Corona crisis: less money for military spending?

picture: Nato/Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum/CC BY-SA 2.0

Inspector General Zorn vs. AKK: The debate about a pandemic-related lowering of the capabilities profile of the Bundeswehr and the defense budget is open

Much should not have changed in the assessment of the military objectives set in the Bundeswehr’s capability profile in the short space of time between the years. And yet: at the beginning of 2021 by General Inspector Comments made by Eberhard Zorn have a significantly different tongue than a report about the update of the capability profile, which was made by the Bundeswehr a little earlier published on December 18, 2020 has been.

While the update of the skill profile was still optimistic that the ambitious targets could be achieved, Zorn rowed a good deal away from the previous course by stating that the pandemic would require a lowering of the skill profile for financial reasons.

It is unclear what exactly Zorn intended. Presumably he wanted to blame the previously foreseeable failure of the pandemic’s capability profile. However, he had made the calculation without the landlady: because he was dealing with a clear one Reply his boss, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who shortly thereafter put on record that the financial, personnel and material targets remained untouched, pandemic or not (bombastic economic program).

Nevertheless, the debate is positive in any case for at least two reasons: Firstly, it will hopefully become a little more difficult to push through the crazy annual increases in the armaments budget provided for by the capability profile if they are questioned even by the highest-ranking Bundeswehr soldier.

And secondly, the – already very cautious – debate about where the money for coping with the pandemic should come from is now spilling over prominently to the defense budget, which should be the most obvious candidate for this.

Demanding skill profile

Since the final escalation of Western-Russian relations in the course of the Ukraine crisis from 2014, these disputes have moved more and more into the center of the Bundeswehr planning under the euphemistic term of “national and alliance defense” (although the ability to intervene in the Global South is retained). Accordingly, this task was then in the “Conception of the Bundeswehr” Selected as a new priority in July 2018:

The Bundeswehr must be in a position to be deployed for collective alliance defense in all dimensions with a short lead time, with comprehensive capabilities, right up to large combat forces within and also on the edge of the alliance area.


Building on this, the “capability profile of the Bundeswehr” from September 2018 cast these priorities into concrete material, personnel and financial targets. Since then, the establishment of the large units called for in the conception of the Bundeswehr has had high priority: by 2023 a heavy brigade (around 5,000 soldiers), by 2027 one division (around 15,000) and by 2032 three divisions should be able to be fed into NATO. Measured against what is available so far, these are very ambitious goals for the implementation of which the Bundeswehr is to increase from currently around 180,000 to 203,000 soldiers by 2027 at the latest (see Germany on (leadership) course).

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And financially, too, the capability profile has “clear price tags”, as Rainer Meyer zum Felde from the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel does writes:

It calls for an increase in Section 14 [Verteidigungshaushalt] from around 43 billion euros in 2019 to 46 billion in 2020, 58 billion in 2024 and 60 billion in 2025 (according to NATO criteria from around 47 billion euros in 2019 to 50 billion in 2020, 62 billion in 2024 and 64 billion in 2025).

Rainer Meyer

Update: On schedule?

Since it was published, the capability profile has been regularly updated (“continued”) and it is also checked to what extent the targets have been “successfully” implemented so far. Although the update report in this regard is under lock and key, the Bundeswehr website on December 18, 2020 provided relatively detailed information about it reported. There it is announced full of zest for action:

The Bundeswehr has big plans up to 2032. By then it wants to be able not only to survive in international missions alongside its allies, but also to perform its tasks in national and alliance defense as best as possible.


It is pointed out that the “successful” implementation of the capability profile depends on a further increase in the armaments budget, but nowhere is there any doubt that this will actually happen:

The refocusing of the Bundeswehr on national and alliance defense continues to guide planning, provided that the tasks of international crisis management and the other tasks of the Bundeswehr are performed equally. […] A steadily increasing budget line of Section 14 is essential.

