $66 billion of increased spending over the next several years.
Nevertheless, Germany’s plans do not hold universal support. After World War II, Germans effectively created a culture opposed to military strength. However, after the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine, polls have found that just over half of Germans are increasingly in favor of military expansion.
Unfortunately, even members of Chancellor Merkel’s own party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), are wary. As Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel commented, “One has to ask whether it would really calm Germany’s neighbours if we turned into a big military power in Europe,” though many do expect Germany to be the major EU powerhouse after Brexit.
Even those in support maintain their doubts. Jakob Augstein, a columnist for Der Spiegel, worries that Germany’s military enlargement is too little and too late and worries, “Who will protect us, when the Russians come?” He believes the US will not offer protection, and he, as well as many like-minded individuals, is advocating for the rebirth of the German nuclear weapons program as a deterrent
The Germans will have their say on this polarizing issue in September as they vote to either keep Merkel and her CDU-led coalition or replace her with an SPD-backed Martin Schulz.