The Russian Navy is still underfunded in 2017


Johannes Varwick

To person

is Professor of International Relations and European Politics at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. His main focus is on basic security policy issues and international organizations. «

The tasks and structure of the Bundeswehr have changed extensively in several steps over the past few years. However, every reform of the past 20 years - like the previous ones - had only a short half-life. [1] The Bundeswehr is an armed force that is legitimized and controlled by parliament and mandated in its operations. The fact that today she "has some serious problems with hollow structures in terms of material and personnel has become common knowledge in the German debate". [2]

Starting position

The Federal Government's still current framework document on the question of "What should and can the Bundeswehr?", The White Paper on Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr from 2016, [3] indicated that the German armed forces have been living off the substance for years, thus suffer from underfunding and at the same time increased design demands on the part of politicians. According to the concept derived from the White Paper from 2018, the Bundeswehr is developing its capabilities with a view to specific properties of the spaces and dimensions in which military operations can take place: "Providing army, air force, navy, special forces, cyber and information space, armed forces base and medical service in the Bundeswehr military forces are available in the dimensions ready for action ". [4] So much for the claim. According to Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, it is about Germany's ability to act in security policy. This always presupposes two components: "That you want it and that you can do it. And we have to make our contribution to both." [5]

In the analyzes and declarations of intent of the responsible ministries, in particular the Federal Ministry of Defense responsible for the Bundeswehr and its many offices and agencies, the inevitable failures, weaknesses and errors are often correctly identified. Rather, the deficits usually lie in implementing the measures that have been identified as correct. According to the General Inspector of the Bundeswehr, German security policy has "been very intensively involved in deleting and shortening for more than 20 years, but little in what the Bundeswehr needs in order to be permanently operational. (...) Now it is a question of to rebuild the lost capacities at a modern level. "[6] In this respect, the Bundeswehr's list of deficiencies is long; This is not seriously questioned by military experts outside of the Bundeswehr - just as little by the Defense Commissioner of the German Bundestag in his reports of recent years. [7]

So what should and what can the Bundeswehr do in 2020? In what condition are the German armed forces, which do not formulate their goals of their own accord, but which are undoubtedly an instrument of politics in Germany? [8]

To the limit of performance - and beyond?

In the 1980s, the Bundeswehr was still considered by far the strongest conventional armed force in the West in Europe. It formed the indispensable backbone of defense within NATO. With her strength and professionalism she made a significant contribution to the fact that deterrence worked and that Europe was spared from a third world war. So what has happened in the meantime that the picture has changed so much within a few decades? [9] The historical background shows a widening gap between order and means, a situation that became more and more problematic in several steps. At first glance it sounds paradoxical, since after the end of the East-West conflict, the "end of history" (Francis Fukuyama) also seemed to have been reached, at least in (Western) Europe. War seemed unthinkable, and military precautions were unnecessary. Germany was "surrounded by friends" and at the same time essentially concerned with realizing its newly won unity. A peace dividend was requested by large parts of society and implemented step by step. Many Bundeswehr units were disbanded and personnel massively reduced, essential materials were scrapped or sold, and stocks of spare parts and ammunition were drastically reduced for cost reasons. The duration of compulsory military service was reduced to a level that hardly made sense from a military point of view, and at the same time it was believed that reservists could be dispensed with more and more. In 2011, conscription was finally suspended.

