His policies could shift Germany—and finally help topple the Talibanby Robert Fry / May 16, 2017 / Leave a comment
The news from Afghanistan is rarely good. The Trump administration is reviewing its policy at a time when just 57 per cent of the country’s 407 districts are under government control and losses among Afghan forces in 2016 ran to an unsustainable total of 6,785. It seems that President Trump is minded to take military advice and demand a reinforcement of the Nato mission—expect a brisk exchange of views at the Nato summit on 25thMay.
Of course, this is not the only tension between America and a number of its allies, particularly those who spend less on defence than Nato’s requirement of 2 per cent of GDP. Of the 28 members, only the United States, UK, Greece, Estonia and Poland meet the funding commitment and the Americans have resorted to tough language to condemn the freeloaders. At the Munich Security Conference in February, US Defence Secretary James Mattis went so far as to suggest a “moderated commitment” to those in default and thus the possibility of a divisible Nato. Washington may pay passing attention to the shortcomings of Portugal, Bulgaria, Croatia and so on, but the real target is Germany.
Germany manages a multi-billion euro budget surplus yet spends only 1.2 per cent of GDP on defence. This rounds out to about €37bn; an increase to 2 per cent would take to around €67bn and transform the country’s role within Nato and possibly the world. In a post-Brexit Europe, this would restore Germany to a military predominance that would unbalance the Franco-German axis at the heart of the European Union and make Theresa May’s veiled threat of a withdrawal of British security co-operation rather empty.
But it won’t be easy. The ghosts of Germany’s past mean there is no consensus for change on this scale; the Social Democrats have already declared against any increase and the debate can only intensify in the run up to the autumn election. Nor is Germany structurally equipped for defence expansion on this scale. All defence expenditure over €25m needs to be ratified in parliament and the defence procurement office has had a hiring freeze for the last 10 years. But perhaps the post-war conventional wisdom that the…