Merkel’s Message to US: NATO is not ‘Obsolete’ – and neither is the Russian Boogeyman

CDU Promises Vast Expansion of Military Spending, Putting Election at Risk

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen used the 53rd Munich Security Conference to send a message to the new U.S. administration: NATO is not “obsolete” – and neither is the Russian boogeyman!

“There can be no policy of equidistance between allies on one side and those who on the other question our borders, our values and the principles of international law,” Defense Minister von der Leyen said to applause at the Munich Security Conference.

Without mentioning U.S. President Donald Trump by name, von der Leyen voiced harsh criticism of Trump’s attitudes toward Russia. “We must pursue finding a reliable coexistence with Russia together instead of going over our partners’ heads in a bilateral relationship,” von der Leyen emphasized.[1]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the same line, calling for more multilateral cooperation and touting the importance of NATO in dealing with Russia. Merkel cited Russia’s support of separatists in Ukraine and the “annexation” of Crimea as reasons for reinvigorating NATO and portrayed the military build-up in Eastern Europe as a necessary defensive move.[2]

Moreover, the German Chancellor reassured U.S. Vice President Mike Pence that Germany was committed to reaching NATO’s defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP by 2024. “We will do everything we can in order to fulfil this commitment,” Merkel said, stressing that it will take some time to get to the 2 percent target.[3]

This year, Germany’s military spending is set to increase by 8 percent to 37 billion euros, which translates into 1.2 percent of GDP.

In order to meet the NATO guideline, Germany would need to add some 25 billion euros to its military budget over the next few years, as German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel pointed out in Munich. Gabriel called NATO’s 2 percent metric into question, noting that Greece met the goal while struggling to pay its pensions.[4]

Latvia’s former Defense Minister Artis Pabriks challenged the German Vice Chancellor, saying: “It sounds a little bit bitter if the support [of] my border and the security of my country is in danger because some … nations will not pay their share.”

Gabriel cautioned Germany’s allies against opening a debate over expenditures and stressed that Germany’s contribution to European security also included paying “30 to 40 billion euros per year to take in refugees who came in here largely because military interventions in the past have gone seriously wrong.”[5]

The comments by the outgoing chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) underline that Merkel and her Christian Democrats take high risks when they promise to expand the military budget.

According to a December 2016 poll, two-thirds of Germans oppose spending more on defense.[6] But this didn’t stop Merkel and other prominent members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from pledging a 25 billion euro increase in defense spending over the next few years.

The SPD, which has closed the gap on Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc after nominating Martin Schulz as chancellor candidate, could exploit this issue in the upcoming federal election.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a Christian Democrat and die-hard Atlanticist, lamented after the Munich Security Conference that the SPD was “still a bit hesitant” whereas Chancellor Merkel and Defense Minister von der Leyen had agreed with him to keep expanding the military budget in order to reach NATO’s 2 percent target by 2024.[7]

All three CDU leaders – Merkel, von der Leyen and Schäuble – are known for putting Atlanticism over Germany’s national interests. It hasn’t hurt their careers so far, but it may hurt their chances of winning the election if the Social Democrats open a debate over military spending. Recent polls show that the CDU/CSU bloc can’t afford to lose more ground to the SPD.[8]

Merkel was planning to use the Russian boogeyman during the election campaign in order to divert attention from her disastrous track record.[9] The only problem is that Germany’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies haven’t been able to find any evidence of Russian meddling in German politics.[10]

Last year, Merkel ordered an investigation into potential Russian interference after Russian officials, journalists and members of Germany’s Russian community made the mistake of believing a 13-year-old Russian-German girl who claimed that she had been abducted and raped by migrants. Suspecting that Russian state actors were behind the “Lisa protests” in Germany, German authorities spent almost one year searching for evidence of Russia’s “disinformation campaign.”

Parts of the Russia investigation were supposed to be published, but after seeing the results of the investigation, the government decided to keep the 50-page intelligence report under wraps.

