NATO’s purpose, Hastings Ismay, its first secretary-general, once said, is “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” In terms of the latter, the military alliance has succeeded spectacularly well. Throughout the Cold War, the German Bundeswehr loyally played sidekick to Berlin’s more powerful allies, the United Kingdom and the United States. And since the Cold War ended, Germany has consistently cut its defense budget, leaving the Bundeswehr so poorly equipped that it has become a laughing stock among its allies and ill-prepared to counter territorial threats and participate in foreign missions.
Over the past year, that picture has brightened. “We’re seeing a major change,” said Michael Essig, a professor of military purchasing and supply-chain management at the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich. “2015 was the first time since the end of the Cold War that the constant cuts were stopped.” In fact, last year, spending on the Bundeswehr’s equipment increased by 8.4 percent, to 9.5 billion euros (around $10.4 billion), according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI); in 2016, SIPRI predicts a further 6.4 percent rise in equipment spending. According to the German Defense Ministry, maintenance spending will increase by 3.3 percent this year, to 2.9 billion euros (about $3.2 billion), and the Bundeswehr’s overall budget will grow by 4.2 percent, to 34.3 billion euros (about $37.4 billion). Given Germany’s low inflation, the increases are notable.
Over recent years, maintenance has been so neglected that much of Germany’s existing military equipment has been unusable.
They also present a radical departure from two and a half decades of cuts that saw the Bundeswehr’s budget shrink almost every year—from 3.2 percent of German GDP in 1983 to 1.2 percent in 2014. “It’s also a significant change because other long-time members of NATO, including the United States, are cutting their defense equipment spending,” Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of SIPRI’s Project on Military Expenditure, told me. “Britain, for example, has large arms expenditures only because of its very expensive nuclear program. With those dramatically expanded military spending over the past few years.
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