At the same time, Germany came under increasing pressure, both internally and externally, as a powerful economic power to make a military contribution to international crisis management, i.e. to assume joint responsibility in this area and thus to give back part of the solidarity it had experienced for decades. However, this put the Bundeswehr in a position that pushed it to the limit of its capabilities and, in some cases, even beyond it. Until then, it was always geared towards national defense in the narrower sense - with short distances, on its own territory and thus with direct access to all infrastructural and human resources available there. Her strategic horizon, which actually had to be described more as tactical or at best more operational, ended until then at the inner-German border. The new order situation - first in Somalia, then in the Balkans and finally in Afghanistan, to name just a few of the focus areas - now required something completely different, such as strategic relocation capability, a robust command and information system over long distances, extensive field camp capacities, mobile medical care with the latest equipment and much more. New training requirements and personal skill profiles were added. The Bundeswehr did not receive start-up funding for these new tasks - as requested by the Weizsäcker Commission in 2000 [10]. The necessary change of direction could only be achieved if the troops' resources were consistently concentrated on the respective operational missions - at the expense of most other tasks and ultimately also cohesion and substance. In any case, national and alliance defense was no longer officially a structural determinant. In plain language that meant: she was neglected.

From 2014, the picture changed again with the Crimean crisis. With the paradigm shift in the strategic assessment with a view to Russia, the classic defense capability in Europe again came into focus. The range of tasks of the Bundeswehr has not been reduced to the original state, but has in fact been expanded again. However, this is now definitely going beyond the performance limits of the troops. The result is reflected in its current state - and there is little to suggest that it will change decisively with a few billion euros more, despite all indications of a "financial turnaround" in the defense budget. The deficits are now far too fundamental for that. As a solution, there is hardly any other choice than to self-critically analyze the tasks assigned to the troops, to decide on a consistent sequence of priorities and at the same time to accept inevitable gaps. In essence, it is about re-establishing the balance between the order and the available funds, which has been lost over the years.

Bundeswehr operations

The Bundeswehr has been an army for a long time. The classic function of armed forces to deter and defend against attacks from outside is nevertheless as indispensable as it is undisputed, even if this general insight in the armed forces planning and in large parts of the German public seemed to be temporarily forgotten and has only recently become more conscious . As far as military crisis management goes beyond national and alliance defense, experience teaches us to be quite sober modesty with regard to the effectiveness and chances of success of military operations. Since 1991, the Bundeswehr has deployed well over 400,000 soldiers in over 50 missions abroad, and the results are very mixed. However, no wrong conclusions should be drawn from this balance sheet, because only the availability of sufficient military resources enables one to be able to act in crises or not to have to use these resources precisely because one has them. [11]

As part of NATO's "extended front presence", Germany has been responsible for the multinational battlegroup for Lithuania since January 2017. With currently 552 soldiers, this is the third largest mission of the Bundeswehr abroad after Afghanistan and Mali. As part of the NATO Response Force, Germany provided the so-called NATO spearhead (VJTF) as a framework nation in 2019, which must be ready for every conceivable scenario within five days. In 2023 around 15,000 German soldiers will once again take up their service as part of the spearhead - presumably just as much below the radar of large parts of the public as in 2019. As of March 2020, 3,243 Bundeswehr soldiers are in addition to being part of collective defense within the NATO framework ten mandated missions abroad, including in Afghanistan (Resolute Support), Mali and Niger (MINUSMA and EUTM Mali) and in Iraq (Counter Daesh). [12] Here too, at best, there is still a "friendly disinterest" [13] in large parts of the population - even though every single mission has to be mandated by the Bundestag.

Multinationality as a central framework

Another aspect of the development of the Bundeswehr is its extensive multinational involvement. The future of German and European security precautions also lies in the multilateral alliance, above all within the framework of the UN, NATO and the EU, but increasingly also in changing "coalitions of the willing" or bilateral formats. None of the major challenges can be overcome in the long term with purely national resources alone. Questions of national interests and strategies are by no means obsolete. Rather, they are the prerequisite for any meaningful contribution. The Bundeswehr finds this aspect rather easy insofar as it has only been able to take effect since it was founded in 1955 through integration into alliance structures.

