Why Germany Refuses to Play a Bigger Role in NATO

One of the stranger aspects of the slow-motion crisis over Ukraine caused by Russian provocations and aggression is the uneven response from NATO members. While Alliance states located closer to Russia, which experienced Moscow’s occupation during the Cold War, generally have taken the threat of aggressive Kremlin moves seriously – Poland and Estonia especially – the reaction of some NATO members has been lackluster. In particular, responses in Germany to the Ukraine crisis have been tepid, to use charitable language, and excessive sympathy for Moscow’s actions and attitudes is so commonplace that Germans have a word – Russlandversteher – for it.

Why Germany displays such misplaced sympathy for Russia, despite Kremlin misconduct in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, is a complex issue that is rooted deeply in German history, and cannot be divorced from the broader tendency to anti-Americanism that has become vocal in recent years. That said, Germany’s unwillingness to do much to deter Russian aggression may not matter significantly since, frankly, the German military is in such a dilapidated and unready state that there is little it could do at present to bolster NATO defenses in Eastern Europe, as I’ve advocated, even if Berlin wanted to. The sorry state of the Bundeswehr is now attracting the attention of American observers who ordinarily pay scant attention to such things, but in truth, Germany’s serious punching below its weight in the Atlantic Alliance in any military terms is hardly news, and has been NATO’s dirty little secret for years.

It is a shocking fact that the European Union’s economic and political powerhouse matters so little in defense. While the Bundeswehr is the fourth-largest military in the EU, with about 180,000 active duty personnel, that is smaller than the militaries of France, Italy, and Britain, all of which Germany dwarfs in both economy and population. Despite the strength of that economy, Germany spends only 1.35 percent of its GDP on defense, far below NATOs alleged requirement for two percent devoted to the military. As a result, the Bundeswehr is facing serious problems with outmoded equipment and low readiness.

Not to mention that young Germans don’t want to join the forces. Germany maintained the draft until 2011, but optimistic projections about recruitment after the suspension of conscription have not been met, resulting in a building manpower crisis. Under Ursula von der Leyen, the country’s first female defense minister, the Bundeswehr is embarking on a glossy five-year, 100 million Euro ad blitz, termed an “attractiveness offensive,” to encourage volunteers. But the ridiculous commercials, which portray life in uniform as a hipster paradise of cool dorms with flat screen TVs plus outstanding gender-neutral child care – anything resembling the actual military is notably absent – have been met with derision and laughter, and rightly so.

The two-decade decline of the Bundeswehr as a serious fighting force is remarkable and alarming. At the Cold War’s end, little more than twenty years ago, the German Army’s active strength included twelve divisions with thirty-six maneuver brigades, while today it possesses three divisional headquarters controlling eight maneuver brigades (one of which is half-French), most of which are not capable of deploying as fighting units. In the whole army there are only four battalions each of tanks and field artillery. This is not a force the Russians need to lose sleep over.

Moreover, the Bundeswehr‘s transition from its Cold War posture of armor-heavy divisions, manned by conscripts, intended to resist a Soviet invasion of the homeland, to its current emphasis on many fewer units manned by professionals and designed for foreign intervention, has been less than successful. The only major deployment overseas, maintaining a brigade-sized continent in Afghanistan’s north until late 2013, illustrated as many weaknesses as strengths. That was a relatively quiet sector, and it was an open secret in NATO that German troops weren’t exactly itching for battle, as evidenced by the fact that although over 100,000 Germans rotated through Afghanistan over a decade, only fifty-four Bundeswehr members were killed. U.S. and other NATO troops fretted about Germany’s highly restrictive rules of engagement, engineered by Berlin to keep casualties down in a war that the German public soured on fast. Additionally, there were embarrassing reports about combat unreadiness among the German contingent, as well as low morale, while later efforts to present that Afghan experience as a positive watershed for Germany’s civil-military relations seem optimistic and premature.

