German Courage: Why Germany Must Strive to Take on a Leading Role in European Defense Policy
How We Can Achieve Sovereignty and a Competitive Position
Over the next four years and beyond, the future German government will face a number of momentous challenges and decisions. In this context, attitudes to and the development of defense policy – and therefore of the domestic defense industry – play a key role. This has become exceedingly apparent in the wake of the uncontrollable situation in Afghanistan, the European Community’s lack of operational readiness, its unclear positioning vis-à-vis Russia and China, its relationship with the US, and the dwindling competitiveness of key industries.
So where do we currently stand? The German Armed Forces urgently need to modernize. And this has long since ceased to be just about equipment for foreign missions, which we have become accustomed to for years. We expect the military to be ready for deployment in response to floods, disasters, and pandemics. We expect rapid and global readiness for evacuation missions and, of course, we are counting on its ability to perform its actual core task – defense of our own country and others as part of NATO. The latter, in particular, will require greater capacities in the coming years, especially due to pressure from our European and transatlantic partners. The overwhelming majority of policymakers and civil society also recognize this. What I don’t see, however, is the logical willingness to equip our armed forces for all these deployment scenarios. As an industry, we have always worked to provide our soldiers with the best possible, most reliable, and most efficient equipment in sufficient numbers. In the process, we are also increasingly focusing on conserving resources and protecting the environment. It is up to the politicians to provide the necessary financial framework – and to honor their commitments and stick to their plans.
Assuming a Leading Technological Role
This begins with smaller procurement projects and extends to major, pioneering, joint European projects. Learning and benefiting from each other is a lofty goal that promises a technological and economic boost for all of the countries and industries involved. I’m sure I speak for many CEOs and business owners when I say that we stand behind this 100%! But these collaborations must be based on the partners involved having an equal standing. When the agreements are being drawn up, we can’t allow ourselves as the German industry and, in particular, as German policymakers, to be outmaneuvered. This also means taking a bold approach to innovation and providing binding funding for technological leaps many years – if not decades – in advance as the basis for future projects. This is necessary to prevent the same situation from occurring as with the Future Combat Air System FCAS or my Main Ground Combat System MGCS.
Harnessing the Courage to Innovate for Exports as Well
At the present time, the German government is domestic defense companies’ largest customer. And it often leaves the corresponding SMEs in a state of uncertainty. Export restrictions and the associated high production costs are hampering the companies’ competitiveness. We should view the export of defense-related equipment as a pillar of German foreign and security policy. After all, companies that are only allowed to produce under strict conditions for one customer, who buys ever smaller quantities, will not be able to keep up with the price competition on the international market over the long term. Without a realistic prospect of receiving orders, however, companies rarely invest in new technologies. And that ultimately hurts the economy as a whole.
Whether the entrepreneurial risk is worth it in the end is, unfortunately, still decided by German bureaucracy far too often. The tediously long procurement processes for new material are just one example. Faster decision-making processes and greater freedom to make decisions are called for across the board every four years. Don’t sing it, bring it! The bureaucratic monster that is the German Armed Forces must become a beacon of debureaucratization in the coming years.
Finding European Answers
The escalation in Afghanistan in August once again underscored our heavy dependence on the United States in military matters. Europe knows that it must do far more. And Germany, as Europe’s largest economy and most populous country, must and will make a substantial contribution to the stability and sovereignty of the European Community. A key first step has already been taken – a consensus has been reached to intensify the joint development of military capabilities and technologies. The plan is to achieve this through a new defense fund that will support research and procurement across national borders.
Keeping International Commitments
Yet we must continue to strengthen our capabilities and find common ground not only within Europe, but also beyond its continental borders. This becomes especially clear in acute threat situations. This brings us to NATO, humanity’s longest-standing defense alliance. We need to continue to defend, and perhaps even strengthen what this alliance has achieved – peace, freedom, prosperity – in the future. The two-percent GDP target is an important component of this that has an impact both internally and externally. That is because, on the one hand, it’s about international commitments and collaboration, and on the other hand, about modern technical equipment for our soldiers. And last but not least, it’s also a question of boosting innovation and investment in the defense industry and suppliers – and thus the country’s overall technological and economic competitiveness. Despite all the broken china in the past, the United States remains an important, perhaps the most important, partner in economic, national security, as well as cultural respects. A future German government will understand this as well.