In the future, it will be even more important than before to create "islands of functioning cooperation" [14], that is, purely national capabilities should gradually become common multinational capabilities that can then also benefit NATO and the EU. With the development of the framework nation concept from 2013, initially in the context of NATO, later also harmonized with the EU's permanent structured cooperation in the defense sector (SSZ, or more commonly known PESCO: Permanent Structured Cooperation), identified capability gaps are to be closed as jointly as possible and military efficiency increased through tried and tested cooperation relationships , also in action. [15] No miracles are to be expected from this, and given the current state of affairs it is also unlikely that it will become a truly communitized "European Army". In addition, the German parliamentary approval sets certain limits to the use of armed forces in multinational integration. [16] The path towards an "army of Europeans" made up of national components, which could then also strengthen NATO, is, however, a target perspective that will further change the Bundeswehr. [17] This applies to the military-political level as well as to the armaments-political level, although here the difficulties of efficient cooperation are particularly evident. Nevertheless, plans such as the Franco-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS) planned for 2040 will shape the reality of operations in the coming decades, but again outside the EU context. [18]

Three trend reversals: personnel, materials, finances

The current state of the Bundeswehr shows what happens when the balance between order and available funds threatens to be lost over the years. Many of the existing large-scale systems (Eurofighter, the Tiger combat helicopter, Leopard 2, Panzerhaubitze 2000) have their origins in the reign of Helmut Kohl, and the introduction of new systems is making slow progress. This also applies to new questions such as cyber, electronic warfare or artificial intelligence, although the Cyber ​​and Information Space Command was put into service in April 2017 and deals with these new questions.

Despite new tasks, some parts of the Bundeswehr are not ready for action, there is a lack of personal equipment for the soldiers, the stock of ammunition falls drastically below the NATO requirements in some cases, the troops lack ships, tanks and helicopters, air defenses and fighter planes. In order to improve this situation, the Ministry of Defense, under the leadership of Ursula von der Leyen, announced so-called trend reversals in the areas of finance, personnel, material and infrastructure in 2016 and finally in 2018 the strategy of the Bundeswehr with a newly presented conception of the Bundeswehr and a new capability profile set for the coming years. [19] The tasks of the Bundeswehr described in the 2016 White Paper - essentially national and alliance defense as well as extended crisis management outside the alliance area - should have equal status in the future, but it is stated that not all of them can be fully performed at the same time. Refocusing on national and alliance defense represents the most demanding task with the greatest need to catch up for the Bundeswehr. Cyber, hybrid warfare, appropriate readiness and rapid shifting of focus of mobile forces as well as support services for allies are the current issues and at the same time challenges of national and alliance defense . In the so-called basic set-up of the Bundeswehr, a powerful and robust approach to forces is required, which must be equipped with personnel and material in a job-oriented manner. Skills for other tasks that are not originally included in the basic constellation (for example in the context of international conflict management) should be provided by supplementary specific "mission packages". The basic setup and mission packages together should then enable the fulfillment of all tasks of the Bundeswehr. For this purpose, existing capabilities not only have to be further improved and expanded, but also partially rebuilt in the area of ​​national and alliance defense.

Turnaround in personnel
More staff will undoubtedly be required for the defined tasks. While the two-plus-four treaty set an upper limit of 370,000 soldiers in 1990, the Bundeswehr's low level in 2016 was around 166,000 professional and temporary soldiers; at the beginning of 2020 the number was 184,000, including around 23,000 women. The target is to be 186,000 plus up to 12,500 voluntary military service and 4,500 reserve service by 2025. In view of the suspension of compulsory military service in 2011, the Bundeswehr is having considerable difficulties in recruiting suitable (specialist) personnel. While the number of applicants has declined sharply in recent years, it has stabilized in 2019, but also due to longer service periods and not only due to newly hired and highly qualified staff. This also includes a new reservist concept, which provides, among other things, that everyone who was a soldier in the Bundeswehr will in future be called up as reservists for exercises for a further six years so that they can be deployed in the event of a crisis. The number of unoccupied NCOs and officer positions was more than 20,000 in 2019. With various laws to increase attractiveness and a forced change in the role of the Bundeswehr in society and politics (such as free train travel in uniform or public vows), the soldier's profession is to be valued more and thus also become more attractive.