In a way that few outsiders fully grasp, the Bundeswehr is a deeply unwarlike fighting force. The Cold War emphasis on homeland defense, with a corresponding peacetime mentality, has not been overcome. What to make of an army whose motto is “To protect, help, moderate, and fight” – in that order? When German soldiers serving in Afghanistan performed deeds deserving a valor decoration, there was embarrassment in Berlin, as the Bundeswehr had none. Suggestions that the famous Iron Cross be resurrected were met with howls of indignation from a coalition of anti-militarists, leftists, and Jewish groups, notwithstanding the fact that the iconic medal was created not by Adolf Hitler, rather by Prussian patriots in 1813 during the war of liberation against Napoleon. The pronounced German tendency to self-flagellation won out and any talk of the Iron Cross died out amidst controversy. Such navel-gazing has led to exasperation with Berlin in many NATO countries, causing a rare public calling-out by Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, in late 2011, who stated that Germany’s size and history bring a “special responsibility to preserve peace and democracy on the continent.” Sikorski memorably explained, “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.” Europe reached the ironic point where Warsaw demanded a more active, indeed slightly aggressive Germany.

It did no good. The German public remains as opposed to increased military spending and activity as ever, the crisis in Ukraine having generated too little seriousness about security matters in Berlin. The Germans remain prosperous, nervous, and gun-shy, which given their recent history is unsurprising. Although many NATO countries are deeply upset by this German passivity, and top U.S. officials are now publicly asking Berlin to bear its fair share of the Alliance’s defense burdens, there is little reason to be optimistic that anything substantial will change soon. Germany is a democracy, and the Germans don’t want a bigger or more active military, especially one that might be used in any American-led wars. This viewpoint leads to exasperation at the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom, but the salient fact here is that Germans are acting exactly how we wanted them to for decades.

Yes, we did this. After 1945, the Western Allies, especially the United States, demanded a tamed West Germany, so we went to considerable lengths to ensure that the Federal Republic was democratic, legalistic, and particularly pacifistic. When the Bundeswehr was established in 1955, to help counter the Soviet threat, it was born amidst NATO fears of reborn German militarism, so it was saddled with an ideology that valued the “citizen in uniform” concept above all, and emphasized the doctrine of Innere Führung (roughly “moral leadership”), to ensure no Hitler could misuse the German military again. By any standards, this succeeded better than anyone anticipated, with the result that the Bundeswehr is politically neutral, acting like civilian functionaries who watch the clock, and uninterested in war, while most Germans have little interest in the Bundeswehr.

Just as important, Western Allied efforts to pathologize all of German military history before 1955 worked exceedingly well. Unlike any other military on earth, the Bundeswehr has no history, rejecting of course not just the Wehrmacht but explicitly having no connection even to pre-Hitler military traditions. As anyone who has ever served in uniform knows, traditions and lineages matter to the troops, being vital to instilling morale and pride, and Germany’s novel experiment in having none of that has not worked out happily. American-implanted pathologies about all aspects of the country’s military past have led to many Germans taking perverse pleasure in pointing out how awful some of that history is. Things have now reached the point that the German Left continues to pressure the military to sever lineage even from heroes who were known to be reliably anti-Nazi. Given this terrible past, why would any decent person want to join the Bundeswehr anyway?

It is a strange fact that Communist East Germany (DDR) was far more comfortable with the country’s military traditions. While the DDR was solidly anti-Nazi, it embraced allegedly “progressive” aspects of Germany’s past, and its military, the National People Army (NVA), took on many Prussian military traditions with gusto, including impressive goose-stepping parades that would have pleased Scharnhorst with their spit, polish and discipline. NVA dress outfits were hardly more than Wehrmacht uniforms with the swastikas removed. (Thus leading to the Cold War joke that the Bundeswehr changed the Wehrmacht‘s uniforms but kept its generals, while the NVA did the opposite.) Even today, it’s not difficult to find NVA veterans who speak proudly of having served in a “real” German army, unlike the soft and Americanized Bundeswehr, which absorbed none of the NVA’s spirit when it disappeared with East Germany in 1990.

