Emphasizing that ‘Europe is our future’, the German Chancellor has charted an ambitious path for it: “stronger, more sovereign and geopolitical”. However, he took care to contain this agenda within the strict limits of NATO membership, thus restricting its practical scope only to a more advanced cooperation between member countries on the German model of the FNC (Framework Nation Concept): “NATO remains the guarantor of our security. But it is also fair to say that each step towards greater compatibility between the defence structures of the member states of the European Union, strengthens NATO.”
This being clearly highlighted, the Chancellor has put forward his defence agenda. This will be supplemented by the new National Security Strategy announced this morning (Sept. 12) by Defense Minister Christina Lambrecht during a speech to the DGAP Institute.
The three major structural reforms proposed
--A Council of Défense Ministers: “It is therefore high time to have specific meetings in Brussels, and not only of our ministers of agriculture or the environment. We need a Council of defence Ministers. »;
--OCCAR to be the core of European cooperation in armaments: "In the same way that we started to open the borders of the Schengen area with seven countries at the start, OCCAR can become the core of a Europe of common defence and armaments. »
--A “clear” command and control structure. “This will require a clear command and control structure. We must therefore provide the EU's military planning and conduct capability – and, in the medium term, a real EU headquarters – with all the necessary financial, personnel and technological means”.
Note that all these ideas are already old music: a council of ministers, specifically dedicated to defence, does not formally exist but a council of the ministers of foreign affairs with, sometimes, the presence of defence ministers, already exists.
OCCAR has been managing defence programs (16 currently) since its inception but Chancellor Scholz seems to have forgotten that Germany recently pulled out from one (MAST-F) and the biggest co-operation program (with Norway on U-212 C/D and NSM) is led outside of OCCAR. At least, unless proclaiming the federalization of European Defence, each country has the firm intention of maintaining its own, national procurement agency as the best means to serve needs of its armed forces and to protect its national industrial eco-system.
Finally, the command-and-control structure he recommended could, true, fill a tactical gap but the action of the already existing structure (the ‘Military Planning and Conduct Capability’, or MPCC, put in place in March 2017) is limited to non-executive operations, i.e, to non-combat missions.
It is hardly conceivable to see Germany pushing for combat missions, once this new integrated HQ is operational. Besides, the idea is not new: in a report dated July 2021, the French Senate has proposed the creation of an ‘OHQ’ (operational HQ), but, in practice, it is unfeasible: due to a German constitutional decision (of July 1994), the Bundestag has the last word in military operations. So far, it has consistently refused any combat mission outside the borders of NATO.
The fear of a duplication with NATO’s own OHQs, denied by some European experts or politicians in the name of a clear burden sharing (security and crisis to Europe; defence and war to NATO), is in fact a reality, not least because of the lack of human resources in most European countries, which have all opted to send their military experts and officials to NATO, where power resides and decisions are made.
The practical consequences
To achieve these objectives and give a pragmatic tone to his agenda, the German leader recommends the following regulatory changes.
--The decision to engage in operations: “We need to make our political decision-making processes more flexible, especially in times of crisis. This implies making full use of the room for manoeuvre offered by the EU Treaties, in particular the possibility of entrusting tasks to groups of Member States ready to undertake, called coalitions of volunteers".
This coalition of volunteers, however, presupposes a convergence of the interests of each of the countries: France, when trying to set-up the Takuba force (of special units), has already experienced that the European countries were hardly willing to deploy their armed forces in combat missions, limiting their participation to patrol & surveillance missions (often in the maritime domain, less dangerous: embargo on arms in Libya, countering the piracy in Gulf of Guinea, protection of the Arabo-Persian sea-lanes against Iran arms smuggling).
Germany, itself, does not plan combat missions, except in the case of Article 5 of the Treaty of the Atlantic Alliance; Mr. Scholz also knows that due to the lack of a clear mandate (from EU, NATO and UN), most of the European countries (Germany, Spain and Italy for example) cannot deploy their troops: the basis of a simple ad-hoc coalition is simply not legal.
