With Eye on Terror and Russia, Germany Plans First Increase in Troops Since Cold War

By James Carstensen | June 1, 2016 | 8:30 PM EDT

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen speaks with German soldiers after a NATO exercise in Poland on June 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz, File)

Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Germany’s next budget will see the nation’s first increase in troop numbers since the Cold War, with the cabinet set to debate whether or not the country will take on a bigger military role in international affairs to “maintain global security.”

The new budget as well as a draft defense plan – outlined in a government policy white paper reported by Deutsche Welle and other outlets last week – are seen as a response to current security concerns, including the Islamist terrorist attacks in Europe, the refugee crisis, and Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The white paper, which refers to “the changed security policy conditions of the 21st century,” became public a week after the German cabinet adopted a four-year budget plan that would dramatically increase defense budget.

The finance ministry states that the defense budget is to rise 1.7 billion euro ($1.9 billion), to a total of 36.6 billion euro ($40.9 billion) in 2017; and continuing to increase to 39.2 billion euro ($43.8 billion) in 2020 – an increase of 14.3 percent.

“The central points of this budget and finance plan are of course the internal and external security of our country,” Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told a press conference Wednesday.

Germany has also shown interest in increased international involvement through a long-mooted “European army” for the 28-member E.U. bloc, whose aim is to “gradually coordinate Europe’s patchwork of national militaries,” according to another government white paper, leaked to The Financial Times.

"German security policy has relevance – also for beyond our country,” the document reportedly states. “Germany is willing to join early, decisively and substantially as a driving force in international debates ... to take responsibility and assume leadership.”

The current draft defense plan would not revolve around unilateral action, but instead focus on bolstering engagement with the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and fostering a close partnership with the United States.

NATO agreed to deploy an additional 4,000 troops in Poland and the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia last April, after Poland requested increased security along the borders in the face of a more aggressive Russia.

The move came after NATO allies, at a summit in Wales in 2014, agreed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine to halt defense budget cuts and dedicate two percent of each nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) on military spending.

So far Germany had been considering only whether to contribute troops to the deployment in Poland. It is not yet clear whether the draft defense plan, with its proposal to increase cooperation with NATO, would change that.

Germany currently has limited military forces available. There are currently around 185,000 troops – the smallest number in the country’s history – and 56,000 civilians.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen recently announced plans to boost troop numbers for the first time since the end of the Cold War in 1990. The increases will see 14,300 soldiers and 4,400 civilians join the military in the next seven years.

The new defense budget will, however, still leave German spending short of the NATO target of two per cent of GDP.

Despite the United States making repeated calls for alliance members to meet that target, to date, only five have done so: the U.S., Britain, Greece, Estonia, and Poland.

Some Germans say the new funding is not enough. Florian Hahn, defense policy spokesman for the Christian Social Union – the Bavarian sister party to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union – called it “unsatisfactory.”

He told Die Welt that the scale of the increase left “doubts among the troops whether we are confronting the shortages with sufficient seriousness.”

Rainer Arnold, the defense spokesman for the Social Democrats, another member of the ruling coalition, said the new budget would “not be equal to the rising security policy demands.”

Merkel’s office and the foreign and defense ministries have reportedly agreed on the draft defense plan, and it is expected to be debated in the cabinet by July.

German and other European leaders will also further consider deployment of NATO battalions to Poland in July, when NATO leaders hold a summit in Warsaw.

“Let me be clear: there will be more NATO troops in Poland after the Warsaw summit, to send a clear signal that an attack on Poland will be considered an attack on the whole alliance,” NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to Warsaw on Monday.