Germany’s present unwillingness to do more to defend NATO’s East against Russian aggression is deeply frustrating but represents the logical outcome of many decades of policy and propaganda forced on the Germans by the Western Allies, America particularly. Widespread anti-Americanism in Germany today cannot be ignored either. In recent years, this has become an inescapable fact of life among many Germans, and alarmingly, Left and Right versions of anti-Americanism have functionally fused into a common narrative that presents the United States as a lawless and warlike failed civilization, awash in crime, debt, and losing wars of choice. Revelations of U.S. espionage leaked by Edward Snowden have hardly helped America’s image in Germany, but the problems go a good deal deeper. German frustration with the presidency of George W. Bush grew serious, between Middle East invasions, extraordinary renditions, Guantanamo Bay detention, and killer drones, but things have not improved under Barack Obama.

I have family and many friends in Germany, and I hear it all non-stop. The loathing of Obama by many Germans is sincere, marked and important. While they anticipated that Bush, a posturing American cowboy from the central casting of the European imagination, would act with violent irresponsibility, they expected better from Obama. After all, Barack Obama told them he would be different, right there in Berlin, even before he was elected president. Yet, now well into Obama’s second administration, not all that much has changed in terms of U.S. policies, and Germans are unhappy with America and particularly with its president, whom most Germans frankly see as an untrustworthy deceiver.

It is imperative for European security that Germany rise out of its long-term funk about its place in NATO and the world. Nothing would improve the Alliance more than Germany becoming more like Poland: serious about its military, funding it at a respectable level, while understanding the importance of deterrence in preventing aggression and war. Unfortunately, that necessary change is unlikely to happen soon, as Germany remains mired in navel-gazing – Nabelschau being a most Teutonic word – and not a little self-pity about its role as the engine of EU prosperity and stability, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis (which, Germans will happily tell you, was really all America’s fault anyway). The Western Allies, America especially, functionally created the modern German state and identity for the Germans, and now they must help Germany refocus to meet the needs of the 21st century. Germans have been engaged in a non-stop apology tour for almost seventy years regarding the country’s mistakes and misdeeds. It may be time for the United States to do some apologizing to Germany, it might have the transformative political effect that NATO needs right now.

[As always, the comments here are the author’s alone and not reflective of any of his employers, past or present.]


42 comments on “Why Germany Refuses to Play a Bigger Role in NATO”
  1. NoKings says:

    You correctly point out that there is a growing anti-Americanism in Germany that is the result of a decade of American wars of choice, the crimes that came with it and general unlawful behaviour by the US. Your answer to this is to call of the United States to help Germany re-embrace militarism. I don’t see the logic in that, how could that ever work.
    Look at the World Cup team during the national anthem, most of them are to embarrassed to even mouth the words. There are politicians who actually want to pass a law to force them to sing the national anthem. That’s the state of patriotism in Germany – as a leftie German, I’m very happy about that.

    BTW, financial crisis, totally on you guys.

    1. 20committee says:

      Germany does not need militarism, and there is ZERO risk of that now anyway; it needs to be a responsible NATO member.

    2. Aaron says:

      Hello NoKings. I’m an Australian now having lived in Germany for more than ten years.

      My observation has been that German patriotism is, in many respects subdued but in other respects I find the identity particularly unhealthy. Germany’s political elite have diverted their ambitions from German national interests to what I see as potentially destructive schemes for European centralization.

      As an economist, I dispute your claim on the financial crisis. Yes, it was primarily the Americans but the finger also needs to be pointed at you – the leftists. It was expansionary monetary policy that was the origin of the crisis and it was exacerbated by government intervention. Those are both core leftist / keynsian policies initiatives.

      1. NoKings says:

        Aaron, Germany as an exporter nation is benefiting very much from the EU and as the driving force of Europe is also benefiting from European centralization. Nothing is happening in Brussels without Merkel.

        I’m not an economist, but to me it looks like the problem was government inaction and de-regulation of Wall Street. Bankers will be bankers if you let them.

      2. Aaron says:

        Hi NoKings,

        That is the conventional wisdom behind the EU. However, Germany was a major trading nation before the EU remains a very large trading nation beyond the EU. In fact the major increases in German trade have been with non-EU markets like China, Russia, etc. The EU is a political construct and one doesn’t need political centralization for free trade.

