What does Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to inject €100 billion into the armed forces mean for Europe?

Our security architecture changed dramatically on 24 February 2022. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine constitutes a fundamental violation of a country’s sovereignty and integrity and of the international rules-based order. As Chancellor Scholz said in the Bundestag on that very 27 February, we are facing a turning point in security policy, a “Zeitenwende”. This Zeitenwende calls for decisive action. This includes the additional investment of €100 billion in the Bundeswehr to respond adequately to the drastic changes that affect all of Europe.

This underlines the fact that Germany is ready and willing to invest more in its security – and thereby in European security – because of its central geographical position in Europe, its economic strength and its political weight. In this context, we intend to pursue cooperation within the European Union wherever possible. One of our goals, of course, is to strengthen the defence industrial base. But this is not an end in itself. Our priorities are interoperability, rapid resupply capability and price optimisation through large-scale production and workloads. With regard to the special fund of €100 billion, it is important to act swiftly and rapidly to strengthen Bundeswehr capabilities both for Europe and within NATO. To this end, it provides for expenses to enhance our command-and-control capability and expedite our digital transformation and to procure combat aircraft, heavy transport helicopters, personal protective equipment for service personnel, infantry fighting vehicles and the new frigate 126. This will enable the Bundeswehr to take a further step towards a broad and innovation-oriented capability spectrum.

However, the special fund should not be discussed in isolation. Additional projects will be implemented via the annual budget. With a view to our security in Europe, we are, for example, prioritising the topic of ammunition.

Let me emphasise once again: joint planning, development and procurement are very important to us. This is particularly true where they lead to acceleration, enabling us to respond quickly and jointly to threats and protect Germany and its allies. Germany’s additional contributions, like those of any other partner, contribute to strengthening Europe and the European pillar of NATO. In this context, the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI), an initiative for a European ground-based air defence that Chancellor Scholz announced in Prague, was conceived. It aims to achieve economic, military and technological synergies and sends a strong message of European loyalty to the NATO alliance.

Some say there is no money in the fund earmarked for European collaboration. Is that correct?

In the Strategic Compass we all emphasised the need to close critical capability gaps in European defence more quickly, enhance the interoperability of Europe’s armed forces and strengthen the defence industry in Europe. I believe that it is particularly important to strengthen EU defence initiatives and capability planning instruments and their coherence and to address and implement strategic armaments cooperation projects of EU Member States across all domains together. This also requires the willingness to compromise in order to accelerate developments and their implementation. Pressing situations such as we are currently experiencing may also require us to procure commercially available systems in order to quickly close existing gaps.

Nevertheless, we are always very committed to cooperation as our common goal. We are using the special fund for projects that are designed to close existing, pressing capability gaps in the Bundeswehr as quickly as possible. This involves paying attention to the market and the time. We certainly seek to work together within the European framework wherever possible and reasonable. The European joint projects Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) and Future Combat Air System (FCAS), for instance, are also represented in the special fund. Additionally, we continue to actively advance projects within the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) framework, as our latest proposals – Anti-Torpedo-Torpedo and Future Short Range Air-to-Air Missile – show. In this respect, it always pays to take a closer look and see the full picture.

What are the obstacles to more EU defence collaboration? Can you offer any solutions?

As the Strategic Compass clearly states, EU defence cooperation needs to be enhanced to substantiate the credibility of the EU as a security player. To this end, we need more European cooperation in the short, medium and long-term and the latest Coordinated Annual Review of Defence (CARD) report prepared under the direction of the European Defence Agency (EDA) made this clear. We must better implement the recommendations that are already on the table. Given that there are 27 sovereign Member States with their own evolved structures and defence industries and indeed their own interests, this is quite challenging, albeit still necessary.

In concrete terms, we must further increase our cooperation in defence planning, development, procurement, operation, maintenance and innovation. EU defence initiatives must be used to the best possible extent and their coherence must be improved. As a means to intensify European armaments cooperation in the future, it is conceivable, for example, to use and further develop OCCAR as a central instrument, provided that there is a clear definition of tasks to avoid overlap with the other agencies such as EDA and (NATO’s) NSPA. Close coordination with NATO as the cornerstone of collective defence is indispensable in this context, especially in view of the fact that 23 EU Member States are also NATO allies. Each Member State can only provide one ‘single set of forces’ for all tasks. Any effort to equip the armed forces in accordance with their mission will therefore strengthen both the EU and NATO. Nevertheless, the prerequisite is still that multinational considerations are taken into account with regard to each Member State’s national capability developments in order to avoid duplication.

What is the future of Franco-German defence cooperation? What are the next steps in the Next Generation Weapon System (NGWS) in a Future Combat Air System (FCAS)?

Franco-German cooperation has grown and become strong on the basis of our common interests and shared values. Today, it is normal in all areas and across all levels: service personnel participate in exchange programmes and joint training, they serve in integrated staff and force structures at home and abroad, they coordinate their work in various informal and formal bodies; we are developing and procuring the capabilities of tomorrow together.

