Germany is giving itself the luxury of spending several weeks to form a government.
Never before have Liberals, Greens, and Conservatives tried to set up a coalition to run the country. What has surfaced so far from the negotiations in the defense field reflects traditional dividing lines, such as those between (nuclear) deterrence and pacifist approaches. But a major agreement has also emerged: that a strong European defense policy is desirable.
Yet there is silence about a crucial element needed to make European defense a success: the defense industry. It is a topic that German politicians tend to fear like the devil to holy water.
Germany has a large defense industry. It delivers world-class products, including the Leopard tank. But politicians have been reluctant to see the defense industry as an asset or a policy tool. Indeed, it seems that the current coalition would prefer not to touch it.
Rather than shying away from it to avoid controversies, the new government should seek to find a self-confident approach to deal with the German defense industry and make it a strategic element of Berlin’s security policy. It is a precondition for building a credible European defense.
Defense industry issues are difficult in Germany. In the best case, the industry is a non-issue; in the worst case, it’s a dirty business.
Government decisions to authorize arms exports, such as selling tanks to Saudi Arabia, usually create huge controversies in which ethic and human rights arguments clash with vaguely defined German security interests and employment arguments to save domestic manufacturers. In addition, procurement decisions reliably overrun cost and timelines.
Overall, the government does not seem to have a clear line on how the defense industry fits into Germany’s defense policy or, for that matter, Germany’s industrial policy. Berlin also prefers to avoid the issue out of fear of sparking yet another heated public debate. Attempts by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s last government to agree on a common approach toward the defense industry have largely stalled. As a result, industrial issues in their various forms, from procurements to exports, are something between the enfant terrible and the bastard of German security policy.
Yet, not addressing this issue has serious consequences for those goals on which all four German coalition parties agree: more Europe in defense, more cooperation, and more security. The defense industry, procurement, and armaments exports are central to these objectives. (end of excerpt)
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