        The common understanding of the financial crisis is that it arose as a result of a lack of regulation. The financial services sector is one of the most regulated in the United States, perhaps second or third to the military and medical sectors. It is not wanting for regulation. The problem with the financial sector is the monetary system in the United States. This is a crucially important issue that very few regular citizens understand. If you want some decent German language reading then I can recommend Guido Hülsmann or Philip Bagus. It is important to know that our current monetary system both benefits major financial corporations and concentrates wealth. Unfortunately, in addition to these negative characteristics, the system also leads to constant boom bust cycles and malinvestment. This is what happened to the housing industry in the United States. This bubble that led to increased consumer spending was precisely what policymakers desired and enacted legislation to achieve. It was not a result of deregulated markets. Again, a very long discussion.

  2. Andraz says:

    My observation might be off the mark since I am not from the Intelligence and Defence field. I have a feeling that Europeans have had an idea since the fall of the Soviet Union that a need for a strong army and intelligence services is the thing of the past. In light of the past events (Ukraine, Snowden) I could observe Russians are still taking their intelligence services seriously whereas Europeans would see it only as something belonging to a Bond movie – for example the “Redhead case” where the news and the people saw it as a fun case, and wondered what is all the fuss about. I wonder if we can blame the Russians for pursuing their own interests however we should blame the West for not defending its own – for example energy independence of the EU (Germany has a new category called “energy poor” who can’t afford to pay monthly energy bills, plus consider the German industry being alarmed for the past few years about the rising energy prices – I should add that contributing reason was also shutting down coal and nuclear plants). The EU has a core problem of its members having such far stretching interests unable to come to a common conclusion about many issues, and you cannot have a successful federal entity where its members cannot agree on basics such as security and foreign policy, and that I believe may also contribute to the anti-Americanism which is widely spread all around the EU, including the booming rise of various conspiracy theories in connection to the US (you’d be surprised but it is not only RT but in many other EU media).

    With regards.


  3. Phineas Fahrquar says:

    Reblogged this on Public Secrets and commented:
    Hint: It’s not just that Russia has Germany by the gas pipe. After two World Wars and a conscious decision to rebuild Germany to be less threatening, we got what we asked for.

  4. swanpride says:

    The thing is that history has proven that war only causes even more war. Nobody is more aware of that than the Germans, who basically have been constantly in some sort of war until they were soundly defeated by allies, and then became an instrument in the cold war. The older generation still remembers two very cold winters after world war II in which they struggled to survive, they remember having to built up everything from the scratch. And then managed to reach reunion in a peaceful revolution.

    From their perspective the problem of the US is that they don’t really have an idea what war IS. They send out their soldiers to get killed but have no idea how it is to actually live through a war.

  5. MarqueG says:

    It may be time for the United States to do some apologizing to Germany

    Strongly disagree here. For one, the last thing America needs is another apology tour. For another, why fuel the ur-deutsche tendency towards Besserwisserei?

    American leadership in post-war Germany surely created a stable and peaceful country that strives for harmony with its neighbors. America may have helped build a too pacifist military, but our west European allies were none too thrilled about rearming Germany at the time, either. All four occupying powers played their roles here as well, starting with the abolition of Prussia as an entity and idea, most of whose native territory ended up on the other side of the Iron Curtain anyway.

    Having spent almost all of the Schröder years there, I have to say that the anti-Americanism, pacifism, and other assorted expressions of leftism in Germany have flourished thanks to the partly Soviet-backed ’68 Revolutionaries and their subsequent Marsch durch die Institutionen. Look no further than the leadership of the left-of-center SPD and its Green sidekick and Kom-Post-Kommunist die Linke mini-me. Many of these folks spent their youths stewing in proud far-left radicalism, from Schröder and Fischer to Jürgen Trittin and Hans Ströbele. Their fellows populate German academe and media, where they’ve fostered like-minded underlings to take the future reins.

    If anything, institutionally it strikes me that we’ve just as eagerly copied from Germany in recent times, coming later to the Bismarckian welfare state, for instance, and more recently to failed Energiewende and other pieces of the nihilistic, post-modernist world view. Here as in Germany, it’s okay to sport the iconic images of mass-murderers like Lenin, Mao, and Che instead of reviling them as we rightly do Hitler. Is this simply because history is written by the winners?

