German media and politicians promote rearmament

By Christoph Dreier
29 September 2014

For months the German media and leading politicians have been calling for an end to Germany’s postwar policy of military restraint. Last week the campaign for militarism reached a new highpoint. During years of tight budget policy and cuts, any major increase in the defense budget was excluded. Now this demand has moved to the center of the media propaganda.

The media campaign has been carefully prepared. Not a day goes past without a new “unexpected” revelation regarding the dilapidated state of the German army.

According to reports on Monday, just three of the Navy’s 43 helicopters were operational. On Tuesday it was reported that six German soldiers who have been assigned to train Kurdish fighters in Iraq, were left stranded in Bulgaria due to a technical fault with their aircraft. The failure of German weapons to reach Iraq due to the failure of another plane, borrowed from the Netherlands and stranded for days in Leipzig, was also the subject of extensive TV coverage.

On Wednesday, a confidential paper from the Defence Committee was leaked to the press. The document drawn up by the inspectors of the army, air force and navy assessed the “readiness of the armed forces”. In its summary, the report concludes that the defense capability of the Bundeswehr was guaranteed. Nevertheless, the media and politicians selected certain items to portray the army as outdated and incapacitated.

In the remaining days of last week there was then a concerted campaign by all of the major newspapers demanding an increase in the defense budget.

On Thursday, Spiegel Online’s Nikolaus Blome demanded that the verbal campaign should be followed by action. “While it was correct to launch a broad debate on German responsibility and involvement in the world, it is slowly becoming ridiculous”, he writes. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) must finally “argue about the total of the defense budget”.

On Friday Nico Fried complained in the Süddeutsche Zeitung that German soldiers were “poorly equipped and their weapons systems antiquated”. There was a “mismatch between political aspirations and military reality”. Due to public rejection of rearmament the Bundeswehr needs a “political and social lobby”.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen on the cover of Stern magazine.

On Thursday, the media reported with barely disguised glee that Defense Minister von der Leyen, who had traveled to the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil as part of the operation to deliver German weapons, arrived empty handed due to defective transport aircraft. Fried wrote that the propaganda effect would have been greater if the defective aircraft had been used for a more popular action such as aid shipments to Africa. “Yes, it is a cynical thought”, he writes, “but it would have been even more effective if the transport aircraft had broken down carrying German aid workers for the Ebola regions, instead of weapons and trainers to Iraq”.

In Stern magazine, Tilman Gerwien, described as “one of the few in the newsroom who have served (in the army)”, was outraged that “the Germans could not care less about the Bundeswehr” and stormed: “They do not seem concerned about who provides for their security in a world in which alongside the ‘Islamic state’ other head-choppers, rapists and Christmas market suicide bombers are to be found. For decades they have convinced themselves that, after twice plunging the world into war, dying in the future and for all time should be left to others—preferably the Americans”.

The Germans must finally stop regarding the “Holocaust as an eternal privilege” that justified a military restraint, Gerwien thunders. “Europe’s biggest economy has an army whose equipment is a joke. This has been known for years and it could have been changed—with more money and more expertise in procurement”.

In previous editions of Stern Gerwien has polemicised against allegedly parasitic welfare payment recipients and against the campaign in the 1960s to uncover the role played by former Nazis in German politics.

A host of politicians are also involved in the campaign to present the Bundeswehr as decrepit and in need of urgent upgrading. Green Party chairman Cem Özdemir told the Neue Zeitung Osnabrück that Germany, as the fourth largest economy in the world, had made a laughing stock of itself. The soldiers of the Bundeswehr were very committed, but their equipment—helicopters, Eurofighters and transport equipment—could have come from a junkyard. “This is a disgrace, multiplied daily”, Özdemir said.

“The minister must now make clear where they plan to act”, demanded the defense spokesman of the SPD parliamentary group, Rainer Arnold. The CDU foreign policy expert Roderich Kiesewetter declared with regard to the defense budget: “In the medium term there is no way round an increase of budgetary resources”.

The defense expert of the Left Party, Alexander Neu, called upon von der Leyen to take responsibility for the existing problems. “Now we will see if she is serious about her announced detailed examination of all defense projects and draws consequences from the results, or whether it is all just a media show”, Neu told the Handelsblatt. Despite Germany’s €35 billion defence budget, the Bundeswehr was only partially functional.

The defence commissioner of the Bundestag, Hellmut Königshaus (FDP), said that the German army was poorly prepared for new challenges such as its latest foreign missions. CSU deputies Florian Hahn spoke of a “defective management” that threatened “military capability”.

In fact, the German defence budget is the seventh largest in the world. The abolition of compulsory military service three years ago released large parts of this budget for major defence projects. Last Thursday, Brigadier General Jörg Lebert announced at a church event that the Bundeswehr planned to purchase 16 armed drones by 2025.

Temporary problems to the army’s outdated Transall transport aircraft are due to the current ambitious upgrade projects. The acquisition of modern Airbus A400M has been delayed because the military has repeatedly submitted new requests for technical equipment.

The concerted campaign to increase the military budget on the part of the media and political circles is aimed at enforcing a massive program of rearmament in the face of growing opposition on the part of the German population that, after two world wars, is not prepared to kill and die for German economic interests. This is why journalists and politicians are so aggressive in their campaign.