This article is the English version of Hans Stark,
« La politique de défense de l’Allemagne : un tournant historique ? », published in Politique étrangère, Vol. 87, Issue 3, 2022.

Photo par M-SUR (Shutterstock) de militaires allemands.

In an extraordinary about-turn, the invasion of Ukraine has forced Germany to abandon its “culture of restraint” and to increase its defense spending dramatically. Berlin has even abandoned its principles of not exporting arms to countries at war and has announced that it is sending thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Kyiv, to be followed by tanks and rocket launchers.

This turning point—“Zeitenwende” in German—represents the end of an illusion (that Germany could base its Ostpolitik on an energy partnership with Moscow) and the demise of a form of role-play (that enabled it to come to terms with its own history and reconcile itself with other European countries by being a resolutely “civilian” power). Based on the refusal to consider force as one of the pillars of foreign policy, the concept of “civilian power” has ended up undermining German military strength and Berlin’s contribution to the Western defense effort, greatly weakening Europeans’ ability to defend themselves without the assistance of the United States. German defense spending had plummeted from around sixty billion dollars in 1990 to around forty-five billion dollars in 2010, just 1.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
On the eve of the Russian intervention, Germany certainly declared its “total solidarity” with Ukraine, but German leaders also insisted on what they would not do if there should be an—unthinkable—Russian aggression. Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht warned against linking Nord Stream 2 to “differences of opinion with Moscow over Ukraine”; Kevin Kühnert, the secretary general of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), rejected any idea of giving up Nord Stream 2; Friedrich Merz, leader of the opposition party Christian Democratic Union (CDU), argued against excluding Russia from the international SWIFT payment systems; Markus Söder, his Christian Social Union (CSU) counterpart in Bavaria, stated his belief that Putin was not an enemy of Europe; and finally, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock rejected calls for German arms supplies to Ukraine, saying, “Germany’s restraint is well known and has deep historical roots…

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