There is a very useful article in The Economist, headlined: “Why Germany’s army is in a bad state,” the reasons, not surprisingly in a modern democracy, are the same as in Canada, by and large. The article is sub-headlined “A false sense of geopolitical security has left the Bundeswehr poorly equipped,” once again, ditto for Canada.
“Throughout the cold war West Germany was NATO’s eastern border state, the first line of defence against the Eastern Bloc,” the article in The Economist explains, “Though pacifist in culture following the traumas of the second world war, it invested heavily in territorial defence,” and Canada was, until 1970, standing shoulder to shoulder with Germany, and others, on the front lines. “By 1990 it had more than 5,000 battle tanks, some 500,000 personnel and was spending almost 3% of GDP on defence,” but Canada had, years before in 1969, already opted for a ‘peace dividend,’ but then “Then the Berlin Wall fell and the reunified Germany suddenly felt insulated. Military investment plunged, and the Bundeswehr was reshaped into a force capable of only limited expeditionary deployments,” something which had happened to the Canadian Forces two decades earlier. “In 2011 Angela Merkel’s government ended conscription, hoping to replace a large standing army with a small, surgical one (today it numbers little more than 180,000). Then came the fateful year of 2014. Russia intervened in Ukraine, annexing Crimea. Germany committed forces to expeditionary missions in Iraq and Mali. It pledged at a NATO summit in Wales to spend 2% of its GDP on defence by 2024. Its sense of geopolitical stability was suddenly challenged; Ursula von der Leyen (pictured), the recently appointed defence minister, realised that the Bundeswehr was hopelessly under-prepared and started trying to overhaul it.” Here is the big difference between Germany and Canada Chancellor Merkel and Minister von der Leyen seem to grasp the global strategic imperatives, Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Sajjan, pretty clearly, do not.
Unlike in Canada”Mrs von der Leyen gets much of the blame for the slow progress—mostly unfairly. The defence minister has battled against all sorts of inertia in her bid to modernise the Bundeswehr.” But here is where the parallels are very clear: “One is the German public’s resistance to defence spending: last year’s election campaign saw even the moderate-left Social Democrats characterise the pursuit of the 2% target as a dismal capitulation to Mr Trump. That Mrs Merkel recently affirmed that Germany would be spending 1.5% of GDP on defence by 2024, and would hit the 2% target around 2030, marks an achievement for Mrs von der Leyen and a challenge to public opinion (merely 15% of voters approve of the increase, according to one recent poll).” This is precisely the situation in Canada ~ I have been assured by sources I trust amongst both Conservative and Liberal insiders that polling, year after year, by both parties, says exactly the same thing: defence spending is amongst the lowest of priorities for Canada; most Canadians, a majority, not just a plurality, quite simply, do not want to hear about the military and they will not support increased defence spending.
Germany is making slow progress, The Economist says, and so, I guess, is Canada … painfully slow. But Conservatives, even pro-defence hawks like Erin O’Toole, must understand that making promises to increase defence spending is not going to win many seats in 2019; as I have explained, no one gives a damn.