A more nuanced approach to the NATO 2% target

Recommended reading: Article by Ben Hodges, published in FAZ on November 29. Original article in German available here

It is time for a more nuanced approach to the NATO 2% target. Only in this way there is a chance that Germany’s defense spending will noticeably move towards 2% of gross domestic product in the coming years. If that does not happen, the relationship between the US and Germany will continue to deteriorate.

What do I mean by a more nuanced approach to the 2% target?

NATO should create acceptable incentives for the Bundestag and the German population that would allow Germany to comply with its agreement with the NATO alliance to increase defense spending. In contrast to most NATO members, Germany will probably not reach the 2% target by 2024.

“The needle must move towards 2%, not just 1.5%,” in order to increase Germany’s defense capability sufficiently and to remove one of the main causes of the current tensions between the US and its most important ally, Germany. Especially the worldwide respected democracy and economic power Germany should not only partially contribute to the defense alliance. An increase of the national defense budget to 2% would not have to result in a much larger Bundeswehr.

Rather, improving the Bundeswehr’s operational readiness in the defense budget must continue to be a top priority. The unsatisfactory state of aircraft, vehicles and submarines is well known. It is not based on carelessness of the leadership of the Bundeswehr, but is the result of political decisions that were made a decade ago. Today, the Bundeswehr leadership is working hard to resolve weaknesses in terms of operational readiness.

In addition, I believe that in the ministry, in the Bundestag and in German civil society, too, a “culture of operational readiness” is needed, ideally embedded in a strategic debate on Germany’s role in the world. For there are still further significant investments required to put the Bundeswehr in a state that is worthy to Germany’s role as one of the world’s largest democratic economic power with high moral standards. Aren’t it also German interests and values that require military protection?

How can one understand as a military ally that this Germany does not seem willing to invest properly in its defense capability and thereby be a strong partner to its allies?

The direct investments in the Bundeswehr are the most important and largest part of the defense budget. Of course, this also has to stay that way. However, I think that in addition to direct investments in the troupe, other expenses should be included in the 2%.


  1. Cyber attacks pose a major threat to collective security. Therefore, for example, higher investments in cyber protection of NATO’s very important German ports or airports and the rail network should be credited for the 2%. In a military crisis, it is precisely the functionality of major transport hubs that is crucial. Some countries, such as Lithuania and Latvia, already estimate cyber protection for critical transport and government infrastructures into their 2% today.


  1. Germany should be able to count research investments in “dual-use projects” into the 2%, provided that these researches have next to its civilian and military benefits, as well. I am thinking of, for example, the development of lightweight materials, the treatment of traumatic wounds, artificial intelligence and digitization. Dual-use projects also provide incentives for start-ups and businesses.

Unfortunately, many German universities prohibit research that has military benefits. That is – at least for a foreigner – difficult to understand, since this research also serves the protection of German female and male soldiers.


  1. Investments in civil transport infrastructure, which at the same time has military benefits, should be included in the 2%. A militarily suitable transport infrastructure is essential to NATO’s defense concept. Military mobility is essential for effective deterrence and can thus help prevent military conflicts. It is one of the 17 PESCO projects of the EU and includes i.a. the strengthening of roads and bridges.

The German rail system is also in need of improvement in military terms. At present, Deutsche Bahn would not be in a position to transport equipment for NATO forces to a necessary extent in the event of a crisis. Of course, investment in rail capacity would benefit not only NATO, but also Germany as a business location and the civil society.


Germany is the most important ally of the US. In addition, both countries have a long-standing, close friendship based on common values. The US needs Germany as a strong ally and friend – Germany needs the US. It is therefore so important that this relationship improves again as Germany makes its agreed contribution.

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