Trend reversal material
The proportion of funds available for investing in new or modernizing existing material has risen in recent years, but has not yet reached the promised armaments investment quota of 20 percent of the defense budget. The procurement time and processes, the bureaucratic obstacles on the part of the Bundeswehr as well as the development and production possibilities of the armaments industry are also in great need of improvement. The Armed Forces Commissioner speaks of "structures on the official side that have obviously become dysfunctional", [20] numerous observers emphasize that the Bundeswehr is still unsatisfactory in using the available money efficiently and in avoiding waste.In the report of the Armed Forces Commissioner, numerous deficiencies are mentioned, including only a quarter of 284 newly purchased Puma armored personnel carriers, only a fraction of 53 Tiger combat helicopters or the NH90 transport helicopter, less than a quarter of the 93 tornadoes and nine of 15 larger combat ships. [21]

According to the capabilities profile of the Bundeswehr, the so-called full equipment should not be achieved until 2031; as an intermediate step, an army brigade (from the previous seven and a half) should be fully equipped in 2027, a whole division (three brigades) in 2027, and then three divisions in 2031. It is doubtful whether this can be achieved with the current resources. With regard to the operational readiness of the Bundeswehr's 66 main weapon systems, even the official figures from the Federal Ministry of Defense (internal documents are not accessible) paint a mixed picture. [22] Although there have been significant improvements, there can be no question of a satisfactory situation with an average of 70 percent operational readiness. According to Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer, all the reforms of the past, including the massive involvement of external expertise, "obviously did not lead to the results we wanted". [23] The army inspector at the time also argued that it was good that the necessary financial resources were made available. Large projects can only be tackled if there is reliable medium-term financial planning. "Driving on sight, that works badly. As the Bundeswehr, we have not been able to curb our excessive bureaucracy completely in the past five years. It is not helpful that the procurement of tents, rucksacks and helmets, for example, is carried out in the same planning manner as the procurement of a tank ". [24] A remedy is to be found in 2020 with a "ready-to-use initiative" and a series of related measures.

Turnaround in finance
The implementation of the new concept can only be realized if the financial resources increase significantly. While the defense budget in 2014 was 32.4 billion euros (2015: 33.0; 2016: 34.3; 2017: 37.0; 2018: 38.5), the budget grew to 43.2 billion euros in 2019. For 2020, the Bundestag has decided to spend 45.1 billion euros on defense. Since the NATO summit in Wales in 2014, the increase in German defense spending that can be counted according to NATO criteria has been around 40 percent today. An important indicator for the financial trend reversal are also the increasing funds for armaments investments in order to resolve the recognized investment backlog of the past years and to be able to further develop military capabilities. However, the commitments made under NATO and the EU (the politically controversial two percent target) cannot be achieved with these considerable increases. The federal government is aiming for a quota of 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product by 2024 and a quota of two percent by 2031. The share of defense spending in gross domestic product rose accordingly: from 1.18 percent in 2014 to 1.23 percent in 2018 to 1.36 percent in 2019. For 2020, the German government reports 50.3 billion euros to NATO, [25] With a forecast of 1.42 percent of GDP, that would still be a long way from the promised target.

Interim balance
If you take the experience of the trend reversals and the numerous attempts to reform the Bundeswehr together, you can not help but notice that a whole range of home-made problems are burdening the Bundeswehr. The Armed Forces Commissioner formulates this with impressive clarity: "For a long time it has not been individual regulations that go beyond the bounds of the manageable, but the overorganization of the entire apparatus of the Bundeswehr. Commanders complain that the increasing bureaucratisation in all areas is increasingly restricting operational flexibility. Strict execution of the process has become more important than the operational goal. A 'trend reversal mentality' is therefore urgently needed in the Bundeswehr. "[26]