--Defence effort planning. “Increasing defence budgets requires a new discipline: a coordinated growth of European capabilities”. Besides "joint manufacturing and procurement, this will require our companies to cooperate even more closely on armament projects." He suggests "the division of labour within the EU in its best sense".
With his €100Bn special fund supporting his vision, the Chancellor gives the impression that he is at the forefront of Europe’s budgetary efforts, but this impression is wrong, given the limited duration of the fund (23-27), the uncertainties beyond 2027 and the enormous gaps the Bundeswehr has faced for almost three decades, which will be hardly fulfilled even with 100 billion of euros.
The division of labour and the co-operation on joint procurement projects he emphasizes are seemingly all deadlocked. The division of labour is indeed an operational deadlock: what EU needs is not a division of tasks, but true operational armed forces; few ones can be called ‘operational’ in Europe, given their lack of training, ammunition and maintenance.
Despite current efforts from several countries, these gaps will last for a while. Besides, any division of tasks would implicitly mean a diminution of capabilities of each European army to better focus on fewer operational capabilities and give-up all the others: the loss of sovereignty and of operational room of manoeuvre will not be easily accepted. Last, armed forces do not work like this: they need a complete national operational environment to perform efficiently their tasks.
In fact, what this division of labour suggests is the integration of European armed forces into a single one, with each country providing one or two operational capabilities led by an integrated HQ, leaving NATO to prepare war and perform combat missions…
This view, pushed to its logical conclusion, is certainly not shared by a vast majority of European countries, including France, for which the policy is and will remain to have autonomous and fully-capable armed forces in all the domains and dimensions.
--Harmonization of arms exports. “For these changes to materialize, we will need to review all our national regulations, particularly those relating to the use and export of systems manufactured in partnership. But this must be made possible in the interest of our security and our sovereignty, which depend on European armament capabilities.”
The wording used here is too vague not to be underlined. Without saying so, the Chancellor calls for a European harmonization of national export laws, adopting the German standard (strict and limited on specific aeras): soon, his economy minister, Mr. Habeck, will submit the so-called REKG to the Bundestag, a bill prepared on a purely national basis, and laying the very foundations of a European future text on exports.
--Emphasis on the aerial and spatial dimension
Mr. Scholz's speech here is innovative insofar as it highlights German priorities for the first time: “We have a lot of catching up to do in Europe in terms of defence against air and space threats. ". These investments will be made under the aegis of Germany:
*By increasing ground-to-air defence: “This is why, in Germany, we are going to invest very significantly in our air defence over the next few years. All these capabilities can be deployed within the framework of NATO.”
Note That these investments will be made in U.S, jointly with Israel, or and in Germany only. The Aster-family of missiles, the sole capable European missile, will again be ignored by Germany…
*Through an architecture open to European countries, which are, it should be emphasized, named: "At the same time, Germany will design this future air defense in such a way that our European neighbours can be involved if necessary - such as the Poles, the Baltics, the Dutch, the Czechs, the Slovaks or our Scandinavian partners.”
Is it worth saying that most of these countries have no intention to be placed under any German air-defence umbrella, in the same way they all refused in the 1990s the proposal of the Luftwaffe to protect their borders when they lack of modern and Western fighters?
*Through an ambitious space policy: Chancellor Scholz defends “independent access to space, modern satellites and mega-constellations (…) In the interest of a strong and competitive European space sector, we must promote these innovative companies alongside established players." The "next SpaceX will have to be a European company".
