Germany to set up €100bn fund to boost its military strength

Chancellor Olaf Scholz says urgency of Ukraine crisis has forced decision to increase defence spending

In a historic announcement to parliament, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has said a fund of €100bn (£85bn) will be set up immediately to boost the strength of the country’s armed forces, as he also announced a sustained increase in defence spending over the coming years.

Scholz admitted that the urgency of the Ukraine crisis had forced Germany’s decision to invest in the military, telling the emergency session of the Bundestag: “It is clear that we must invest significantly more in the security of our country, in order to protect our freedom and democracy.”

He called it “Germany’s historical responsibility” to ensure that Vladimir Putin “does not turn the clocks back”.

The move came after the government made the surprise announcement on Saturday that it would be sending weapons and other supplies to Ukraine, including 1,000 anti-tank weapons, 500 surface-to-air Stinger missiles and thousands of gallons of petrol.

The decision marks a historical break with Germany’s postwar pledge to not export weapons to conflict zones.

Long-term defence spending is to be increased year on year by more than 2% of GDP, he said. It is currently about 1.5% with Germany having been under growing pressure from its Nato allies, in particular the US, to increase the amount for years. The existence of the special fund should be anchored in Germany’s constitution, Scholz said, in order to ensure it remained a guarantee beyond the life of the current parliament.

Germany has long been criticised by its allies for its resistance to increasing its defence spending. This position has been reinforced by a strong pacifist sentiment among the electorate linked to Germany’s Nazi past. In recent weeks, the country was also criticised for having not offered enough material support, in particular refusing to deliver lethal weapons to assist Ukraine to defend itself against Russia.

A turning point came on Saturday evening with the government’s surprise announcement on weapons to Ukraine. It has also lifted certain restrictions on German-manufactured weapons being sent to conflict zones from third countries, such as Estonia and the Netherlands.

The announcement to parliament was greeted with relief and surprise, with Scholz receiving a standing ovation on Sunday morning, even as some MPs, mainly from the the Left party as well as the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), groaned in disapproval.

During his half-hour address, Scholz said Putin’s decision to launch a war “marked a turning point in the history of our continent”. The military conflict would be a lengthy one, he said, stressing that he saw it as “Putin’s war” and “not a war of the Russian people”. He said the conflict would alter the world and called it “a catastrophe for Ukraine”, but said it would “also prove to be a catastrophe for Russia”.

Scholz issued five “mandates for action”, including: the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, which he said “can be the only answer to Putin’s aggression”; supporting sanctions against Russian interests, including the suspension of the Swift payment system; ensuring the war does not spill over into other countries, citing the importance of Nato’s article 5; a significant increase in German military spending as well as other strategic changes, including an effort to decrease German dependence on Russian gas, and the construction of two terminals allowing the import of liquid petroleum gas in the ports of Brunsbüttel and Wilhelmshaven.

This follows his decision last week to suspend approval of the gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, in effect killing the multibillion-euro project.

Finally, Scholz said he was determined to keep up the diplomatic effort. “We need as much diplomacy as possible, without being naive,” he said, adding that Germany would not refuse to hold talks with Russia. “Even in this extreme situation it is the job of diplomacy to keep open channels of communication,” he said. “Anything else would be irresponsible.”


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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