This increase has become noticeable in recent years, but it has to continue. so that Germany can take on more responsibility. Germany can only credibly fulfill its international commitments and obligations if the modernization of the Bundeswehr succeeds in the long term.


According to the BMVg, the personal goals should apparently remain undeterred: To the new one Medium-term personnel planning it was also said on December 18, 2020:

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“By 2027, there will be 203,000 soldiers, including the 4,500 reserve positions. The target structure for civilian personnel is to be adjusted from 67,800 budget positions to 69,700 budget positions.”

Anger skeptical

With a defense budget of 45.2 billion euros in 2020, the Bundeswehr was actually in line with the schedule of the capability profile, which assumes that military spending of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product would be required for its implementation. According to NATO, this requirement was even reached in 2020 with 1.57 percent overcrowded. However, Inspector General Eberhard Zorn, of all people, does not want to share the optimism that the BMVg showed in December when it comes to the ability profile.

Im Interview with the world on Sunday of January 3, 2021, he said:

As a citizen, I see what the pandemic will require in terms of money to keep the economic system alive. There will certainly be a cash drop after Corona. I think we will have to re-examine our military objectives afterwards. That must then also be realistically coordinated with our NATO partners in Brussels. It makes little sense for us to mutually set goals that no allied can maintain due to the corona budgetary burdens.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn

The military-related blog Eyes straight ahead! pointed then explicitly on the scope of these statements, especially with a view to the objectives of the skill profile:

Even if “re-examine our military objectives” Sounds harmless at first sight: In all probability this means that the plans for the Bundeswehr for the next ten years will have to be revised downwards. Foreseeable in terms of material, especially in terms of procurement. But maybe also with the staff.

Eyes straight ahead!

Debate opened

As mentioned at the beginning, it is unclear what Zorn was aiming for with his statements. First of all, it can be stated that he spoke of a “cash fall” and not explicitly of “cuts”, which was only later put into his mouth by the media. Much more admitted anger through the flower that even the rapid increases in the armaments budget in recent years have been too small to implement the capability profile:

“In 2020 alone, Parliament approved investments with a total volume of 27 billion euros for the coming years. Since 2017, investment commitments have thus been in this order of magnitude. Nevertheless, we unfortunately remain below our planning line.”

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If the Bundeswehr has been lagging behind its self-imposed goals for some time, the assumption that under the current circumstances it would probably not succeed in extracting any more money speaks for a certain realism. The failure of the ability profile to blame the pandemic entirely would be another bonus that Anger might have had in mind.

Whatever anger may have caused his advance, he was evidently not discussed with his boss. Because then Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer felt compelled to categorically reject any lowering of the ability profile. In the dpa announcement of January 7, 2021 she went to the Bütt as a direct reply against anger with the following words:

Kramp-Karrenbauer contradicted expectations that a cut in defense budgets would be the right way to deal with the consequences of the economic crisis. “When we talk about major arms projects, we also talk about national industrial policy,” she said. “From my point of view, it makes no sense that we tried to stabilize the economy with large stimulus packages last year and are now withdrawing orders where the state is itself a client, for example in the armaments sector, and thus helping to put jobs at risk are. […] First of all, I am fighting to ensure that we get the money we need for the Bundeswehr and thus for our security, “said Kramp-Karrenbauer on the current situation.” Incidentally, we have also promised to do so with a view to international obligations, for example in the Nato: “Large armaments projects should not be at the expense of the equipment for individual soldiers.” In the past, the opposite was often the case, and that was wrong, “she said.


Regardless of the pandemic, Kramp-Karrenbauer apparently does not want to know anything about personal, material or financial restrictions on the skill profile. Actually, this is a precipitous proposal to steer the debate on where the funds to cope with the pandemic should come from in the armaments sector.

After all, it is more than obvious to look at the military budget, which recorded massive increases between the year 2000 (24.3 billion euros) and 2021 (46.9 billion euros including the funds from the Corona package). It will be exciting to see how (and whether) the individual parties will position themselves on this issue in the upcoming election campaign.
(Jürgen Wagner)


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