In the past three weeks, Germany has been blowing hot and cold on France as far as defense is concerned.
Hot: towards a revival of the old Debré-Schmidt agreements?
In a key-speech delivered at DGAP on September 12, the German defence minister surprisingly evoked the arms export policy of Germany via the programs in co-operation, a smart way to cool the domestic debate in Germany.
“The objective is to achieve 35% of our equipment budget in cooperation programs: this figure is currently 8% (“Unser Ziel in der EU ists es, 35 Prozent unserer Investitionen in Rüstung gemeinsam zu beschaffen. Gegenwärtig sind es gerade einmal acht Prozent“): there is still a lot of margin (viel Luft nach oben);
"Co-operative projects are not easy, but there is no other alternative („Ich weiß, multilaterale Projekte sind nicht immer leicht zu wuppen. Und doch geht es nicht anders“) if:
* “We want to get more for our money”,
* “We want to be interoperable”,
* We want to avoid costly duplications”.
“German rules must change, in particular the ‘special rules on export’ because otherwise, which partner will want to invest in projects with us if he still has to fear that we will prevent exports and thus ruin the refinancing? (“Aber welcher Partner soll mit uns in Projekte investeren, wenn er immer fürchten muss, dass wir den Export verhindern und damit die Refinanzierung kaputtmachen?”)
“It's not about supplying rogue states ("Es geht ja nicht darum, an Schurkenstaaten zu liefern"), but if France, Italy and Spain think it's acceptable (to export), can we withdraw? I consider not (“Wenn Frankreich, Italian, und Spanien sagen, das ist vertretbar, können wir uns dann rausnehmen? Ich glaube nein”);
“German export rules must therefore change so that co-operation in the field of armaments can develop (“Wir müssen also an die deutschen Export-Regeln ran, um der Kooperation bei wehrtechnischen Gütern einen mächtigen europapolitischen Schub zu verleihen“), Christine Lambert said, adding that she was going to handle this issue during the elaboration of the national security strategy.
This statement is a clear breakthrough compared to the traditional official ones and a good new for France as it could sign the return of Germany to the Debré-Schmidt agreements dating back to 1972: no veto right for any export of a jointly produced system by the other partner. This could put an end to the French concerns for not only current export projects but also for future joint programs with Germany (FCAS/NGF and MGCS).
But, if backed by the Chancellor, will this bold move be endorsed by the Greens and the left-wing of the SPD? The first reactions show that it will not. How this will influence the on-going elaboration of the new export law at the Ministry of Economy, will be to follow-up in the coming weeks…
Cold: air-defence cooperation vanishes
On the same day, the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister Lapid in Berlin confirmed that yet another key project with France – air-defence, through the so-called ‘Twister’ program- will be scrapped to the profit of an extra-European country, Israel.
Although the ‘Twister’ program is listed in the FY2023 defence bill (in the air systems section), the German MoD now plans to instead buy the Arrow-3, a joint program with IAI and Boeing.
This is another German blow to the roadmap with France after the U.S purchases of 35 F-35, 60 CH-47F and of course, 5+3 P-8 Poseidon…and the cancellation of the MEADS project (Lockheed Martin and MBDA Deutschland).
--The acquisition of the Arrow-3 system gradually imposed itself by a lot of small steps in the debate on the future air-defence of Germany.
*The choice was hesitant between the THAAD and the Arrow-3 but quite quickly (in March), Berlin made the choice to balance cooperation between its major allies; except for imminent maximum American pressure on Berlin, the distribution of roles seems to have been assumed in Germany: to the Americans, the major air-systems (35 F-35; 60 CH-47F; 5+3 P-8 Poseidon); to the Israelis, ground-to-air defence in cooperation with German industry (Hensodlt, Rheinmetall, Diehl).
*The energy background has certainly played a role: even if Israel can only replace about 10% of Russian gas exports to Europe, having Israel as a preferred supplier matters to a Germany worried about how it will go through the winter…
*The choice of the Arrow-3 was mentioned in the spring during the visit to Israel of the President of the Defence Committee of the Bundestag, Mrs. Strack-Zimmermann (F.D.P expert on defence and approached for the post Defence Minister) and, at the same time (March, 27), by Andreas Schwarz (SPD), the defence budget rapporteur at the Budget Committee: these declarations by two parliamentary pillars of the coalition should be considered as trial balloons.
*The urgency dictated in Berlin the choice of an already existing system: the Franco-German program ‘Twister’, quoted in the German budget documents for the 2023 budget, is therefore secondary from the German point of view even though it was still in the list of priority cooperation programs in June…
*The extension of the German umbrella to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe was also mentioned early in the Spring, as a component of co-operation with Poland and Romania.
*Germany would provide the command centre (in Uedem, NATO's combined operations centre or Ramstein, the anti-missile defence centre for the SM-3 Block 2B interceptor sites in Poland and Romania) and the early-warning radars Green Pine Block C, and these two countries would buy the missiles (at the time, the choice was still between the THAAD or the Arrow-3).
Mr. Scholz's speech on August 29 confirmed this extension, which is both co-operation (of the FNC type) and burden-sharing project (both financially and operationally): "At the same time, Germany will design this future air defence so that our European neighbours can also take part if they so wish, such as Poland, the Baltic States, the Netherlands, the Czechs, the Slovaks or our Scandinavian partners. A jointly built air defence system in Europe would not only be cheaper and more effective than if each of us built its own expensive and highly complex air defence; it would be a victory for the security all of Europe and an excellent example of what we mean when we talk about strengthening the European pillar of NATO.”
3. Next steps
According to the verbatim of the joint press conference between the two leaders, on September 12 in Berlin, two points have been made clear:
--An agreement to study the Arrow-3 offer (which confirms the existence of a formal offer from the Israeli side): "We would also like to work with Israel, for example in the field of air defence, where Israel has a very powerful offer with the Arrow 3 system.” (Scholz). The Israeli PM confirmed: “"Israel, for its part, will play a role in building up Germany's new defence capabilities, particularly in air defence, as you mentioned".
--Close German-Israeli coordination with the European countries, which we can already guess will be both operational (interest or not) and financial (what budget for this common program the countries mentioned by Mr Scholz in his Prague speech will want they put?).
It is too soon to predict both the purchase of the Arrow-3 by Germany (the costs being certainly far beyond the 2 € Bn budget mentioned by some circles in Berlin) and the success of the Israeli-German ‘charm offensive’ in the targeted countries, but one thing is sure: this project will be pursued without France.