Should we increase military spending?

Does Germany have to increase the arms budget to 2% of gross domestic product?

Trump's demands on NATO allies

The heads of state and government of the NATO countries formulated goals for future military policy at their meeting in Wales in September 2014. In doing so, they were guided by the following considerations ("... we are guided by the following considerations"):

Allies whose military spending is below 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) will

  • stop cutting defense spending;
  • aim to increase real defense spending in line with GDP growth;
  • aim to move towards the 2% guideline within ten years ("… aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade").

The gradual increase in military spending was decided under the impression of the Ukraine crisis - as a kind of warning to Russia. In the period that followed, however, nothing fundamental changed in terms of actual military spending. It was only when the new US President Trump linked the US's continued loyalty to the alliance with the Wales two percent target that the pressure on the allies to keep the promise increased. The US administration is of the opinion that all NATO countries really have to achieve the two percent.

Opinions are divided in Germany. There is therefore a threat of a dispute over the direction of military policy for the next few years. "We have to make a reasonable qualitative contribution so that others - across the Atlantic - are ready to get involved", participants in a defense committee meeting quoted the Chancellor (Bild, 14.1.16). Defense Minister von der Leyen recently rejected criticism from the SPD leadership at the planned massive increase in German military spending.

Alice Wedel, co-chair of the AfD parliamentary group, supports the two percent target: "Germany must invest significantly more in national defense. And we must meet our international obligations" (FAZ, August 7, 2017). The FDP and the Greens refer to Germany's international responsibility, but do not commit themselves in detail with regard to the 2%. Dietmar Bartsch, co-chairman of the left parliamentary group, says: "We find this two percent target completely unacceptable" (mdr aktuell, 5.9.2017).

Despite rising defense spending (2017: € 37 billion), Germany is currently around 1.23% of GDP. According to Zeit Online of February 18, 2017, assuming annual economic growth of 2% in 2024, Germany would have to spend more than € 75 billion on defense in order to achieve the target. That's because an increase in spending only increases the percentage if it outperforms economic growth. Incidentally, the fixation on a percentage for military spending fails to recognize the building blocks of a peace-oriented security policy. This is not limited to spending on armaments. Rather, it demands development cooperation, a willingness to reach understanding, a willingness to engage in international dialogue and compliance with international law.

What is interesting about the deliberations of the political parties is that they only argue about the necessity, appropriateness, scope and financial feasibility of the NATO armament plan. The primary question of whether Germany is obliged by the Wales targets to strive for the two percent target remains unanswered.

Legal evaluation

Political and legal scholars agree that the two percent target set by NATO no legally binding effect unfolds. This is justified primarily with the history of the development of NATO and with statements by key politicians. Percentages as in the final declaration of Wales are a political expression of will ("non-binding requirement", "gentlemen’s agreement", "informal benchmark"). However, they did not contain any binding obligations on the part of the member states (see Scientific Services of the German Bundestag, WD 2 - 3000 - 034/17 of March 21, 2017).

  • This assessment is supported by the wording of the Welsh Declaration. There is only talk of considerations and the fact that the alliance partners aim to "aim to ... guideline". A text form, as is customary for binding contracts (e.g. "The parties undertake"), is completely absent. In addition, there are no rules in the event of non-compliance with agreements. The linguistic form of the summit declaration thus has the character of a mere declaration of intent.
  • Such an interpretation also corresponds to the spirit of the NATO treaty. Article 5 of the latter does not oblige the Member States to spend a certain proportion of their GDP on defense. Rather, each ally provides "assistance" in the event of an armed attack by taking measures that it deems necessary. Specific military contributions or even obligations for armament have not been agreed.
  • The Wales resolution is also not binding on Germany internally. The signatures of Merkel and Steinmeier on the Wales document are aimed at defining essential provisions for German military policy and also have a deep impact on the federal budget policy for the coming years. Such decisions are the responsibility of Parliament. As long as the Bundestag does not agree to the voluntary commitments, they are ineffective.

Security policy consideration

An obligation on the part of allies to increase military spending is only understandable - if at all - if the alliance is militarily inferior to its supposed opponents. That's not the case. Because the US military spending for 2016 ($ 611 billion) is almost nine times higher than that of Russia ($ 69 billion). The total expenditures of all 28 NATO countries amount to $ 918 billion; this results in a 13-fold superiority of the NATO military budget compared to Russia. The military expenditures of the second largest military power China (an estimated 215 billion US dollars) are three times less than that of the USA.

Even though the use of money is not to be equated with military efficiency, the figures nonetheless make it easy to see that the rates of increase demanded by Trump are not plausible. The fact that the USA has had to pay very high arms spending for years (currently 3.3% of GDP) because of its mostly illegal wars is not a sufficient reason to demand similar things from other states. Rather, it would make sense to reduce the need for excessive armaments efforts through a policy aimed at understanding and balancing.

As far as can be seen, these considerations played no significant role in the "Jamaica" exploratory talks on the formation of a federal government. Therefore, at the beginning of new rounds of negotiations, it is now necessary that a broad public discussion about this problem forces the negotiating parties CDU / CSU and SPD to position themselves clearly in terms of content. The budget that can be saved can be used more sensibly elsewhere to secure internal and external peace.

Peter Vonnahme is a judge at Bayer. Administrative Court i. R.

(Peter Vonnahme)

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