Germany Moves to Take a Bigger Role by Expanding Military

by Diane Francis

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First published August 26, 2016 in the National Post National Post

BAYREUTH, Germany – Police guard the main entrance to Richard Wagner’s storied Festival Hall for the first time in years. The security protects opera buffs who travel here every summer, amid concerns about protests or worse.

The police presence underscores a new reality. Germany, the reluctant and understated superpower, has begun to assume a starring role in the unfolding Grand Opera of World Events.

The country has already grabbed the spotlight for two reasons: It is arguably the world’s most successful and cleanest economy, with virtually no unemployment and a dramatic transition toward renewables to become self-sufficient and nuclear free. It is also a humane society with a generous social safety net for its citizens as well as for the one million new refugees it has welcomed in the past year.

This week, however, Berlin added a new dimension to its “performance” as the result of a “civil defense” manifesto that includes two dramatic shifts:

The government will encourage the public to stockpile 10 days’ supply of food and five days’ of water in case of national emergencies or “existential” (i.e. terrorist) attacks.
The government will have to right to reintroduce military conscription (stopped in 2011) in case of a “national emergency,” but with a major difference. Its armed forces (currently 178,000) could swell by another 600,000, and be deployed internally to help police for the first time since the Second World War, and, significantly, to guard NATO’s borders which extend to Turkey.
This represents a potentially dramatic extension of German military presence with a mandate to be deployed as domestic police as well as beyond its borders.

The initiative is due to three unstated reasons: Russia’s occupation of part of Ukraine and other countries on its eastern flank; America’s growing weariness of military costs; and terrorist threats to its other European and NATO members.

This pivot is being soft peddled as civil defense, but clearly represents solidarity with neighbours as well as a warning to Vladimir Putin who has forced Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics to undertake massive military mobilizations.

(Currently, Germany’s constitution restricts its military to protecting German borders. But civil defense finesses this restriction which, according to commentators, can be quickly amended if necessary.)

France and Belgium have also imposed indefinite martial law against homegrown terrorism. And Germany, with one million newcomers and possible embedded terrorists, plans to be prepared in case it needs military muscle at home.

Another aspect of this so-called “civil defense” policy is that Germany is extending the perimeter of its defense from its own political boundaries to include NATO’s members – a swath of territory which extends from Canada and the U.S. to the EU, former Soviet satellites and Turkey.

Thus, a new player from Berlin has entered the fray.

Germany has given itself the power to mobilize a huge armed force that can take action in dozens of countries. This is a worry to some, but a welcome development to Europeans given Vladimir Putin’s occupation of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. He has transgressed international law and threatened international peace and years of diplomacy have not worked. Ukraine’s president claimed this week that Putin is about to invade his country.

Germany has given itself the power to mobilize a huge armed force that can take action in dozens of countries.
Next week at the G20 in China, a newly emboldened Germany and France will meet separately with Russia to discuss the Ukrainian situation. Putin is sabre rattling to garner election support in Russia but is also amassing troops and murdering Ukrainians daily. Since his occupation in 2014, about 10,000 Ukrainians have died and 1.2 million Ukrainians have been displaced from Crimea and the Donbas regions. The situation dominates the country’s politics and robs its treasury of funds to rebuild its economy. The same applies in Georgia and Moldova.

Germany is also examining a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild Ukraine’s economy and political institutions if the Russian occupation is resolved.

Such geopolitical responsibilities are heavy enough, but Germany continues to execute other transformative policies. Germany’s energy transformation will give it a huge competitive advantage economically in a decade. Already 20 per cent of Germany’s energy is clean, (80 per cent some days) and the replacement of coal, nuclear and fossil fuels could be completed within 20 years. But in a handful of years, energy could become virtually “free” there as solar, wind and biomass costs plummet due to technology and other advances.

As for social policy, Germany stepped up to the refugee crisis more than any others, a humanitarian gesture that also provides the added benefit of addressing the country’s demographic challenge of an aging population. So far, so good and attacks have been few and mostly lone wolves with mental problems or tangential terrorist links.

Despite some violence, public opinion about all of this remains supportive, if apprehensive.

“It will take years for all the problems to be solved,” said a local resident. “German cities are already diverse, but there have been some issues with resettlement in smaller centers in the east [East Germany] where foreigners don’t live.”

Whatever happens Germany will soldier on.

This is not a place that operates tentatively, glacially or on a short-term basis. German governments take long-term views – from the absorption of East Germany in 1990 to refugees and its colossal green revolution.

And today is no different, only the challenges are. Germany executes some of the world’s most ambitious plans as it simultaneously moves toward its rightful place as a major player on the global stage.

Some will applaud and some will not.

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