Emancipation with a Sense of Proportion
Dr. Kamp, the German defense minister talks about defense becoming more European, but remaining transatlantic. How should this be understood exactly, in concrete terms?
The statement reflects a dual necessity: Firstly, transatlantic relations – with or without President Trump – are essential for German and European security. That is not to say that one has to agree with everything that goes on in Washington, but at the same time we should guard against anti-Americanism in our own societies. Yes, America can be difficult sometimes, but it is the only America we have.
Secondly, Europe cannot forever base its security policy on the hope that the United States will come to the rescue when things get tough – whether in Europe or elsewhere. This is not a new realization. It predates Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House and was pointed out by many of his predecessors. Trump is just the first to get serious about calling on the allies to share more of the burden. Daddy is simply not going to keep bailing out the kids anymore – to coin a phrase. So Europe will have to pay its own way, meaning it will have to progressively develop the military capabilities that the U.S. has provided until now. That is easier said than done, and not everyone has understood that “taking our destiny into our own hands” entails considerable costs.
One reason frequently cited for European military integration is cost efficiency. But redundancies with NATO can hardly be cost-efficient. How can they be avoided?
Many years ago, the Americans cautioned the Europeans against double structures in NATO and the EU, because they feared not only wasting money, but also a possible decoupling of the United States from Europe. Secretary of State Albright once called this the “three Ds”: no duplication, no discrimination and no decoupling. That fear ceased a long time ago. On the contrary, the United States would be delighted if the Europeans developed more military capabilities of any kind – whether in NATO or in the EU. Of course we have to make sure in each case that we’re not reinventing the wheel and creating things that already exist in NATO. But given that EU members generally spend little on defense, this risk is in any event manageable.
But today the EU’s overall defense spending is already several times that of Russia. And just because we aren’t hearing warnings like we did from past American administrations, that doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense for Europe to spend more on defense.
Stop just there – first of all, cost comparisons with Russia tell us little unless we take the different costs and strategic situations into account. For years, Russia has spent between four and five percent of its national product on its armed forces, with its military personnel likely to receive only a fraction of the equivalent salaries in the EU. The EU spends on average 1.3 percent. Plus the government in Moscow commands one military force. In the EU, there are 28 states with massive redundancies.
Secondly, we don’t need higher military spending in Europe just because President Trump says so or because we want to be a good transatlantic partner. Armed forces, such as the Bundeswehr, need more money simply because they are no longer able to fulfill their responsibilities. Look at the headlines about tanks that don’t drive, helicopters that can’t fly. And it’s not just large equipment, but also night vision devices, flak jackets and so on. If politicians send men and women out to risk their lives on dangerous missions , then politicians should provide the best equipment available. That requires more money, and it has nothing to do with building up armaments or a supposed arms race.
Security threats exist in many forms and are not always military in nature. Are there threat scenarios in which you think the EU would be better positioned than NATO in terms of security policy? If so, what are they? If not, what is all of this about?
NATO has never been an all-purpose weapon for security policy problems. In fact its scope is rather limited, namely Alliance defense, military crisis management, and partnerships with countries outside NATO for joint security measures. Those are the core functions set out in the Strategic Concept for the Alliance. They are ideal for handling the threat from Russia, for example, but are little help when it comes to migration or Islamist terrorism. The EU, in contrast, has a much broader base. In addition to its (very limited) military capabilities, it has a wide range of political and economic resources at its disposal. A good example that illustrates the different capabilities is the Ukraine crisis. NATO is building up military deterrence capacities in eastern Europe to prevent Moscow from engaging in new adventures in that region. The EU, on the other hand, is the crisis manager. It negotiated an agreement for gas supplies to the Ukraine, upholds sanctions against Moscow, and, through its European Neighbourhood Policy, it stabilizes other countries in the region so that they are not drawn into the Russian sphere of influence. This is why the idea of the “networked approach” – i.e. combining civilian and military measures – is not empty talk but a compelling necessity. The military, incidentally, are the last people to believe that military strength is all-powerful. That is a wide-spread but distorted image. Here in Germany, there is also a frequent suggestion that civilian measures for conflict resolution are morally superior to military action. That is equally untrue. Both should operate together in a useful way.
Let’s suppose there will soon be a single EU army with common political leadership. Will we then see an EU shaped by the German culture of military restraint? Or will the EU become a liberal hawk that fills the gap left by our transatlantic NATO partners as their focus shifts?
A single European army, led by a common European government, will probably never happen – simply because it is something that most EU members don’t want. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create more and more European armed forces, where several countries get together and place units under mutual command. German-Dutch cooperation is an example where both sides have relinquished sovereignty, placing a Dutch general in charge of German troops and vice versa. As a result, different military and political cultures move closer together, too. The point about a culture of military restraint in any case hardly applies to Germany anymore, otherwise we would never have become the third-largest provider of troops in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Germany will never approach military deployment in the same way as France or the United Kingdom. We have not only a different history, but also different political processes, such as parliament’s strong right to a say in decision-making. The EU will always have to try to reconcile very different cultures – not just military ones. That is very difficult right now with partners like Hungary, Poland and Italy.
What can EU partners learn from Germany in the field of security policy, and, conversely, what could Germany learn from its EU partners?
Cooperating in alliances, whether NATO or the EU, is a constant process of learning from each other. In the EU too, different partners contribute different skills that the others pick up: The United Kingdom – while it is still a member – is known for its pragmatism; France has a clear view of dangers south of the Mediterranean; Germany has the ability to combine different approaches and especially include the positions of “smaller” partners. At the moment, Germany could mainly learn from itself. After 2014, the grand coalition of the day not only promised more international involvement, they also showed it. Several times, Germany overcame its reluctance and stationed armed forces in eastern Europe or supplied weapons to the Peshmerga – i.e. in a crisis region. All of these actions were carried out in defiance of public opinion, simply because they were necessary. Some of this resolve is desirable today, for example if we look at the rather peculiar debate over the famous two percent military spending target.
Dr. Kamp, thank you for this interview.
Dr. Karl-Heinz Kamp is President of the German Federal Academy for Security Policy (BAKS). After studying history and social sciences, in 1989 he became a research fellow and subsequently head of the Security Policy department at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Bonn. In 1992 he gained a PhD degree from the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Hamburg. From 2007 to 2013, he was Research Director at the NATO Defense College in Rome.