The Bundestag has voted to make Germany the country with the highest military budget after the United States and China. For decades, Germany has tightly restricted social spending — but when the money is for weapons, no such limits apply.
Erich Kästner, the great critic, humanist, and antimilitarist, once said, “You must never sink so low as to drink from the cocoa you are being dragged through.” As the German government seeks to sweeten the €100 billion in special debt it plans to take on for ad hoc rearmament — changing the constitution to this end — it’s worth taking a critical look at the “cocoa” it’s ladling over us.
For certain, the measure is marketed in the name of humanitarian intentions. Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic–led administration declares that this arms buildup is now necessary because Russia has invaded Ukraine. The invasion must, indeed, be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Politicians today face two tasks: They must end the bloodshed in Ukraine as quickly as possible. And they must prevent its escalation, within Ukraine as well as beyond its borders, with the appalling risk of a third world war among nuclear powers.
But the €100 billion in additional spending, directed especially to the air force and the navy, is not intended for Ukraine. It makes no contribution to ending the bloodshed. Accordingly, when Chancellor Scholz announced the €100 billion figure — decided in backrooms three days after the war began — there was no pressure to act in terms of security policy or morality.
They want to tell us that the rearmament plans are only a reaction to Russia’s war, which they describe as a “turning point in history.” This is, however, the stuff of fairy tales. The rearmament plans were already in place long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In fact, it was largely present even in the coalition deal between Social Democrats, Greens, and the Free Democrats, signed already last November. It was not until December that the first warnings of an imminent invasion of Ukraine came. It is dishonest in the extreme that the horror and outrage we all share over the dead, the wounded, the terrible destruction, and the unbearable suffering of the people on the run are being exploited today to implement plans made much earlier and for wholly separate purposes. To instrumentalize a situation of popular empathy and war fears and to push through a policy that most of the population has rejected time and again since World War II is unworthy of a democracy.
The Same Failed Road
Yet they still want to tell us that “deterrence” is needed in the face of Russia’s war of aggression. This, too, is a distortion. Already in 2021, the military expenditures of the NATO states exceeded Russia’s almost twenty times over. Already today, 1.9 million soldiers of the European NATO states (i.e., without the United States) are compared with only 0.9 million Russian soldiers, who, by the way, are distributed over the entire area of what is easily the world’s biggest country. In terms of weapons systems, the European NATO states already have at least a twofold superiority over Russia when it comes to combat aircraft, artillery, battle tanks, and armored vehicles. Even the vast superiority of the European NATO states, not to mention the United States, the world’s greatest military power, did not deter Russia’s war.
Despite this blatant asymmetry, the governing parties — and indeed all forces in the Bundestag with the exception of Die Linke — decided on June 3 to make Germany the country with the third-largest military budget after the United States and China. Germany is thus further fueling a dangerous new global arms race — in the interests of the global arms corporations, whose share prices are currently exploding — and exacerbating military asymmetry in Europe. Inasmuch as everything that is acquired and produced domestically is also exported, this also inevitably means more arms exports in the future, more armed conflicts, and thus more refugees.
Nevertheless, they want to tell us that the arms buildup is now necessary because the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, has been “systematically cut to the bone.” Germany is “impossible to defend,” they say. That, too, is a myth driven by the interests of corporate and state power. According to the Federal Audit Office (Bundesrechnungshof), military spending has already been systematically and significantly increased from €32.5 to €50.3 billion since 2014. Even then, politicians, the media, and corporations claimed that it was necessary to rearm because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the rise of the so-called Islamic State, although here, too, the plans had long been implemented in the coalition agreement of 2013 — i.e., long before either was an issue. Even today, newspaper and radio journalists, talk show hosts, columnists, and politicians tell us every day that the Bundeswehr soldiers don’t even have underpants anymore. But if there has already been a 55.2 percent increase in defense spending since 2014, then either there should be enough money for underpants or the Bundeswehr has a massive procurement problem. It is also for this reason that the Bundesrechnungshof opposes rearmament.
It’s also worth asking where the money actually comes from. For years, they have been trying to tell us that there is no money to overcome staff shortages in schools, hospitals, and government offices. They want to tell us that there is no money to put a stop to insecure and exploitative employment, from social work to higher-education temp work. They want to tell us that the state cannot do anything about skyrocketing rents, and that when someone does — as with the Berlin rent cap legislated by Die Linke senators — liberal and conservative federal judges will shoot down those measures. They want to tell us that they can’t do anything about galloping inflation of 7.9 percent (May 2022), even though it plunges every third student into poverty, and every second pensioner already has to get by on under €803 a month. They want to tell us that for the poorest of the poor, who have to live on Hartz IV unemployment benefits, an additional €8.33 should be enough to get by on, even though already in pre-inflation times the money never lasted till the end of the month.
