Before NATO summit: Pistorius angry about low defense budget

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius is traveling to the NATO summit and will attend an exercise with allies in the far north of the USA beforehand. Germany’s role has changed, but so have expectations.

Before the NATO summit, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius acknowledged Germany’s increased responsibility for defense in the alliance. In his first public statement since the budget compromise reached by the traffic light coalition leaders, the SPD politician also expressed his displeasure with the consequences of the agreement. “Yes, I got significantly less than I signed up for. That’s annoying for me because I can’t then initiate certain things as quickly as the changing times and threat situation require,” said Pistorius, who attended the Arctic Defender 2024 exercise in Fairbanks, Alaska. Pistorius said: “We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks and months. I have to adapt to it and make the best of it.”

Pistorius: “A lot is expected of Germany and rightly so”

Under German leadership, fighter pilots from several countries are training together with the USA for air warfare operations under NATO standards. The scenario is an alliance (“Article 5”), in which an attack on one or more allies is repelled jointly. Around 60 fighter jets and other tanker aircraft, transporters and helicopters are involved in the exercise. They are practicing the destruction of enemy air defenses, fighting against air forces and destroying command centers. Extremely low-level flight at an altitude of just 30 meters – if possible under enemy radar – and the dropping of precision bombs were practiced. In Alaska, an area slightly smaller than the old Federal Republic is available for this purpose.

“We Europeans are taking responsibility for the security and defense of Europe within the NATO alliance,” said Pistorius, who spoke of a clear signal that applies particularly to Germany. In doing so, the threat in the entire alliance area is being kept in mind, not only in Europe, but also in the Arctic, which is of growing geostrategic importance in dealing with Russia and the threat posed by Russia.

The NATO summit, which begins on Tuesday, is about further expanding defense and deterrence capabilities, said the minister. He announced several German steps that are intended to provide military aid to Ukraine. For example, Germany will finance and provide 10,000 rounds of artillery ammunition from the Czech ammunition initiative for Ukraine this year. “And we will present a drone initiative in Washington that will create a basis for our partners to jointly procure all types of German-made drones for the Ukrainian armed forces,” said Pistorius. And: “A lot is expected of Germany, and rightly so. We are the largest economy in Europe, the largest NATO ally in Europe. We therefore have a special responsibility to assume and are doing so.”

Stumbling Biden, lurking Trump: Where is the USA heading?

The NATO summit with celebrations for the 75th anniversary of the defense alliance begins on Tuesday in Washington. It is taking place in a phase of political uncertainty after the suitability of US President Joe Biden as a presidential candidate was publicly questioned. It is unclear where the USA will go if former US President Donald Trump is re-elected in the US election in November. At times he even threatened the USA with a withdrawal from the alliance and criticized Germany in particular.

Last week, the leaders of the traffic light coalition approved an increase in the regular defense budget of 1.2 billion euros for the Bundeswehr for the coming year. Pistorius had announced an additional requirement of 6.5 to 7 billion euros for the coming year and referred to upcoming armament projects and rising operating costs. The Bundeswehr Association, the interest group for soldiers and military employees, sharply criticized the shortfall. Chairman André Wüstner: “The troops are astonished, mostly shocked.”

The German government had declared itself willing to take on a military leadership role. The stationing of the Lithuania Brigade, which is to be operational with 5,000 soldiers in the country on NATO’s eastern flank by 2027, is a visible sign, and arms orders worth 100 billion euros (“special funds”) are another signal. As is the initiative launched by Germany for a European air defense system (European Sky Shield Initiative/ESSI), a consequence of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. 21 states are now involved, including Austria and Switzerland – previously hardly conceivable – two states that are not members of NATO.

Nato General: Germany could set much stronger accents

But what happens next? NATO’s revised defense plans will probably require more than 70,000 soldiers in addition to the current 181,000 men and women. Pistorius himself said when presenting his military service model in June: “According to the Bundeswehr and NATO, we need around 200,000 more reservists. That means we’re talking about a total of around 460,000 soldiers.”

At the end of June, the highest-ranking German NATO general, Christian Badia, made it clear in the “Welt” newspaper that Germany could set “a much stronger tone”. Due to its contributions, Germany is the second most important member state of NATO after the USA. The NATO commander in Europe, US General Christopher Cavoli, explained the new defense and operations plans to Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) at a meeting in Berlin: “The increased capabilities required, their flexibility – and the necessary, sustainable financing, particularly from the major nations. Because this is the only way to ensure that he can carry out his mission as military commander-in-chief.” Badia warned: “It is not enough to say: We have achieved the two percent.”