    Of course, none of this helps fix the German military. But many of the German cultural obsessions and pathologies are quite home-grown in origin, and America hasn’t been the only force to nurture them.

    1. 20committee says:

      America had a strong hand in pathologizing any healthy patriotism among the Germans, which was very unwise if we ever expect Germany to help defend Europe.

      1. MarqueG says:

        It seems we largely agree on the generalities, but are arguing over degree of influence, not its kind.

        Of course America had a major impact on post-WWII Germany’s development. I would even go so far as to say that American post-WWII influence was larger than that of the Hitler, the Weimar failure, Wilhelm, and Bismarck for that matter, by mere virtue of the fact that the American occupation had a longer period to take effect.

        America was the second longest-lived nation-state after WWII to occupy Germany. Only the Brits had had their Westminster style going on longer. Germany had only been a real country under common (Prussian) government since 1871, after all, before being plunged into an existential war just a half-century later. The French had surely been a largely intact geographical nation state, but hadn’t enjoyed as long a history of stable government. And the instability of Russia/Soviet Union speaks for itself.

        This is all a sloppy way of pointing out that “German” national identity and pride were relative newcomers to the world stage even in 1945. That they became a largely American protectorate for the next half of their national existence essentially ensures that American influence would be large. Nevertheless, the long history of the multination-state-al German peoples has been a frayed, disunified mess, all the way from the Reformation and its wars, to the 1848 revolutionaries, the German romantics, the Groß-v-Kleindeutschland debate, and German unity under Prussian militarism. The Germans have enjoyed their Grundgesetz longer than any uniform system of government across the whole territory, and even that has been a shorter tenure than that of heavy American influence.

        It’s a hard comparison to make, seeing as how a whole and uniform Germany is a relative newcomer to the world stage, birthed by Prussia, nearly smothered in its teen years in WWI and WWII, and ultimately brought into a sheltered modern young adulthood by America.

        Ultimately, I’m not so sure that America bears any greater shame than pride in keeping this broad nation intact despite the forces within it (Hallo Bajuwaren, Rheinländer, Hessen!) and of its nearby historical adversaries all too eager to see it come apart.

      2. 20committee says:

        Fair points all that go beyond the parameters of what can be addressed in any coherent way in a mere op-Ed, IMO.

    2. Nokings says:

      Of course the first military intervention Germany was involved with after WW2 was in Kosovo under Schröder’s SPD/Green coalition. Leaving Die Linke as the only real pacifist party in the Bundestag.
      You seem to think the German left is stronger than it really is. The SPD won’t have a chancellorship for a long time and Schröder is partly responsible for that. Merkel almost got an absolute majority in the last election – the majority of Germans are conservative. Don’t blame the German left for anti-Americanism, blame America. It’s just your policies and wars people respond to – no one hates you for no reason.

      1. 20committee says:

        America is responsible for its mistakes, but the German Left was anti-American decades before anybody named Bush was US president.

      2. Toysoldier says:

        PLUS that was a bullshit comment Nokings. We have a German Left majority with Die Linke, Grüne and SPD, we just lack of a SPD who has the self-esteem to claim that and make it happen.
        Merkel is only that successful, because the CDU under her became as left as it has never been before. So much for that.
        I think it is sad that the German military is kept far beyond it’s potential. Oh the irony that France and Poland (!) share this view, like mentioned in the article… There is a german saying. It comes from a poem. “Die Geister die ich rief…”
        Seventy years ago the surrounding countries wanted a calm and friendly Germany. Now, that they start to face the consequences and want to alter it, Germany find’s itself in such a cosy and fuzzy place in the midst of Europe, that they don’t even think of giving it up. And why should they? Leaving other’s to bleed is easy, cheap, and if the other’s fail you have the benefit of having known better from the beginning. We neither bark, nor bite. And 80% like it that way.

