After the vote, Angela Merkel is likely to govern at least until 2017. Although fundamental shifts are unlikely, that does not mean that everything remains the same. Especially not in case of jobs in Brussels. Moreover, Germany will face interesting arms procurement debates and may have to re-evaluate its place in Europe.
How to read the election result
Security policy was not an issue during this election campaign. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is in progress and was thus no topic of concern. Hotspots like Syria, Iran and Egypt may have occupied some time on German TV news, but did not do so in mind of the broader German public. The Eurohawk disaster affected only defense secretary Thomas De Maizière’s reputation, however nothing more than that. Therefore, security policy had no impact on the election’s outcome.
Actually, German voters turned right, but got a left wing majority in parliament. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the new eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) together gained 51 % of all votes. However, as FDP and AfD missed the 5 % threshold, Bundestag has now a left wing majority. Nevertheless, Merkel will keep governing. Most likely with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), but maybe even with the Greens.
Programmatically, no Merkel-led coalition would not face serious difficulties in security policy. CDU, SPD and the Greens all-together support NATO and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), but have low appetite for an active (and costly) security policy in Europe’s neighborhood or even across the globe. After 13 years in Afghanistan, all parties will be heavily reluctant to large-scale expeditionary combat missions. Thus, security policy will not be one of the controversial topics during the coming coalition negotiations.
Interesting to watch might be the fight for a top job for a German in Brussels next year. It is clear that Germany will claim one of the five available positions (President of the European Parliament, President of the European Commission, President of the European Council, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, NATO Secretary General). Which seat Germany claims and which party will send a candidate will be subject to the coalition negotiations. There were rumors that CDU defense minister De Maizière could go for Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s job at NATO. However, it could also turn out that a Social Democrat or Green guy will run for Catherine Ashton’s position, as coalition negotiations produce all kinds of strange outcomes. We will see when we get there.
New drones, fighters and ships?
Do not expect rising numbers of troops. Either the Bundeswehr will remain about 185.000 soldiers or it will shrink further to 150.000 or even 120.000. They are missing enough recruits anyway. Plans for drastic cuts in Germany’s federal budget have already been leaked. If implemented, the Bundeswehr will once again have to do its share. Too few recruits could be used as an arguments for further reductions.
However, we will see three interesting procurement debates. First, the drone debate will re-surface. Since the early 2000s, all governing parties supported the decision to buy the Eurohawk. The need for drones is surely there. Thus, it is likely that there will be new UAV procurement decision before 2017.
Second, a topic not yet being discussed is the replacement of Germany’s aging Tornados. These are the Luftwaffe’s only jets who can contribute to NATO’s Nuclear Sharing. Hence, the question will be, if Germany acquires a new fighter-bomber, invests money in making some Eurofighters nuclear capable or leaves Nuclear Sharing after 2020. With an eye on the German budget and Europe’s financial situation, neither German parties nor the widely nuclear disarmament obsessed media and public will support spending money on aircraft to carry nuclear warheads. In consequence, prepare yourself for another fail of German alliance solidarity.
Third, the German Navy has repeatedly called for two Joint Support Ships (JSS), like the Dutch Rotterdam Class LPD. Such ships would be desirable. The German Navy contributes at the same time to NATO, EU and UN operations, while participating in international maneuvers and conducting smaller own SIGINT operations. One or two JSS would be a boost for Germany’s power projection ability and its contribution to international operations. However, it remains to be seen, whether there is enough political will and cash to go for JSS.The Bundeswehr’s new missions
As said, due to Afghanistan, Germany’s political elite is very reluctant to new Bundeswehr missions. The basic rule: The larger the number of troops, the farer away the operational theatre or the more combat involved, the larger the German reluctance. For example, Berlin would ignore a UN call for 5.000 German soldiers to fight in the eastern Congo. Sending 50 officers for training or observation to same place close to Europe would probably get Merkel’s okay. Like in Mali and Somalia, Germany’s land forces after Afghanistan will find themselves mostly in training, observation and disaster relief missions.
Air operations other than NATO Air Policing will also find low support in Bundestag, parties, media and public. Only with a clear UN mandate, Germany might be willing to send fighters for combat missions. One more reason to send fighters, when called, is to get rid of the image of being an unreliable ally. However, as it did before regarding Libya, decisions like this will not depend on any strategy, but rather on the political situation at home.
Silent, but steadily, the German Navy has done a lot in international operations, especially in the Mediterranean. However, few have recognized that there is since 2002, although within different mandates, a permanent German naval presence in the Indian Ocean. The piracy offshore West Africa makes it likely that we will see the German navy also in the South Atlantic. As German naval missions yet involved few combat and are publicly not recognized, one can expect that Germany’s naval activities remain the same. Nevertheless, other than for friendly port visits or disaster relief, Berlin will not send warships or submarines east of Malacca.
EU consensus is necessary
We will see when the crisis returns, but right now, it seems that EU’s December summit is really going to talk about security policy (although schedules in Brussels can change very quickly). This is truly necessary, because in the recent past the EU as a security actor has been plagued by disaster (Libya, Mali, Syria, et.al.). Necessary to decide in December would be two things: To pave the way for new common strategic vision and to increase integration of the armed forces.
For the first, Germany, France and Britain would have to find some kind of geopolitical consensus. However, while Germany makes good business with the Chinese, Britain is reviving its alliance with Japan and talking about plans for troops East of Suez. How diverging the security policy cultures are between the Big Three, could be seen in Syria. In addition, a change of Merkel’s coalition partner will not change this, rather could make things even worse, as the SPD is very attached to Russia.
To make EU security policy work, Paris and London would have to step back from their activism and go a bit more German, while Berlin would have to give up its muddling through and go a bit more Anglo-French. Here, a new European Security Strategy might help, but not one decided in one night by the governments. Instead, EU should look what NATO has done 2009/10. The Alliance started an open and public process all over member and partner states to debate its new strategic concept. EU should take that as an example and start its own one- or two-year consensus-building debate process for a new European Security Strategy.
Increased integration of European armed forces is the only to prevent European from falling to partly into completely military irrelevance. Germany has already started deeper military integration with the Netherlands and Poland. Moreover, CDU parliamentarians like Andreas Schockenhoff and Roderich Kiesewetter have called publicly for even deeper cooperation of the Bundeswehr with other European forces. But no matter who joins Merkel’s government now and no matter, if the Bundeswehr has 185.000 or 120.000 troops, there are no fundamental changes in sight. Expect Germany to muddle through international security as it did before.
Finally, only a left wing government by SPD, Greens and Socialists would bring fundamental change to the German attitude towards military missions. In all other constellations, the approach will stay pretty much the same.