No More Excuses, Berlin!

Recommend reading: Article by Ben Hodges, published in Die Zeit on December 5. Original article available in English and in German.

This current state of affairs is the result of political decisions that were made a decade ago. It will take time, and an infusion of significant financial resources, to fix it. Fortunately, the senior leadership of the Bundeswehr is working hard to make improvements as resources become available. They deserve more support from the German public and the political leadership in Berlin.

Berlin must end its strategic inertia and fulfil the leadership expectations that the rest of the alliance has of Germany. Instead, though, I hear so many excuses for why Germany doesn’t lead or cannot lead: “Our history,” “Our neighbors would be concerned,” and many more.

None of these excuses are worthy of a nation that has for 70 years demonstrated it is a liberal democracy with high moral standards while building Europe’s largest economy. Germans need to regain trust in themselves. I’ve actually never heard anybody from Poland or France say that they were concerned about a stronger, more effective Bundeswehr. If anything, Poles and Lithuanians, in addition to Americans, are looking for an unambiguous German commitment to deterrence and defense.

If Germany owes anything because of its history, it is that it should live up to the responsibilities it has as a strong state within the community of democratic nations.

Germany has benefited very much from the security provided by NATO – and, especially, by the United States. It’s time for Germany to step forward and accept a more visible, meaningful role within NATO, time to lead by example and fulfil its defense-spending obligation. If Germany fails to do this, and if the U.S. minimizes its role in Europe, what would the consequences be for Germany? Is Germany prepared for them?

Fortunately, I sense a growing recognition in Germany of the need for vigorous public debate about its strategic role in the world.  More and more parliamentarians are speaking out about the need for German leadership, and in private conversations, I hear Germans express embarrassment over the state of the Bundeswehr and the lack of strategic leadership. The recent announcement by Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer that Germany would in fact reach the agreed-upon benchmark of a defense budget equal to 2 percent of GDP by 2031 was good news – though it is embarrassing that it will take seven years longer than what was agreed to at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales.

I remain confident in the vital relationship between Germany and the United States. On both sides of the Atlantic, there are so many serious-minded leaders and people who care deeply about the shared values that have bound us together for all these years – those same values that have inspired other nations to want to join NATO and to join the European Union.

On the occasion of German reunification in 1990, U.S. President George H. W. Bush spoke of a “common love of freedom.” In that same speech, he said: ” Even as Germany celebrates this new beginning, there is no doubt that the future holds new challenges, new responsibilities,” and he expressed hope that the U.S. and Germany would be “partners in leadership.

Thirty years later, we are still waiting for that wish to be fulfilled. But we must keep on trying.