Will France align its defense effort with Germany?

Among the profound geopolitical upheavals caused by the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the announcement made on Sunday 27 February by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the Bundestag about the massive increase in the German defense effort, is undoubtedly the one that will have the most consequences in Europe in the medium and long term. Breaking with 30 years of chronic underinvestment by the Bundeswehr, which led the German Chief of Staff to publicly warn Berlin about the deteriorated operational capabilities of its armies from the first day of the conflict in Ukraine, Berlin announced a plan aimed at to modernize the German armies in the short term with an immediate envelope of €100 billion, supported by the increase in the defense effort itself "beyond 2%", i.e. more than €70 billion in 2021, against a budget of €53 billion today, an increase of more than 40%.

This announcement has already caused significant reactions in Europe, several countries such as the Netherlands and Finland having since announced their intention to also significantly increase their defense effort, and it is likely that in the relatively short term, all European countries, including the most reluctant such as Belgium, will also have achieved a defense effort equal to or greater than 2% of their own GDP, i.e. the objective set by NATO since 2014. France, for its part, , has already reached the 2% mark this year, with a defense budget of €48 billion, of which €42 billion is devoted to the armed forces (the rest being mainly captured by the payment of pensions and military pensions). Should we therefore expect that, due to its GDP much higher than that of France, Germany stands out in Europe in terms of military capabilities? It's very unlikely...

The BundesWehr Puma VCI

Indeed, since the start of the rearmament of Federal Germany in 1954 and its integration into NATO, Paris and Bonn, then Berlin, have always taken care to maintain balanced defense spending, so as not to exhume certain rivalries continental. In the 60s, as France left NATO's integrated command and developed its own nuclear deterrent, this balance was maintained, with the two sharing military power in Europe, France deterrence and force projection, land and air power to Germany. And in fact, over the entire period of the end of the Cold War, if the two defense budgets remained balanced, the German armies had many more tanks and combat planes than France, while the French armies put implement a more than significant deterrent, and much larger assault and force projection forces, including two aircraft carriers.

In fact, when Olaf Scholz announced the new German defense effort on February 27, there is no doubt that de Dernier had precisely agreed beforehand with his American, British, European and especially French partners, on the one hand to avoid any reaction of surprise and concern, on the other hand to coordinate everyone's responses. In normal times, Paris would most likely have announced a defense effort of the same order as that of Berlin, and this at the same time, so as to maintain the balance and prevent the situation from being politically exploited in the two countries. If the French President did nothing about it, apart from a quick allusion to an increase in the national defense effort during the televised speech on the situation in Ukraine on March 2, it is indeed above all linked to the particular context of France today, when the presidential election campaign is underway. In this context, the announcement by the incumbent president, otherwise not officially declared as a candidate on this date, of a massive and rapid increase in defense spending would undoubtedly have provoked a generalized political outcry. It is now up to the candidates to detail their own responses to these strategic and critical issues.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz in front of the Bundestag on February 27, 2022

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