Today, the German government released its defence policy guidelines (Verteidigungspolitische Richtlinien, VPR)—Germany's version of the QDR—and for the past fifty minutes I have been shifting through the twenty or so pages, looking for the more juicy stuff. Here is what I would make of it:
Challenges, the government still maintains, are likely to come from terrorism, piracy, state failure, and destabilising influence of dictatorships and criminal networks and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. What is interesting, however, is that the government concisely concludes that against this background developments on Europe's periphery and farther away could actually amount to serious challenges for Germany's security. It is here that the need for some sort of force projection capability is clearly enshrined. Even more so, in the VPR the government finally concedes that not even an illusion of territorial defence needs to be maintained. That's both bold and new.
Speaking of force projection: against the background of pending austerity measures and a further reduction in the number of active duty soldiers from roughly 220.000 to 175.000 the German government defines relatively modest goals in capabilities. The armed forces should have the capability to lead an international mission and be ready for combat. Roughly 10.000 soldiers, the VPR argues, have to be deployable in continuing operations at all times. On the one hand, 10.000 troops really aren't that much. Remember that at the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the British—an all-volunteer force after all—were able to muster some 40.000 troops for a combat mission, whilst maintaining a sizeable presence in Afghanistan. But given that Germany's armed forces struggle to maintain even 7.000 soldiers abroad, such a number has to be considered as quite ambitious.
Moreover, and here is some juicy stuff, this number can only be maintained, when Germany's reserve forces are being brought in from the cold. And the VPR are at least showing that the German defence department is starting to think seriously about making more and better use of its considerable reserve forces (full disclosure here: I would welcome that, having been a reservist myself). More importantly perhaps, the VPR establishes the need for reform in defence procurement. Note that the ministry of defence will be focusing less of development and of new systems and instead revert to buying systems based on market availability. If followed through that should enable the department to make significant savings. At the same time, however, defence procurement will be driven by the needs of the armed forces and less on the specific interests of and developments already made in the defence industry. Or as the VPR put it: “She [the defence industry] has to serve the armed forces.” That might sound obvious, but everyone who has some experience in defence procurements knows that the exact opposite has been the case far too often.
Equally fascinating, the VPR gives some guidelines as to German interests, goals and values in security policy. So here are a number of points made by the VPR that might be interesting when read against the background of Germany's abstention in United Nations Security Council vote on resolution 1973. It states that Germany's security policy goal is the service of international political responsibility. It hence has an interest in reinforcing the European and transatlantic partnerships. Contributing to NATO missions and helping NATO allies is part of Germany's reason d'etre. Moreover, Germany has also an interest in reinforcing the position of the United Nations. In living up to these broad goals, Germany wants to contribute United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking missions. Which of these boxes could we check after the UNSC voted on UNSR 1973? My point exactly.
Speaking of living up to promises, when addressing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the review establishes the need for prevention and deterrence, which begs the question what the German government is actually willing to contribute to that sort of deterrence. After all Berlin's position on Iran and North Korea hasn't exactly been characterised by steadfast resolve. All told, the VPR are an ambitious start, the tough part is yet to come.