Consequence or not of the special Fund, the Zeitgeist coming after the Zeitenwende (turning point) in Germany is clearly influenced and dominated by a keyword: ‘leadership’.
In the industry…
In recent days, several statements from various CEOS of defence groups have confirmed that the €100 billion of the special fund have boosted ambitions.
At TKMS, times are ambitious. The ambition of being the ‘Schlüsselspieler’ (key-actor) of the German naval scene (Europe will come later) as prime contractor, the ambition of being a central piece of the consolidation of the sector (first in Germany, then in Europe) and no more a ‘subject’, the ambition of winning more orders from the Navy after Damen’s victory on the MKS-180 program (now redesignated F-126). No doubt: TKMS is back, and the purchase of MV Werften is a clear indication of that. Lürssen and German Naval Yards Kiel have been thus warned that the time when they could have thought about dismantling TKMS are over.
At Rheinmetall, the mood is the same. Armin Papperger’s global strategy remains the same: to become the benchmark systems supplier in Europe in a form that is reminiscent of that – multi-domestic – of Thomson-CSF masterminded then by M Ranque, its former CEO.
In Germany as well as for export markets, the Düsseldorf-based company has constantly challenged KMW's status as prime contractor in land systems. This was the case in Indonesia in 2013 where Rheinmetall negotiated the contract with the Ministry of Defence instead of KMW; this was also the case in 2013/2015 when KMW joined forces with Nexter and tried everything to torpedo the alliance with the support of Mr. Gabriel. A strategy that did not pay off since in Qatar, KMW was the leader of the global armoured contract and KNDS ended up being created;
In Europe, following its failure in Germany, Rheinmetall successfully pursued an all-out strategy:
--Circumvention” alliance: with BAES in the UK and currently trying to pull the rug out from under KNDS in Italy for the takeover of Oto Melara and the subsequent leadership in the eventual renewal of the Italian armoured capability (combat tanks and tracked vehicles);
-- Dominance in Europe with its range: the armoured contract in Hungary with KMW was very quickly accompanied by purely Rheinmetall contracts (mortars, radars, ammunition, Lynx, etc.);
-- Extension of its role to the naval field, where Rheinmetall remains attentive to consolidation movements in Germany (where it thought to take over the submarine part of TKMS when TK planned to sell its naval subsidiary in 2014 and in 2020 along with Lürssen and German Naval Yards-Kiel) and alliance in Italy (with Fincantieri);
-- By circumventing restrictive export rules through its Italian, South African and Swiss subsidiaries while KMW remains a prisoner of the restrictive policy of the German policy;
-- Competition with KMW in Germany, with the MGCS where it took advantage of its good political connections to interfere in a purely KNDS project, and now with its KF51 Panther tank project, intended to overtake not only the Leopard and the Armata, but also the MGCS.
From the outset, the Panther was offered itself as an alternative to the Leopard for export, and in Europe, to the MGCS, with the ambition of making it a system of systems (capable, for example, of piloting escort drones). Rheinmetall sees it as a plan B, capable of being quickly operational for Germany (fallback solution for the MGCS) and for export (fallback solution for the aging Leopard).
...and on the political stage:
Even the political stage is playing with the word: ‘leadership’. The programmatic speech delivered on June 21th at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (the SPD’s Foundation) by the co-president of the SPD, Lars Klingbeil, did not go unnoticed.
He called for a reorientation of German foreign and security policy: "After 80 years of restraint, Germany now has a new role in the international coordinate system."
This new role implies military force and a "new normality" in the military s approach. For Mr. Klingbeil, the use of armed force is a legitimate means of peace policy: "closing our eyes to reality leads to war, that's what we see in Ukraine", he declared, also considering that the signals sent by Russia should have been seen differently, at the latest at the time of the annexation of Crimea by Russia in violation of international law.
The SPD co-chairman also acknowledged errors in the approach to partners in central and eastern Europe, whose concerns about Russia's potential for aggression should be taken seriously. “Germany must strive for cooperative leadership and commit massively to a sovereign Europe,” he argued.
An overview of this cooperative leadership was given by the co-President: the abandonment of absolute majority voting in favour of qualified majority voting, in terms of foreign policy and financial and budgetary policy in particular.
This is a key-word sent from the Chancellery since shortly before an intervention before the think-tank European ‘Council on Foreign Relations’ in Berlin, when the head of the Federal Chancellery Wolfgang Schmidt (SPD) had for his part argued that Germany's voting arrangements and number of seats in the European Parliament would have to be reconsidered, as Germany considers itself insufficiently represented compared to other countries of a similar or smaller size.
A number of themes were missing and these are the most notable: L. Klingbeil made no mention of France in his speech and he also avoided mentioning nuclear deterrence after calls from several experts to consider a Franco-German deterrent capability.
The fact that Germany aspires to exercise more leadership and now regards military force as a legitimate means in the service of politics would have been unimaginable less than a year ago from the mouth of an SPD President.
Mr. Klingbeil's speech comes to concretize what Chancellor Scholz had wanted to say a few days after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine by speaking of "a change of era" (Zeitenwende).
Talk the talk, but will SPD walk the walk?
The question remains, however, whether the German Social Democrats will be ready to take the plunge when difficult financial or sensitive political decisions have to be made to materialize what German leadership means…