There are times when mostly long-term developments culminate in dramatic events that justify the impression of experiencing a turning point in time. In exactly the same way, Chancellor Scholz described the situation in his memorable government statement three days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in order to justify the measures for which there had been neither a majority in the German population nor in the electorate of the coalition parties: immediate arms deliveries to Ukraine, massive rearmament of the Bundeswehr and a 100 billion euro special fund as well as the commitment to future defense spending amounting to more than two percent of gross domestic product.
A big part of this sudden shift in policy has to do with the fact that too many of us have been ignoring 20th-century experiences of authoritarian systems for too long, replacing realities with wishful thinking. For attentive observers, Moscow’s revisionist goals and brutal actions come as little surprise, given the violent interventions by Russian politicians from Grozny and Georgia to Crimea and Aleppo, as well as assassination attempts on journalists and members of the opposition in Russia, Great Britain and Germany.
Now we not only have to deal with the immediate consequences of the war in our own country, but also with the effects of this years of denial of reality: “The Bundeswehr, the army, is more or less bare there,” said the inspector of the German army, Lieutenant General Alfons Mais , recently on record.
It is therefore urgently time to act to protect our security, our freedom and our democracy. None of this comes for free. Even familiar appeals against “escalating rearmament” like the open letter that prominent representatives from politics, culture and science published at the end of April 2022 do not help against this sober insight. The old reflexes of German moral superiority seem to have fallen out of time these days.
What can stay, what has to change? Central components of European security are the transatlantic relations in the context of NATO. French President Macron also recently had to admit that the military alliance had “received an electric shock” from the Russian war of aggression after he had diagnosed the alliance as “brain dead” in November 2019. In any case, without the military capabilities of the USA, neither Germany nor Europe will be able to protect themselves effectively in the foreseeable future.
In order to remain attractive as an ally for the USA, however, Germany and Europe must contribute more to transatlantic relations. What is needed is a European security architecture as an independent part of NATO. However, this is only possible if those involved not only enter into reliable financial commitments, but are also willing to make structural changes. This poses particular challenges for Berlin and Paris: France, with its national power to dispose of nuclear weapons, and Germany, with its exclusive parliamentary scrutiny for foreign deployments of the Bundeswehr.
In the context of European defense structures, we must therefore think about how Parliament’s tried-and-tested participation in decisions on military deployments beyond national defense can be combined with the necessary supranationality of the operational capability of a European rapid reaction force. It is now clear that we have to find new solutions for how the parliamentary scrutiny must be designed in order to ensure that we can react quickly in acute crises.
Not only the US President, but also the NATO Secretary General and most EU heads of state and government have been saying for weeks that the West has never been so united and so strong as it is now; but they must also ask themselves whether this brutal war of aggression would have taken place at all if the unity and strength of the western community of states had been demonstrated so resolutely in the past.
In Germany, too, we must self-critically question why we have not taken some of the concerns from our allies and partners seriously and why we have allowed an ever-increasing dependence on Russia, of all things, in such a sensitive area as energy supply. Especially since the Chancellor’s internationally acclaimed government statement on the “turning point” has given rise to new doubts about Germany’s expected leadership role.
The establishment of a National Security Council, such as that found in the United States and Great Britain, is long overdue in the executive branch’s area of responsibility. Such a body, with the participation of the relevant departments and equipped with a situation and analysis center, could not only help to bundle Germany’s security and defense policy and to clarify it to the outside world, as stated in the “Cologne Declaration” of the CDU and CSU recently formulated, but also contribute to identifying dangers and risks at an earlier stage and drafting recommendations for action: Such a body would probably have noticed in good time the extent to which the security of our energy supply has become dependent on a state that repeatedly makes international claims right breaks.
The most important task of a National Security Council lies in reviving a strategic culture that has been lost in Germany. A more strategic view of the world would also recognize China’s steady advances in Asia, Africa and Latin America as an economic and political challenge and would suggest bundling our various foreign and development policy instruments in one ministry, in which the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and development would come up. Australia, which is in direct competition with China in the Indo-Pacific region, recently did so to strengthen its own leverage.
As a central contribution to an effective European security structure, Germany must not only upgrade militarily, but also create the institutional framework for strengthening Germany’s ability to react and act in the face of future challenges. Because some things have to change so that things that cannot be taken for granted can remain: freedom and security.