    3. Aaron says:


      I agree with much of what you say. However, Germany was a stable and prosperous pre-world war country also. Pre-WW1 that is. If America has any apologizing to do it is for its escalation and promotion of that conflict – violation of its neutrality, implicit support of the illegal blockade of Germany and illicit transport of weapons on passenger liners such as the Lusitania. When I say ‘America’ what I really mean is the North East political elite and not the American citizenry who were opposed to the war. Woodrow Wilson was one of the worst things to happen to world.

      Having said that, America has never been in the business of apologizing. But then very few nations have. In America’s case apologizing for anything would be an instant fatal blow to America’s ruling elite who claim legitimacy on the myth of American exceptionalism.

      Although you are doubtless right in pointing the finger at leftists in Germany for anti-Americanism I don’t believe this explains the whole story. Certainly amongst individuals of the political left a base anti-Americanism is evident. However, I feel Germany’s cultural core may also be anti-American (or at least modern American). It reviles consumerism, the seeming anti-culture that pervades modern America, internationalism, environmental vandalism and also, what might seem ironic to many, militarism. On this last point, it simply isn’t historically accurate to label Germany militaristic. Certainly the Prussians were famed for their fighting prowess but they were statistically far less likely to begin or engage in war than Britain, France or other powers. German militarism, as portrayed, is a myth used as a pretext to destroy Prussian identity which included warrior dynamism that consistently bested Western powers on the battlefield.

      If history has a trajectory I find it highly unlikely that Germany will turn around and assume a responsibility towards an alliance it was involuntarily co-opted into to defend against a threat that no longer exists. I expect we’ll see Germany drift further East.

    4. Krigl says:

      >Prussia as an entity and idea, most of whose native territory ended up on the other side of the Iron Curtain anyway

      Not to mention outside the German borders…

  6. martysalo says:

    The fact that Germany is even considered part of NATO is a bit… humorous? Wasn’t NATO formed to counter German military aggression? Wasn’t part of the restructuring of the economy that Germany not be militarily aggressive? Oh well, if America cannot respond adequately to the crisis in Iraq again, and global oil supplies get disrupted, there could be difficult times ahead. Most likely though.,, somethings will happen, and the situation will get better. Oh well, I am not a history major. How much oil gets imported into Germany? Where does it come from?

    1. 20committee says:

      NATO was formed, to cite a common joke, “To keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

  7. califax says:

    Still thinking about a joke all the evening. Get rid of Bundeswehr altogether, put the defense budget on a check to Warsaw and buy polish defense guarantees. The longer the evening, the less stupid it sounds. Better protection, more efficient use of the budget and a real army in return.

    (Kann doch nicht am Bier liegen, Mensch!)

    1. 20committee says:

      Verstanden 🙂

    2. jawohl says:

      Excellent idea. Win-win for everyone except Putin ( but for Russia )

  8. beelza says:

    German business elite have already spoken on this matter, they stand with Putin. Siemens CEO met personally with Putin in Moscow two months ago, nothing else needs to be said. The Polish scandal reaffirms my first sentence.

  9. Christian Schulz says:

    Actually it’s kinda wrong to fault the US for the Bundeswehr and its “Innere Führung”. I remember reading an old interview with (later) General Graf von Baudissin (one of the conceptual fathers of the Bundeswehr back in the early 50s) who recalled that his US counterparts never got the amount of disillusion and revulsion ordinary germans felt for the military after what came to the light in 1945. He said:

    “They wanted the fighting power of the Waffen-SS but in a democratic form. What they never understood was that this fighting power came from a military culture that was essentially incompatible with the democractic state and had no more roots in post-war german society.”

    I don’t think the US (or any of the Western allies) had to add very much to a a witch’s brew of contempt, disillusion and revulsion germans felt for any kind of military. US Krauts managed to do that fine on our own – even if by defining post-war Germany as “the exact opposite of everything the Nazis id”.

    Will any of that change? I, as a german, don’t see it. The public remains steadfast in its indifference to military affairs, the politicians remain clueless and do everything in their power to remain so (in order to avoid career-damaging incidents) and so the Bundeswehr remains the unwanted, unloved and not-care-for redheaded stepchild we prefer to hide in the attic. Is it a wonder that recruitment is kinda failing?

