BUNDESWEHRGermany's Military Budget: Unanswered Questions

By Ben Knight

Published 15 March 2022

Germany’s defense budget is not exactly small, and it has now been given a massive defense budget boost — but it is dogged by allegations of inefficiency. The parliamentary Bundeswehr commissioner’s report was not comforting.

German ChancellorOlaf Scholz’s announcement in late February that his government was about to give the defense budget a massive boost had commentators reaching for the history books to explain just how significant his decision was.

Decades of over-cautious defense policy, some said, was being overturned in the space of a single speech on a bright Sunday morning in the German parliament, while over 100,000 Berliners were protesting against the Russian invasion of Ukraine just a few hundred meters away outside.

Scholz made a long-term pledge to increase defense spending to 2% of GDP, which would increase the annual defense budget from this year’s €50.3 billion ($55 billion) to around €70 million.

More eye-catching, however, was Scholz’s surprising one-off windfall of €100 billion to spend on the armed forces.

Germany’s defense budget is not exactly small: According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Germany has the 7th best funded military in the world, higher than that of France, for instance.

Devil in the Spending Details
But, as is often happens, the details were left to be dealt with later: Specifically, where would this huge fortune actually go? It fell to Eva Högl, defense commissioner at the German Bundestag, to provide some answers on Tuesday when she presented her annual report on the state of the German military in Berlin.

Her impression was not great. “I was very shocked by the reports from soldiers about the material shortcomings in all three armed services,” she wrote in the introduction to the report. Only 50% of some major hardware was operational, she said. “Not a single visit to the troops and not a single conversation with soldiers in which I was not told about some deficits,” she said.

She added that “everyday equipment” like armored vests and winter jackets often had to be delivered later while soldiers were already carrying out operations. “This is unacceptable and has to be improved,” she said.

Despite all this, she was careful to contradict the alarming verdict delivered by Army Inspector Lieutenant General Alfons Mais on his LinkedIn page in late February, when he said that the army he led was “more or less bare.” “The options we can offer policymakers to support the alliance are extremely limited,” he wrote.

That’s going a bit far, insisted Högl: “I would say that that was of course a very emotional statement,” she told reporters on Tuesday. “General Mais pointed out certain problems, but the Bundeswehr is ready for action… The ‘cold start capability’ of the Bundeswehr needs to be significantly improved, but the Bundeswehr is ready.”

On top of well-documented problems with the readiness of tanks and helicopters, the Defense Ministry has been dogged by accusations of inefficiency for years: One former minister, the current EU President Ursula von der Leyen, had to face a parliamentary inquiry in 2019 over what became known as the “consultancy affair,” when it emerged that her ministry was, in the words of one witness, “burning so much money it made you dizzy.” 

What caused particular outrage was lucrative contracts for consultancy and legal firms — including one contract that was to run for 30 years — a total cost of €1.6 billion.

Ben Knight is a DW reporter. Andrea Grunau reports from Bavaria for DW. This article  is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).