What future European Defence and Technological Industrial Basis (EDTIB) do we want/need? The German case

By Leonard Schütte, Senior Researcher at the Munich Security Conference

Russia’s attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022 sent tremors through Berlin. Having long clung to obsolete beliefs about Russia’s peaceful trajectory and the longevity of the European security order, the war at last forced German decision makers to come to terms with the new security environment in Europe. In his famous “Zeitenwende” speech, delivered three days after the onset of the war, Chancellor Scholz recognised that “we are living through a watershed era. And that means that the world afterwards will no longer be the same as the world before.” The country, however, was ill-equipped for this new era. Once German decision makers overcame initial hesitation and mustered the will to support Ukraine with military equipment to defend itself against Russia, they found the Bundeswehr and its arsenals in a sorry state, the national defence industry scaled down, and the defence ministry’s procurement agency largely dysfunctional.

 

For German defence policy standards, profound reforms followed. Chancellor Scholz announced the creation of a special military fund (Sondervermögen) worth 100 billion euros to close critical capability gaps. Boris Pistorius became new defence minister in January 2023, replacing his lacklustre predecessor. He quickly set out to upend the processes and working culture at the defence ministry and its procurement agency, decreeing in April 2023 that “with immediate effect, the factor time shall have the highest priority” in procurement decisions. The governing coalition also realised its pre-war promise to draft Germany’s first National Security Strategy (NSS) – which was published in June 2023 after a cumbersome process – to provide strategic direction.

 

Russia’s attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022 sent tremors through Berlin. Having long clung to obsolete beliefs about Russia’s peaceful trajectory and the longevity of the European security order, the war at last forced German decision makers to come to terms with the new security environment in Europe. In his famous “Zeitenwende” speech, delivered three days after the onset of the war, Chancellor Scholz recognised that “we are living through a watershed era. And that means that the world afterwards will no longer be the same as the world before.” The country, however, was ill-equipped for this new era. Once German decision makers overcame initial hesitation and mustered the will to support Ukraine with military equipment to defend itself against Russia, they found the Bundeswehr and its arsenals in a sorry state, the national defence industry scaled down, and the defence ministry’s procurement agency largely dysfunctional.

 

However, the European dimension hitherto appears conspicuously absent from the German response to the “Zeitenwende”. The biggest items on the special fund’s shopping list are US systems. Germany is also widely perceived to play a rather passive role in shaping the EU’s defence initiatives launched or proposed in the wake of the war.1 The vague treatment of European defence policy in the NSS reinforces this impression. Indeed, the German response to the “Zeitenwende” reflects its traditionally ambivalent approach to European defence. Germany has long been a “power without cause” in European defence integration. While Germany has become somewhat more active in pushing EU defence cooperation since Brexit, Berlin’s “rhetorical pro-integrationist stance […] is rarely backed up by consistent efforts to turn it into practice”.

 

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As the EU’s largest defence spender (in absolute terms) and home to some of Europe’s largest defence companies, and given its declared ambition to revive its military might, German decisions will have a profound impact on the future of the European Defence and Technological Industrial Base (EDTIB). Drawing on background interviews with German officials in Brussels and Berlin and recent strategy documents, this paper therefore zooms in on Germany’s arms procurement choices in response to the war, its national defence industrial strategy, and approach toward recent EU initiatives to distil the German perspective on the future of the EDTIB. It concludes that the combination of uncertain long-term defence funding, the neglect of the role of the EU, a reluctance to resort to industrial strategy, and an understandable short-term focus currently prevents Germany from pursuing a clear, overall strategy for the future of the EDTIB.

 

About the author

Leonard Schütte is Senior Researcher at the Munich Security Conference. As part of the Publications & Research Team, he contributes to the Munich Security Report, Munich Security Briefs, and other publications. Leonard is also Fellow at the Centre for International Security at the Hertie School in Berlin. Leonard Schütte has published academic articles, policy briefs and opinion pieces on European security order, EU foreign policy, NATO, and international organisations.

 

Read the full article on the website of The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (ARES – Armament Industry European Research Group).

 

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