Daniel Korski

Achtung, Liam

Achtung, Liam
Text settings

Defence Secretary Liam Fox is used to looking across the Atlantic for military inspiration and across the English Channel to France for the future of defence cooperation. But he might do well to look somewhere else – namely to Germany where the young defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, has launched one of the Cabinet’s most ambitious cost-cutting programmes.

He is planning to cut the number of active-duty soldiers from 250,000 to 150,000 as part of a an effort to find  €1bn (£840m) worth of cuts as part of the government’s €80 billion austerity programme. He is even contemplating an end to compulsory military service -- something normally seen as a fundamental principle for the CDU and CSU.  Earlier in the week, the man tipped as a future chancellor, said that deep spending cuts were needed in his budget because of the federal government's dire fiscal situation. "A symbolic cutting of a few individual acquisitions will not be enough," the German defence minister said after a speech to soldiers in Hamburg. "If one looks at the current numbers there is an urgent need for a paradigm shift."

True, Germany’s military cannot be compared to the British army. One goes to war, the other shuns even the word “krieg”. The German president had to resign a week ago when he stated the obvious – that Germany’s safety and prosperity is related to its willingness to be a security provider, not a security free-rider. Nor was Germany’s spending on defence particularly high in the first place; its defence spending – 1.32 percent of GDP -- is the second lowest among the G8 countries.

But money spent has never been a good measure of Germany’s – or Europe’s – defence capabilities.  Duplication within the continent’s defence industry (5 ground-to-air missile programmes, 3 combat aircraft programmes, 6 attack submarine programmes, and more than 20 armoured vehicle programmes) has led to a massive waste of resources and inflated prices - making companies vulnerable to takeovers from US rivals. Germany has for a long time spent its money on inefficient, stationary forces. Deficit-induced reform could do the German military well by focusing on usable capabilities, not nice-to-have programmes. And in this, there may be lessons to learn for the British defence secretary.