Heusgen speaks to Klingbeil: "We are at a turning point and Putin is just around the corner"

German defense policy is more challenged than it has been for a long time.

Heusgen speaks to Klingbeil: "We are at a turning point and Putin is just around the corner"

German defense policy is more challenged than it has been for a long time. The new head of the Munich Security Conference, Christoph Heusgen, has written a book about it and discussed difficult issues and how to decide them with SPD leader Lars Klingbeil.

With a simple question to Lars Klingbeil, Christoph Heusgen makes it clear that the big strategies fail if nothing concrete is decided, and simple questions are usually about money: "Now support Pistorius' demand that we cut the defense budget Put 10 billion on it?"

Yes or no - Heusgen, the new head of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), could add more, but he doesn't. In his question to the SPD chairman, it also became so clear that a popular motto of German defense policy will no longer work in 2023: Let's see - we'll decide later.

Heusgen, who is expecting more than 40 heads of state and government alone for the MSC in Munich starting next Friday, has previously described from his own experience how difficult it is to decide to increase the defense budget in Germany. Even more difficult: actually implementing them.

From 2005, the diplomat was the security policy advisor to the then Chancellor Angela Merkel for twelve years. For a presentation of his book "Leadership and Responsibility," he invited Lars Klingbeil to discuss open questions about a German security strategy with him, which in the end - and this will become clear this morning - must lead to something concrete: 10 billion on the budget by Defense Minister Boris Pistorius or not? Yes or no?

It speaks for the seriousness with which Heusgen and Klingbeil are conducting the conversation that the SPD leader will also give a concrete answer to this specific question. Before doing so, however, he would like to contradict the account in Heusgen's book that the resistance of the SPD is responsible for many things that have gone wrong in German foreign policy in recent years. Germany has often been criticized for never reaching NATO's two percent target with defense budgets of 1.2 or 1.3 percent of economic output.

Klingbeil names the attitude that he believes led to this mistake: "We felt too safe in Germany." From his point of view, there has always been consensus to say, "we want to do more for the Bundeswehr, but we are in a global political situation where there is no urgency to do it." The SPD leader draws a line under this attitude: "That will be gone on February 24."

Consequently, Klingbeil answered Heusgen's question in the affirmative: "We need reasonable financial resources for the Bundeswehr. I'm also grateful to Pistorius for opening the debate again, I support that, to say it quite clearly."

That's a clear statement. And one that Boris Pistorius - who has been in office for almost a month - will need if he wants to increase his budget from 50 to 60 billion euros.

How difficult that is, Christoph Heusgen can show from his own experience. He was there when the 2% target was endorsed at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales. The Chancellor asked him, as well as Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Ursula von der Leyen, then at the head of the Foreign and Defense Ministries: "Are we all behind it?" And they were all behind it.

"Subsequently, during implementation, we found it incredibly difficult to budget for these growth rates, which that would have meant," says Heusgen. He now sees this basic problem again and the need for a "real turnaround" that will ensure "that we are prepared to put 10 billion more into the budget and at the same time have a discussion: Where do we cut that? That's quite very difficult. It was difficult in 2014 and it will be difficult in 2023."

It becomes all the more clear how high the 10 billion euro question is that Klingbeil supports this "for once very clearly" when you look back three years: At that time, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, as CDU Defense Minister, pleaded for an increase in the Defense budgets, which also corresponded to a demand from the then US President Donald Trump. Klingbeil moderated AKK's advance without a hint of a debate: there would be no upgrading of the Bundeswehr according to Trump's ideas with the SPD. His party does not want to fulfill "Trump's defense fantasies".

A great deal has happened in the three years since that statement. In Europe, a sovereign state has to defend itself against a Russian attack, the German parliament voted for a 100 billion euro special fund for armaments spending - with the votes of the SPD, Greens, FDP and Union. However, Germany is not yet ahead of the situation.

Many security experts are predicting that NATO will not stick to the "two percent" that was decided at the time - in view of the uncertainty in today's world situation. One will soon have to talk about 2.5 to three percent. Incidentally, Germany spent 3.8 percent of its gross domestic product on weapons during the Cold War.

And money alone will not be enough, Klingbeil is also clear here: "We have to make a pact with the defense industry in Germany, everyone around the table, there has to be a handshake to say that there will be massive investments in the next fifteen or twenty years." Politicians must guarantee investment security and planning security. "This means that production facilities and armament processes can be ramped up." Germany must also learn to buy "off the shelf".

Again Klingbeil sounds very resolute about the suggestion to bring the new "Germany pace" into the armaments industry. Above all, however, it belongs in the Ministry of Defence, because that is considered a bureaucratic monster. Starting Friday, the renowned Munich conference will provide him with further arguments for more money, more speed and more pragmatism. Your leader has a concrete argument ready for the moment: "We are at a turning point, and Putin is just around the corner."