This special cooperation is also reflected in the field of armaments cooperation, which includes the aforementioned projects such as the Next Generation Weapon System (NGWS) in a Future Combat Air System (FCAS), which is a tri-national endeavour with France and Spain. The plan is to begin the next technology phase for NGWS this year. The objective is still to activate this system of systems in 2040. Until then, plans include the demonstration phases for the required technologies and subsequent development of the system. A multitude of central technologies such as sensor systems, communication, networking and encryption must be further developed in order to allow the capabilities of the overall system to become effective. From today’s point of view, this is a long road with many challenges, and we will continue to face them proactively over the course of this armament programme. After all, this is more than just a project. This is also about the sovereignty and future viability of Europe in the high-tech fields of aircraft manufacturing and the defence industry.

Our declared goal is to make sure that Franco-German cooperation on defence, especially in the field of armaments, is a joint effort that leads to successes.

What are the advantages of buying off-theshelf equipment from the United States?

The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has shown that we must be able to act quickly. This especially includes rapid procurement. We can only achieve this if we buy what is commercially available. This does not contradict cooperative capability development and we are not renouncing our common goals and commitments, for example in PESCO. It just means facing certain realities: there are current threats and we must take measures to counter them today. Rapid procurement of commercially available goods where necessary, and joint capability development within the EU framework where possible, are two approaches that are complementary and essential to our credibility.

However, some of the capability requirements we have defined for the Bundeswehr are either only met by U.S. products at present or the capabilities can only be procured in a timely manner in the United States. We consider procurement from our partners and friends in NATO a completely normal process. This is one of the reasons why we want to give our partners and friends, especially the United States, a range of opportunities to participate in EU initiatives.

Beyond the immediate need for more weapons, how can the European defence industrial base be maintained and strengthened?

As laid out in the Strategic Compass, all 27 Member States have decided to strengthen the EU’s defence technology and industry base, both on the demand side and the supply side, to make it more competitive in the long-term and in a sustainable fashion. The EU already has defence initiatives such as CARD, PESCO and the European Defence Fund (EDF). We are looking to further improve the coherence of these initiatives and make better use of the incentives that are on the table. With this in mind, we welcome the defence investment gap analysis published in May 2022, to which EDA contributed substantially. We are involved in the Defence Joint Procurement Task Force and we are making constructive contributions to the design of other proposed instruments, for example European Defence Industry Reinforcement through common Procurement Act (EDIRPA). As long as those are designed properly, I am hoping they will provide impulses to strengthen the EU’s defence technology and industry base.

How best can Germany and the EU work together to ensure Ukraine’s defence forces continue to modernise?

Our joint efforts have succeeded in strengthening Ukraine, enabling it to counter Russia’s illegal and unprovoked aggression. I am deeply convinced that it would have been virtually impossible to ward off Russia’s attack on Kyiv without our joint support. In addition, our sustained military support, including anti-tank, artillery and air defence systems, was instrumental for Ukraine in regaining control of Kharkiv and Kherson.

Germany plays a leading role by supplying Ukraine with weapons and equipment from Bundeswehr stocks and in close cooperation with our partners in industry. For example, we provided Ukraine with the most modern IRIS-T air defence.

We will continue our support for Ukraine, but we must also remain realistic, seeing as this will also significantly impact our own forces. As the Bundeswehr’s stocks reach their limits, we have been working more closely with our partners in industry in order to support Ukraine with materiel sourced from the defence industry. In doing so, we are able to ensure Germany’s continued military support for Ukraine. Our international partners are in a similar situation.

I feel that we have reached a defining moment in our support for Ukraine, one in which close international coordination will be essential. We are already seeing the positive effects of this coordination at the European level. A case in point is the harmonisation of the software packages for the PzH 2000 howitzers provided to Ukraine in a joint effort by Germany and the Netherlands. This starting point should also guide our future cooperation and development at the European level: fewer granular individual solutions and more interoperable and interchangeable systems. Another important step is the decision to set up the EUMAM Ukraine. EUMAM Ukraine establishes a framework for providing thorough training to Ukraine’s armed forces, which will also have a positive impact on our continued support and future cooperation.

Do you see any end to the war in Ukraine?

Ukraine and Russia could initiate negotiations as early as tomorrow if Russia were to put an end to its aggression and withdraw its armed forces to its own territory.

I was in Ukraine a few weeks ago and saw with my own eyes the destruction and the suffering inflicted mainly on defenceless and non-participating civilians. It is an atrocity to terrorise the Ukrainian citizens with constant attacks on critical infrastructure that is necessary for the survival of the population, especially in the coming winter months.

In a nutshell: If Russia understands that we will not abandon our support for Ukraine and that we will not allow Russia to drive a wedge between us and Ukraine, it will be more likely that peace becomes possible.

Previous article

Intensifying European Defence Collaboration at a Time of War

Next article

The war in Ukraine has ignited a shift in the EU