The state of Germany’s military readiness

The state of Germany’s military readiness

The German military is dramatically under equipped to meet pressing international security challenges.

Report background

According to a parliamentary watchdog report, Germany’s armed forces are raising concerns over the country’s commitment to ongoing North Atlantic Treaty Orhanization (NATO) operations and threats from a resurgent Russia.

At this time, 95 of the army’s 244 Leopard battle tanks are operational, zero of the German navy’s six submarines are in operation and zero of the 15 frigates are in service. The report arrives as Germany is slated to lead NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the beginning of 2019, a critical component of the alliance’s strategy for combating Russian aggression in Europe.

Per the report, the German military remains below the 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) threshold for military spending required of NATO members, which raises further critical vulnerabilities. Germany, as a state, has always been reluctant to revise its role as a military power in Europe – given its behavior in twentieth century history – and instead opting to become a cultural and economic powerhouse.

The German military and NATO

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen pledged to increase German defense spending, noting that the recent coalition government of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party is in agreement on the need to reform and invest in the German military.

It will take time to increase morale and materiel equipment as well as reassure fellow European Union (EU) and NATO allies that Germany is committed to advancing its armed forces and in so doing, it will not pose a threat to other military powers on the continent such as France and the UK.

Traditionally, NATO has not relied on a strong German military, and Germany has taken a backseat to major recent conflicts such as the war in Iraq and the French-led bombing campaign of Libya in 2011. Whether the German military will take a more active role remains to be seen, but it is unlikely that it will replace the traditional European allies in the near future.

At the Munich Security Conference, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel criticized President Trump’s ‘America First’ policy and maintained that European nations reply on the United States for defense and security protections. Gabriel’s critical response comes after Chancellor Merkel claimed that Europeans need to take their fate into their own hands as the US, in her view, become an unreliable partner lacking full commitment to NATO and European security.

Germany does not spend 2 percent of its GDP, per the NATO requirement, on defense spending, yet under the leadership of Angela Merkel it has become one of the loudest voices within the transatlantic community for confronting a resurgent Russia. In addition, Germany is embracing the core pillars of collective defense, which is something the United States has been reluctant to do under President Trump’s administration.


German soft power coupled with a return to hard power military capabilities may prove to be a potent combination for the German state, but one that could fundamentally alter the nation’s identity since the founding of NATO.

NATO is unlikely to suffer because of a weak German military, but the real debate lies in whether Germany wishes to become a central pillar of the transatlantic alliance in terms of its military weight and whether it can be accepted as such by both the United States and its European partners.

NATO was founded to ‘keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down’, as Lord Ismay, the alliance’s first Secretary General famously said, but Germany is never down for too long nowadays when it comes to European political and security matters ranging from the eurozone crisis to asylum seekers and the conflict in Ukraine.

Presently, the Russian Federation is out and the Americans are still in despite the tacit endorsements from President Trump, and Germany is now in a position with a renewed focus on whether its military should match its economic might.

It will likely be many years before the German military is on par with its European partners, such as France and the United Kingdom, as well as receiving the international respect and legitimacy that strong military power welcomes from both allies and adversaries.

At this time, Germany will remain one of the world’s principal soft powers, with economic, cultural and diplomatic legitimacy that appears to grow stronger, even as the EU faces numerous internal and external challenges.


Categories: Europe, Security

About Author

Alexander Brotman

Alexander Brotman received an MSc in International Relations from The University of Edinburgh. He previously was a researcher with the Center for a New American Security in Washington and has been published with PassBlue, a digital publication covering the UN, as well as Cable, an online global affairs magazine published by the Scottish Global Forum. His research interests include European politics, NATO and Russian foreign and security policy.