Living up to Germany's role in the world

German security policy must face all of this. Germany has a key economic and political role both in NATO and in the EU and is also an important power in the UN. It should therefore be a matter of course that Germany - after an intensive political deliberation process - can in principle also take part in the full spectrum of military operations and use its forces in accordance with the constitution, in solidarity and reliably. For various reasons, however, Germany still shows a remarkable reluctance in the security policy and especially in the military area of ​​international crisis management, some of which is viewed critically by its partners. [27]

The core of Germany's international security policy responsibility should, for reasons of its location, size, economic strength and also history, relate above all to its stabilizing function in Europe. With a view to the role of its armed forces, this results in a special responsibility for the topic of national and alliance defense, and here Germany has also taken on responsibility from 2014 - even if this is by no means permanently underpinned by appropriate financial resources in terms of material and personnel. Nonetheless, it can also be said that Germany benefits from the liberal international order like hardly any other country, although it sometimes makes little contribution to maintaining it, at least militarily. In other words: the "culture of restraint" and the "culture of responsibility" have probably not always been properly balanced in recent years. The contrast between "responsibility politics" and "power politics", rightly invoked in a certain historical constellation after the regaining of full sovereignty in 1989/90, is no longer the core problem for German security policy. Rather, the idea of ​​shared responsibility for an open and stable international order requires a reassessment across the board - not least against the background of the strategic reorientation of US foreign policy.

That does not mean that Germany should become more frivolously involved in the military in the future and that it should automatically open up to all wishes and demands of its partners. It does mean, however, that in the (presumably few) cases in which the deployment of its armed forces can make a lasting contribution to solving the problem, Germany should be able to do so reliably within the multilateral network. The majority of security experts assume that the next 30 years will not be as stable and secure for Germany as the three decades since 1989 - and these were not all peaceful. The power-political behavior of Russia, the new nuclear imbalance in Europe, the rise and military ambitions of China, the uncertainty about the military role of the USA in Europe, the security consequences of climate change, the unstable regions in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East and in parts of Africa, international terrorism and of course the technology revolution, which will massively change the nature of military threats, speak against it. The Defense Minister put it as follows: "I am sure: In view of the international situation, we will have to prepare for more and more demanding missions. At least we have to prepare for the fact that more will be demanded from our partners than is still the case today. It is important to me that we are equipped for this - not just in terms of material and training and a clever balance between combat and support troops, but also politically and communicatively. "[28]

In the situation described, the German Bundestag in particular is challenged with a view to the Bundeswehr as a parliamentary army. He should focus on defense and security policy as a core state task of public services and therefore use his budgetary authority to pass a Bundeswehr Strengthening Act [29], which is binding on the German capability commitments from the NATO planning process and the EU capability planning for the years up to 2031 Money deposited. Such things may be new for Germany, but it would not be unusual. France has a military program law, and Poland has the two percent target in law. In other policy areas, Germany pursues such long-term commitments as a matter of course. For example, the Structural Strengthening Act for the mining regions affected by the coal phase-out and the Good Day Care Act binds funds for a very long time. Such a strengthening law for the Bundeswehr would be about the substance of security, which is ultimately also expressed in military capabilities. Germany should continuously equip its armed forces with modern equipment, constantly renew old equipment and finance rising personnel and technology costs in order to deter opponents and, if necessary, survive in missions.

It is not about a militarization of German security policy - even if this is of course controversial in the political and scientific debate. [30] Germany is certainly not prone to military adventures - and it should stay that way. But as an avowed multilateralist, Germany must adhere to binding international agreements. If Germany refuses to provide itself and Europe with a strong Bundeswehr, it will jeopardize the pillars of its current and, above all, future security: NATO will be weakened and the EU will not even be built into an independent security actor. And only adequately equipping the Bundeswehr on an ad hoc basis when there is a crisis in which the need for action is recognized will not succeed in view of the large number of construction sites shown here.