Chancellor Scholz seems to have forgotten that Germany itself has decided to produce optical satellites (thus leaving the agreement of Schwerin signed in 2008 with France, a treaty organizing a task-sharing with France providing optical satellites and Germany the radar satellites) and to send them into the space with a SpaceX launcher…
Conclusion: it is quite remarkable to see how this speech is indeed aligned on that one delivered by Mr. Klingbeil before the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (June, 21), mentioning the same topics while forgetting the same the issues:
--First and foremost, NATO remains Germany's unsurpassable strategic horizon: this is certainly nothing new, but it is surprising to see how the European sovereignty praised by the Chancellor is immediately limited both in its actions and in its capabilities; the shadow cast by the United States remains significant.
Moreover, the weapon acquisitions announced by the federal government are essentially American in the key areas of combat aviation (35 F-35), air mobility (60 CH-53) and maritime aviation (5 or even 8 P-8As); in this strict framework, Germany attempts to handle its own room of manoeuvre by proposing various co-operative leaderships (air-defence and space).
--Then, the proposals pertaining to the European institutions draw hollow contours already well marked out by previous German speeches, of an updated and resurrected European Defence Community (dating back to 1949/50) under the supervision of NATO: European defence, as envisioned by Germany, is both submitted (to the United States) and federal (Council of defence Ministers, abandonment of the right of veto, integration of efforts to acquire and export defence systems, work division).
This is, more or less, the definition shared by all European countries of the so-called ‘European pillar of NATO’.
--Finally, France is nearly absent from the speech, albeit it is obvious the speech was a late but clear answer of Germany to Mr. Macron’s own vision explained during the French presidency of Europe.
Most of the key-issues for France are not mentioned, namely:
--Nuclear deterrence: this omission of Mr. Scholz is all the more to be noted as he knows very well that the Atlantic Alliance is and will remain a nuclear alliance. How Mr. Scholz could ignore this fact, since the continuation of NATO's nuclear mission has justified the choice of the F-35 to replace the Tornado?
Secondly, French deterrence is not only never mentioned, but it is the role in the defence of Europe is completely absent; if some in France will be quite happy of these deliberate omissions turning definitively down any attempt of Europeanization of the French deterrence, their absence in Mr. Scholz's speech aims to diminish it in practice, which is barely acceptable for France.
Indeed, French deterrence does exist and, as Mr. Macron recalled, will protect Europe: in his speech of February 7, 2020, the President of the Republic declared: “our nuclear forces reinforce the security of Europe by their very existence and, in this respect, have an authentically European dimension”.
Finally, this deliberate omission contributes to marginalizing the nuclear deterrence, even though it is obvious that the Ukrainian conflict has demonstrated the relevance of the concept of deterrence by limiting the current war to a conventional one.
--None of the armament programs between France and Germany is mentioned (FCAS/NGF and MGCS), as are absent from his speech the German abandonments of cooperation with France: modernization program of the Tiger (Mast-F), MAWS (maritime patrol aircraft) without saying anything about space cooperation in the military domain. Will Germany directly go to Plan B, i.e, ordering additional F-35 and the MBT Panther, designed by a true German company, Rheinmetall?
--Harmonization of arms export: evoked for one decade in Germany or so, it was recalled in the coalition contract and will be engraved in stone by a German law (Rüstungsexportkontrollgesetz or REKG).
This restrictive law will hinder French interests since it would obviously put into question the 2019 de minimis agreement (no German veto when the value of German components does not exceed 20%, whatever the end-user) and should therefore limit or stop French exports in sensitive countries (mainly the Gulf) where France exports; on the contrary, this law will favour German exports within NATO, where France is traditionally weaker. German geopolitics would thus be indirectly imposed to France, which will not be acceptable to Paris.
It is becoming abundantly clear that the Germany envisioned by Chancellor Scholz has no intention of pursuing defense cooperation with France and that it makes grandiloquent claims to European defense leadership for which it has no real competence, nor experience, nor even appetite. Berlin’s vacillations on the vital issue of supplying weapons to Ukraine perfectly illustrates its inability to act decisively.
Nothing Scholz has done since taking office even remotely suggests that Germany is ready to take on a bigger role in Europe than it has played for the past 70 years.
Click here for Part 1 of this analysis.