Why Germany Should Further Boost Defense Spending, and Why It Probably Won’t

Media Coverage | March 19, 2019

French President Emmanuel Macron challenged Europe on March 4 to create a new “European Renaissance” that includes more defense spending and a new defense and security treaty. The proposal drew some quick applause from Germany: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who succeeded German Chancellor Angela Merkel as head of Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, responded five days later with her own proposal to build a “European aircraft carrier” and rebuild European strategy and organizations to ensure global security and peace. 

It is unlikely, however, that Kramp-Karrenbauer’s ideas, which were endorsed by Merkel, will move beyond symbolic gestures any time soon. This is bad news for Macron — without support from both halves of Europe’s Franco-German core, major political changes on the continent are unlikely. 

It is also bad news for Germany. In a country still haunted by its militarist and totalitarian past, German politicians have little incentive to reconsider their cautious approach to the military. But the world is at the dawn of a new age of great power competition between the United States, Russia and China, and Europe is caught in the middle. Germany faces the very real possibility that its much-prized “Weltinnenpolitik” — an “international system with highly constrained exercise of the use of force and a legitimate authority to arbitrate” — could quickly crumble. 

Persuading the country will not be easy. While 43 percent of Germans, according to a September 2018 poll, are in favor of increasing defense spending, 55 percent are against Germany playing a more active diplomatic and military role in international crises. 

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