    1. 20committee says:

      My point on US influence and pressure was at the high political level; Germans made the Bundeswehr but the parameters were clear, as set by the Western Allies. Graf v. B quote is interesting, thanks!

      1. Christian Schulz says:

        Just to make that clear: The quote is my very own translation done from memory because I can’t find the article anymore :(. In reply to your remark:

        Political influence on a high level is one thing, development of social and political culture another. Look back at the 50s and how the formation of the Bundeswehr was opposed by a broad coalition of people, not just the usual suspects (communists, socialists etc) but also conservatives and a lot of former soldiers who had survived the war (a lot of them highly decorated). In fact opposition was so strong it caused the very first serious political crisis of Western Germany. This is, IMO, a very important issue: The people have always remained aloof from military affairs after 1945. Every step away from this anti-military idealism has brought considerable protests (formation of the Bundeswehr, NATO Dual Track Decision, participation in foreign deployments, Afghanistan, …).

        Changing that deeply-ingrained cultural default is not going to happen anytime soon. To do that german politicians would have to do what they try to avoid at almost any cost: taking a stand, accepting responsibility, dealing with topics that do not really help getting reelected, engaging in an honest and frank public debate and (if necessary) act against current public poll trends.

  10. Steve says:

    I am sure you overlook perhaps the most crucial element your assessment: unlike in the USA, a nation of immigrants, citizenship in Germany goes by blood. The bundesrepublik, which already had significant population of Germans expelled from the East Prussia, Silesia, the Sudetenland and other parts, felt obliged, even forced to ransom non-BRD citizens but ethnic Germans from ceausescu’s Romania, and later to grant instant citizenship to the Volga deutsche, who had lived outside Germany for several hundred years. Similarly, West Germany instantly jumped at the opportunity to reunite with East Germany, nevermind the huge economic costs this brought.

    Given these precedents, no fair-minded German can hold it against the Russians that they are solicitous of their co ethnics who were expelled from Russia by the dictator kruschev, who had already voted to in the 1990s to rejoin their country.

    To quote a Russian proverb at you, the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.

    What is surprising in all this is not that some Western Europeans feel that Russia’s behavior in the Crimea is legitimate, but that there are Western European news anchors who are able to condemn Russia with a straight face. Btw I write this as an American who thinks Reagan was one of the best presidents.

  11. Jan says:

    As a Czech citizen with part of the family in Germany, I have to agree with the article. Worst part for me is, how almost unthinkable is a career in army for young Germans.

    When Putin anexed Crimea, I thought it was a great mistake and I still think it was, technically. Although I’ve not taken his actions lightly, I rolled my eyes when listened to comparisons of Hitler and Putin. But more and more I look at it, it may be kind of right. Similarities IMO:

    1. I believe that in both cases, the base for their aggression is strong intuitive understading how militarily weak is the Europe of their time. And by that I don’t mean number of troops and tanks, but willingness and understanding of use of military power (esp. to assist someone else).

    2. Kind of easy and necessary (what other long term program can regimes like that really have – nation-building at home?) start with German/Russian minorities, speakers and ex-citizens “trapped” in foreign countries after collapse of Germany/CCCP. I say easy, because with doable propaganda you can get large part of your citizens behind your actions.

    3. Because of point 1, and because then Czechoslovakia and now Ukraine are not “core” countries, the chance for success is real – what ever that means – definition of this is only for them to decide, nobody is stopping them in the time.

    And then what? The breaking point then was Poland. This time the red line our elites hope (don’t tell Ukrainians) is a NATO territory. It seems absolutely ridiculous to think, that Putin would dare to confront a NATO country. But what if “local citizens” arise in for example Latvia? Or can you really imagine EU soldiers dying in Turkey?

    Maybe it is time for us all to understand, what kind of policy is there for Putin really to pursue, if he and his friends want to stay in power?

    Maybe it is time for us Europeans (in my case Czechs) to understand, that nobody will protect our sorry asses for us.

