Lithuanian troops receive orders on Steadfats Cobalt (SFCT) 2015 in Walcz, Poland
Russia’s military action in Ukraine has imbued the political climate in Europe with a vicious tension. Evidence of direct Russian involvement in Crimea shows that traditional kinetic conflict is not out of the question, as was once idealistically believed by both American and European officials. States in the region should therefore ensure that they are prepared to defend their soil if a wider conflict were to break out. While it is unlikely that Russia will invade, say, Poland à la 1939, to dismiss such scenarios is nothing short of naïve.
Germany, the most powerful European country nearest to Russia, is not exactly a vision of force. In a NATO exercise last year, German soldiers were forced to attach painted broomsticks to the tops of their vehicles in place of actual weapons. Even more disconcerting is the fact that this particular unit is part of NATO’s Rapid Response Force (NRF), which is specifically designed to react quickly to any aggression against a NATO member state. While a new NRF deal signed on February 5th is expected to increase the force from 13,000 to 30,000 soldiers, it is unclear whether NATO is prepared for such a surge. According to a leak, 41 percent of German soldiers in the unit lack the handguns required for battle, as well as other tools such as MG3 machine guns and night vision devices.
How prepared is Germany for the worst? Not very. When a German naval ship arrived in the Horn of Africa for anti-piracy operations last year, for example, none of the aircraft required to track down the pirates were onboard. A paltry 7 of the 43 naval helicopters were able to fly. 1 in 4 submarines were operational. Only 70 out of 180 armored vehicles were ready for deployment. Germany simply does not have the capabilities necessary for full-scale combat.
Instead of bolstering its own forces, “Germany looks towards Great Britain and France when it comes to defense spending,” according to Rainer Arnold, a member of the German Parliament’s defense committee. This lack of self-reliance can be traced back to an unspoken rule regarding German military might: it cannot be allowed to reach World War II levels of power.
This bizarre harkening back to history cannot be allowed to continue. Germany is the most economically powerful country in Europe as well as the backbone of the Eurozone, and should accordingly be given the military independence it deserves. Just as Japan has increased its military spending in response to Chinese incursions, Germany should do the same in response to Russia. US President Barack Obama said it himself in a speech to the European public regarding Ukraine: “We cannot count on others to rise to meet those tests.”
Not only does an enhanced European military prove to the world that a belligerent invasion will not be ignored, but it also means increased political independence for the EU. The presence of US military bases creates an atmosphere of deference that cripples Europe’s sense of self-determination. Although the political pressure is not always explicit, this deference hinders the ability of European states to stand up to US bullying, as shown in the case of Angela Merkel’s phone being tapped by the NSA.
If we are to respond to Russia’s aggression with the intensity it deserves, then Germany — and all of NATO, for that matter — should be prepared for war. Of course, this does not mean that war will come. But it must be remembered that war emerges accidently — oftentimes too quickly for any single nation to stop it. In fact, President Obama, speaking at Flanders Field in Belgium, said just that: “It is impossible not to be awed by the profound sacrifice [these soldiers] made so that we may stand here today […] here we saw that no soldier — and no nation — fought alone.” If we must make those sacrifices again, let us not be caught holding broomsticks.