Commentary: Ukraine: The Bundeswehr must become more defensive and stronger

Chancellor Scholz’s “turning point” speech made Europe sit up and take notice. Not much has happened since then. Time is of the essence.

When Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) gave his “Zeitenwende” speech on February 27, a thunderous rumble went through Germany that was heard throughout Europe. Three days after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Scholz said the key sentence: “The core question is whether (. . .) we have the strength to set limits on warmongers like Putin. That requires your own strength.” The Chancellor announced a 100 billion euro special fund for the armed forces on.

Defensiveness, strength, readiness for action: You hadn’t heard these words for a long time. Previously, the Bundeswehr had often been caricatured as a bankruptcy, bad luck and breakdown association. “Guns that don’t shoot, planes that don’t fly, ships that don’t set sail” – the troops were often mocked like this or something similar. It was the receipt for a broken austerity course that was passed on from one federal government to the next after the end of the Cold War.

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The Bundeswehr lacks ammunition worth 20 billion euros

Unfortunately, after Scholz’ “turning point” wake-up call not moved too much. After initial hesitation, the traffic light coalition delivered heavy weapons to Ukraine and Eastern European NATO partners. However, the situation at home is sobering: the armed forces only manage the shortage for long stretches. The soldiers are missing ammunition worth 20 billion euros. An amount that is not estimated in the special fund of the Bundeswehr.

The first deliveries to arrive from the special fund at the end of the year are clothing, helmets and night vision devices. What, on the other hand, is years away are “Puma” armored personnel carriers, new helicopters or drone protection, as Army Inspector Alfons Mais recently lamented.

“Attacks on Germany can potentially occur without warning”

This vacancy is depressing. Inspector General Eberhard Zorn recently issued a confidential paper calling for the armed forces to change their strategy. The Bundeswehr must position itself more effectively for an impending conflict with Russia. “Attacks on Germany can potentially occur without warning and with great, possibly even existential, damage,” was Zorn’s alarming finding.

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Military and political pundits have long warned that the war in Ukraine is only the frontline for Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is said that he is leading a large-scale campaign against the West. On the one hand, this includes the destruction of Ukraine as the “outpost” of the West.

After the Ukraine invasion, the first priority is national and collective defense

On the other hand, it extends to the entire range of “hybrid wars”: cyber attacks against political, economic and military targets in EU and NATO countries, disinformation campaigns, political divisions. Kremlin experts warn that should Putin sense weakness, he would not hesitate to launch military attacks beyond Ukraine.

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The Bundeswehr must flip the switch as quickly as possible. For years it was focused on foreign assignments. The Afghanistan mission ended in fiasco. It is high time that the Mali mission with more than 1,100 soldiers was also put to the test. After the Ukraine invasion must be the first priority national and alliance defence mean. Defense and strength in the NATO alliance have a deterrent effect on any potential aggressor.

Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) had already announced in September: Its size and economic power make Germany “a leading power, whether we want it or not – also in the military field.” This claim has not yet arrived in practice.

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