    And maybe it is time for Americans to understand, that there is no chance you will be loved, unless you are well respected in the first place. That is the fate of the superpower (you are not Czechs – nobody repects us, but because we are jovial and have cheap beer, we get plenty of love).

    1. 20committee says:

      Thanks, your point is entertaining if depressing, but important to ponder.

  12. DMH123 says:

    Germany isn’t taking a greater role in NATO because the USA carries the load for Europe. Why spend your money defending yourself when someone else will do it for you?

    1. Christian Schulz says:


      Read the article, read it again, try to understand it and stop posting simplistic replies without understanding even the basics. Germany after 1945 was re-formed with an anti-military culture that persists to this day. There is no conscious “free-riding” but the very serious perception that by not being as “militaristic” as the US, the UK, France or Russia we (germans) offer a different model for foreign policy conduct. That and the fact that germans don’t perceive a threat that needs countering by military means.

      Please people, if you reply at least have the decency to really read the article. It would have told you a lot about the irrelevance of military affairs in society and politics in Germany.

    2. Tim Behan says:

      Germany contributes financialy to Nato which right now is a lap-dog for US military aggression in the world. We need less military and more diplomacy.

  13. varabungas says:

    Reblogged this on vara bungas.

  14. 4MK says:

    You wont like this But the feeling and mood in the Uk is that Germany is a worthless parasite governed by a FSB agent of longstanding and that the UK is no longer prepared to bankroll and pay for Europes security,The reliance on the USA and UK has to stop the best course of action is to remove Germany from NATO forthwith,Germany and Merkel are a Trojan horse

  15. xtmar says:

    I think this is a very interesting analysis, but I think you might possibly be overthinking it. The most obvious reason that Germany is so militarily decrepit is that they (rightly) see no benefit in militarization. The US has been willing to shoulder most of the heavy lifting internationally, and for all of Russia’s aggression, I don’t think in even Putin’s wildest dreams (or Bismarck’s worst nightmares) does Germany face a real threat to its territorial integrity.* While Merkel and company may view Russian expansionism in the Crimea as unfortunate (or not?), it doesn’t seem to directly affect them.

    Regardless of what we wish the Germans to do, I don’t see much reason for them to reboot their military into anything capable of projecting real force, especially as long as the US is willing to shoulder so much of the burden.

    *As an aside, while Russia has been notably more aggressive than most western observers would have predicted even two years ago, I don’t think any place west of the Polish-German border faces any real threat from the Russians, and the rest of western Europe faces bigger threats from internal separatist movements than they do from their neighbors.

    1. Tim Behan says:

      Germany contributes to Nato financialy , The US made sure Germany is not invovlved militarily.

  16. Tim Behan says:

    The writer has decided that Germanys attitude to Russia is misplaced regarding Ukraine. The western media and the US Government are spewing lies about Russian involement in Ukraine. The Ukaine is Russias backyard.

    1. 20committee says:

      Is it ok if your neighbor occupies your backyard and steals all your stuff while beating the crap out of you?

  17. James says:

    I am humored by the way this article is written as it didnt present one ounce of thruth and slanted as if Russia were guilty. So its ok for the U.S. to spend 5 billion dollars to over throw the ellected government of the Ukrain. Lets correct another fact that Crimea while a part of the Ukraine since Kruschev it is Russian. They also had a vote to stay with Russia. The eastern provinces also wanted to join Russia but we couldnt have that so we had Kiev muster up troops it cant afford and kill inocent civilians. Do i blame Russians who helped no becuase they prevented a genocide. When CNN does not cover trouble it means they dont want news leaking to the U.S. I for one will be glad to see Germany leave Nato and hopefully the EU. It will assure peace in Europe and put these madmen here in check.

    1. 20committee says:

      Spelling is a real challenge for you, I see.

  18. george says:

    The answer for boosting the EU defense capabilities is an european professional army.This army should be assembled with units from all EU states,should be permanent,should match the size of Russian permanent army and should overtake it in terms of quality.And must have a unique headquarter contained most brilliant generals in EU.And if you like this army to be perfect I suggest most of this army executives to be germans.In this way EU will become more united and it will count in case something nasty will ever happen.

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