COLOGNE, Germany — German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has unveiled a proposal to increase spending on the armed forces and establish an organization styled after the U.S. National Security Council that would execute a more assertive defense policy.
Her Thursday speech at the Bundeswehr University in Munich included a pledge to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2031. That objective came embedded in a call for the country to be more willing to use the military as an instrument of national power by protecting maritime shipping lanes in China’s environs, for example, or countering the spread of terrorism in the Sahel region alongside French troops.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s speech, billed as a “foundational” address by the Defence Ministry, follows a series of recent skirmishes within the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel that critics say have exposed Germany’s inability to shape the resolution of global crises to its advantage.
Over the summer, Berlin punted on partaking in an international naval protection mission in the Strait of Hormuz when the demand was most pressing. More recently, a proposal by the defense minister for a United Nations-backed peacekeeping operation in northern Syria was so badly and publicly trashed inside the governing coalition by the Social Democrats that allied governments didn’t appear to know what to make of it.
The Munich audience of flag officers, academics and student service members needed little convincing of Kramp-Karrenbauer’s vision, but getting the rest of the government excited about a Germany that is engaged in worldwide security could be a hard sell. The country has no muscle memory when it comes to employing hard power as a routine foreign policy instrument, or going through the decision-making required for it.
A National Security Council-style organization would help bring a whole-of-government approach to urgent defense and security questions, argued Kramp-Karrenbauer. A similar organization exists already, called the Bundessicherheitsrat, though it’s known to the public mostly for its secrecy and as the approval authority for arms exports.
The defense minister stressed that the German parliament, the Bundestag, would remain in charge of determining when to send soldiers into harm’s way. But she argued that accelerated parliamentary consideration should be available when the question is on the table of whether to participate in missions led by the United Nations, NATO or together with “European partners.”
At the end of the day, Kramp-Karrenbauer argued, Germany should strive to establish an “ability to act" globally commensurate with the country’s status as a powerhouse in Europe.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.