Not only were Germany’s intelligence agencies unable to back up reports that the “Lisa protests” were orchestrated by Russian state actors, they were unable to find any direct evidence of Russia’s alleged disinformation campaign.

In order to save face, the intelligence agents offered two different conclusions: Either Russia is not organizing a disinformation campaign against Germany or – the version preferred by German spies – the Russians are hiding their tracks well. Therefore, the intelligence agencies recommended “further investigative efforts.”[11] The German Chancellery agreed and told them to investigate further.[12]

Chancellor Merkel needs the Russian boogeyman now more than ever as she tries to convince German voters to spend unbelievable amounts of taxpayer money on the military in order to prop up a Cold War military alliance whose purpose it was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

If the Social Democrats decide to make military spending a campaign issue, Merkel could get into serious trouble.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Notes

[1] Michael Birnbaum and Dan Lamothe, “German defense chief hits Trump attitudes on torture, Russia and Muslims,” The Washington Post, 17 February 2017: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/german-defense-chief-hits-trump-attitudes-on-torture-russia-and-muslims/2017/02/17/7f76e56c-f525-11e6-8873-a962f11835fb_story.html?utm_term=.2a037deaaebf.

[2] Angela Merkel, Speech at the 53rd Munich Security Conference, 18 February 2017: https://www.securityconference.de/mediathek/munich-security-conference-2017/video/statement-by-angela-merkel/.

[3] Janosch Delcker, “Germany will take own time to boost defense, Merkel tells Pence,” Politico, 18 February 2017: http://www.politico.eu/article/germany-will-take-own-time-to-boost-defense-merkel-tells-pence/.

[4] Sigmar Gabriel, Speech at the 53rd Munich Security Conference, 18 February 2017: https://www.securityconference.de/mediathek/munich-security-conference-2017/video/the-franco-german-view-sigmar-gabriel-and-jean-marc-ayrault/.

[5] Janosch Delcker, “Trump’s demand upsets German election,” Politico, 19 February 2017: http://www.politico.eu/article/trump-nato-germany-munich-news-military-spending-merkel-armed-forces/.

[6] “Umfrage - Nur ein Drittel der Deutschen für höhere Militärausgaben,” Reuters, 15 December 2016: http://de.reuters.com/article/deutschland-aussenpolitik-umfrage-idDEKBN1441VR.

[7] “Schäuble: Haushalts-Spielraum für mehr Verteidigung ist da,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 19 February 2017: http://www.stern.de/politik/deutschland/reaktion-auf-us-forderungen-schaeuble--haushalts-spielraum-fuer-mehr-verteidigung-ist-da-7334264.html.

[8] “Poll shows 'reds and greens' could oust Merkel's conservatives,” Deutsche Welle, 19 February 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/poll-shows-reds-and-greens-could-oust-merkels-conservatives/a-37621153.

[9] Christoph Germann, “Newsbud Exclusive- The Disastrous Track Record of the New ‘Leader of the Free World’,” Newsbud, 27 November 2016: http://www.newsbud.com/2016/11/27/newsbud-exclusive-the-disastrous-track-record-of-the-new-leader-of-the-free-world/.

[10] Georg Mascolo, “Bericht der Geheimdienste: Keine “Smoking Gun” aus Russland,” NDR, 6 February 2017: https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/deutsche-geheimdienste-russland-101.html.

[11] Ben Knight, “German intelligence 'finds no evidence of Putin disinformation campaign',” Deutsche Welle, 7 February 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/german-intelligence-finds-no-evidence-of-putin-disinformation-campaign/a-37448072.

[12] Georg Mascolo and Nicolas Richter, “BND: Keine Beweise für Desinformations-Kampagne Putins,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 6 February 2017: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/geheimdienste-bnd-keine-beweise-fuer-desinformations-kampagne-putins-1.3365839.

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