They want to tell us that, in the fight against the ongoing climate catastrophe, we have to trust in the corporations and the capitalist market to which we owe this disaster — including business giants that have lied and cheated about environmental standards for years. But, they say, there is no alternative to the capitalist market and no money for socio-ecological restructuring. They want to tell us that there are no funds for all these things. But whenever banks and corporations want to be saved, they suddenly pull hundreds of billions out of the hat. Whenever it is a question of rearmament in the interests of this class, because a “globalization-dependent economy” like Germany also needs the “strongest and most powerful army in Europe,” as the usually more austerian finance minister Christian Lindner put it, they suddenly find an additional hundred billion. From this we learn that there is never any money for working people, who, alongside nature, create all the wealth, but there always is for corporate and state power.
Now they, the Social Democrats — in the form of the party’s general secretary Kevin Kühnert — want to tell us that the money is a “special fund” and that therefore there are not going to be commensurate massive cuts in the cultural and social spheres. They have the cleverness to decide on the €12 minimum wage increase on the same day as the high armament, so that it looks like you can have your cake and eat it too. Every “Swabian housewife” knows that if you spend money on armaments, you have to save it somewhere else, especially if you fail to get it where there’s most: in the accounts of the billionaires in Western tax havens, nestling alongside the untouched assets that Russian billionaires stole from the Russian people.
A Special Debt . . . to the Christian Democrats
The fund for the Bundeswehr is a “special debt.” Because the debt brake (the balanced budget amendment to the German constitution) applies and is to continue to apply to all social areas (education, health, housing, etc.), an amendment to the Basic Law was needed for the special funds. To this end, the government needed the support of the Christian Democrats and Christian Social Union under the market fundamentalist Friedrich Merz.
Their approval came at a high price. The May 29 negotiations were all about how much of the €100 billion would be spent on weapons alone, what additional arms spending on cybersecurity and alliance security would have to be paid for out of the federal budget, and, above all, how quickly the social austerity measures would have to be implemented — the key term being the “payback plan” — and how permanently Germany would commit itself to high levels of armaments amounting to 2 percent of gross domestic product.
The outcome was clear from the outset when Minister Lindner, the free-market zealot in the government, negotiated with the free-market zealot in the opposition, Merz. Lindner’s chief advisor, Lars Feld, already emphasized in advance on ZDF’s heute-journal that there would be massive cuts in the social sector in the next few years as a result of the €100 billion, and explicitly brought pensions into play, as if there weren’t already far too many poor pensioners lining up at soup kitchens and looking for deposit bottles to cash in for a few cents. Green deputy chancellor Robert Habeck attempted to prepare us for the fact that “we will become poorer” and pleaded for a “voluntary” pension to begin at age seventy. Merz, in turn, has openly declared that “the times of our prosperity are over.” By this, of course, the man from the “upper-middle class” does not mean his prosperity, his private jet, or even the prosperity of his class, for which he worked as the European business manager of the world’s largest capital fund, BlackRock, in whose interests the housing corporation Vonovia is currently massively raising rents for millions of Germans. So it’s clear who should foot the bill: all of us working people.
In fact, the Christian Democrats got their way on almost all points. Expenditures for cybersecurity, munitions, and alliance commitments must not be financed from the €100 billion, not to mention nonmilitary security structures or even development cooperation. The money is reserved for the purchase of nuclear-capable F-35s from the United States, air systems that can rapidly deploy large forces over long distances, weaponized drones, and so on. The rest must be funded within the current budget. Cybersecurity alone accounts for €12 billion. Accordingly, word around Social Democratic and Green parliamentary groups is that the planned “citizens’ insurance” and “basic child security” — two of the costliest items in the budget — will probably be sacrificed as a result.
No, We Can’t Afford This
The €100 billion in special debt to fund the Bundeswehr is a scandal in terms of distribution and social policy. It is a climate policy scandal. And last but not least, it is also a scandal in terms of democracy. Rushing through a “180-degree turnaround” in German foreign and security policy, as the Green Party foreign minister Annalena Baerbock called it, without a broad social debate — indeed, without internal party discussion, as happened after February 27 — is absolutely unworthy of a democracy. It is also highly untrustworthy given the imperialist pretext that we in the West face an existential struggle between democracy and autocracy (with a view to China).
Almost a century ago, Erich Kästner wrote, “Do you know the land where the cannons bloom? / You don’t know it? You will get to know it!”
High armament does not make Germany and Europe safer or more peaceful. It misappropriates social resources that we urgently need in the fight against poverty, social insecurity, global hunger, pandemics, and the ongoing climate catastrophe. In the name of the future, as a society, we cannot afford this armament buildup! The super-grand coalition that has decided this is not a “progressive coalition,” as liberal journalists romanticize it, but a coalition of regression.