(CNN) — The past 12 months have forced European leaders to radically rethink their approach to national security.
If the Russian invasion of Ukraine has confirmed anything, it’s that peace on the continent cannot be taken for granted. The current status quo of underspending and defense cannot continue for decades without political priority.
This is especially true in Germany, which for years has spent far less on the military than its Western allies, but is now rethinking its approach to defense at home and abroad.
Days later The invasion began last FebruaryGerman Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivered a powerful speech to parliament, pledging to spend 100 billion euros ($108 billion) to modernize Germany’s military capabilities.
He pledged that Germany would raise its defense spending to 2% of GDP — a NATO-set goal it had missed for years — and end its deep dependence on Russian energy, especially gas.
Yet nearly a year later, critics say Scholes’ vision has not materialized. Germany has been accused of delaying sending its most powerful weapons to Ukraine.
Criticism has intensified in recent days as US and European leaders pressured Berlin to deliver tanques panther 2 Made by Germany for Ukraine, or at least to allow other countries to do so.
Experts estimate there are about 2,000 Leopard tanks in use in 13 countries in Europe, and they are seen as increasingly vital to Ukraine’s war effort as the conflict moves into its second year. But Berlin must approve these countries to re-export German-made tanks to Ukraine, and has so far resisted calls to do so.
Scholz has insisted that such a plan must be fully coordinated with the entire Western alliance, and German officials have indicated that they will not approve the replacement of the Panthers unless the United States also agrees to send some of its tanks to Kyiv.
On Friday, a key meeting of Western allies in Germany broke down without a broad agreement on sending tanks to Ukraine, after the country’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, said his government was still undecided.
Pistorius dismissed claims that Germany was getting “in the way” of a “unified coalition” of countries backing the plan. “There are good reasons for surrender and there are good reasons against … all the pros and cons must be weighed very carefully, and many allies clearly share that assessment,” he added.
Germany’s decision to go deeper into tanking could go awry with its allies in the short and long term.
“It’s like acid eroding the layer of trust,” a senior NATO diplomat told CNN on Friday. The diplomat added that Germany’s reluctance could have a lasting impact on the rest of Europe, pushing other members of the alliance closer to the United States, even if Germany is reluctant to do so.
Splits in the alliance have become more public in recent days: Earlier in the week, Poland’s prime minister described Germany as the “least performing country in the group” and suggested his country might send the Panthers into Ukraine. Without Berlin’s approval.
A balancing act
Despite all the criticism over Germany’s suspicions about the tanks, Berlin has played a key role in supporting Ukraine over the past year. According to the Gale Institute, only two countries, the United States and the United Kingdom, have provided more military aid to Kyiv than Germany.
Germany’s military support for Ukraine has evolved over time. It has abandoned its longstanding policy of not supplying lethal weapons to conflict zones and has recently stepped up deliveries of heavy equipment to Ukraine, including armored infantry fighting vehicles and Patriot anti-missile defense systems.
However, the government sees the tanks as a big step up from the weapons it has so far supplied to Ukraine, and fears that authorizing the use of German tanks against Russia would be seen by Moscow as a significant escalation.
Experts say the reluctance is due to Berlin’s pragmatic approach to conflict in general and its relatively timid military stance dating back decades.
“Germany has been in peacetime for years. Now we don’t have the practical or procurement expertise to do anything at speed. The truth is that for decades, we have treated our defense budget as a gift to our allies because they thought it was important,” said the deputy director of the German Council on Foreign Relations. Christian Moling said.
Whatever happens in Ukraine, Germany will have to ask some important questions about security in the coming years. Germany’s appetite for upgrading its armed forces had grown significantly since the start of the war.
Last week, Christine Lambrecht resigned as defense minister amid criticism of her efforts to modernize the armed forces. Lambrecht struggled to do anything significant with the 100 billion euros Scholz got him last year. The leader of Germany’s main opposition Christian Democrats has accused the president of not taking his own speech last year seriously.
What does Germany want?
Now the person who can spend that money is Pistorius, whom German authorities see as a safe, employable pair. The question he and Scholz must answer is how far Germany is willing to go as a serious military presence in Europe.
In December, Germany admitted it was breaking Scholz’s promise to meet NATO’s defense spending requirement by 2022, saying it would miss the target again in 2023.
The combat readiness of its military is lower than that of other European powers. Based on Rand’s cooperation, Germany would have a month to raise a full armored force, while the British Army “could maintain at least one armored force indefinitely.”
Defense experts say it will be difficult for Germany to move too fast or too fast in its efforts to strengthen its military.
“Yes, we are committed to spending more on our defense, but without a clear idea of what it should be spent on or how it fits into a broader defense strategy,” Moling said.
Moling also believes that Germany’s security aspirations may be hampered by political will: “Ethnicity is built on the narrative that Germany is a peace-loving nation. The public mood is changing and may be at a tipping point, but it is very difficult to be a leader who has pushed Germany to become a leading player in European security.”
European officials and diplomats are pessimistic, thinking the reality of German politics will ultimately continue to resist radical defense reform.
An important moment
It is often said in diplomatic circles that Germany’s 21st-century success model is built on three pillars: cheap Chinese labor, cheap Russian energy and American security guarantees.
Many believe that this well-known preference for diplomatic pragmatism and reluctance to choose sides will severely limit any defense reform.
A German official told CNN that it will be difficult for traditional politicians to break old habits: “They have an inherent suspicion of openly siding with the United States and a subtle belief that they can bridge the relationship with Russia.”
Berlin has also lent its support to Ukraine in other ways, taking steps to stop using Russian gas, setting an example for the rest of Europe, which has seen its overall gas consumption fall since the start of the war. Europe’s relatively warm winters have certainly helped, but keeping Putin from arming Putin has been a key factor in the Western backlash against Moscow.
But Europe’s security map has been redrawn, as have the dividing lines in international diplomacy. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of another country makes it clearer than ever that moral values are not universal.
Germany, the wealthiest country in Europe, has undoubtedly benefited greatly from the policy of keeping its feet in two camps. It is protected by NATO members while maintaining economic relations with undesirable partners.
That policy has been condemned, and now Germany must decide what kind of voice it wants to have in the current global security conversation. The decisions you make in the coming years could play a major role in defining the security of the entire European continent for decades to come.