BERLIN — The German navy’s priorities for 2024 will focus on increasing its presence in the Baltic Sea and Indian Ocean, top service officials said this month, while a deployment to the Red Sea to protect trade ships recently targeted by Houthi rebels in Yemen also is on the horizon.
Speaking at an annual panel event hosted by the sea service to discuss security trends, the commander of the maritime arm of Germany’s armed forces, Vice Adm. Jan Christian Kaack, emphasized the need to become more flexible and better able to project power to hotspots near and far.
Aside from personnel and munitions, one of the three priorities for the year is the German navy’s Indo-Pacific visit this summer, Kaack said. An accompanying document outlining the vice admiral’s vision describes the mission as serving Berlin’s diplomatic ambitions in the region.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius announced during a visit to Singapore last June that two warships – a frigate and a supply ship – would travel to that part of the world in 2024 amid high tensions over the South China Sea, where expansive Chinese territorial claims overlap with those of more Western-friendly countries. The region is a crucial chokepoint for global trade.
A similar German mission took place in 2021 with just one frigate, the Bayern, which made port calls in numerous Asian countries ranging from Japan and South Korea to Oman and India.
The navy chief also touted the importance of a new naval facility on Germany’s Baltic coast to strengthen the service’s logistics capabilities there – and by extension, the ability to project forces in that region.
Sending the warships to protect German trade objectives, as is currently being debated in the context of the Red Sea crisis, was a controversial position in Berlin as recently as 2010. Former German President Horst Köhler resigned that year following remarks made in an interview where he suggested the country’s military should be used to protect national economic interests. At the time, critics accused him of “gunboat diplomacy.”
Now, Germany looks to be among the supporters of a planned European Union naval mission to protect shipping routes from Houthi attacks off the coast of Yemen.
An European Union deployment to the region has been the works since at least December. Negotiations are “progressing well,” deputy spokesperson for the German foreign ministry, Christian Wagner, told journalists at a press conference on Jan. 19. “The federal government is ready to contribute to a mission in the Red Sea,” he said.
On Jan. 22, the EU’s foreign ministers agreed to a Red Sea mission to protect shipping routes, the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said. A start date has yet to be announced. German officials have designated a frigate, Hessen, as Berlin’s contribution.
Linus Höller is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He covers international security and military developments across the continent. Linus holds a degree in journalism, political science and international studies, and is currently pursuing a master’s in nonproliferation and terrorism studies.