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A mental and military turning point

Conditionally ready to defend itself: Germany's weakness at the turn of the century
Forfatter: Carlo Masala
Forlag: C.H.Beck, (Tyskland)
GERMANY / How 'war-ready' should a country be? With a number of top positions in international politics, crisis management and security, security expert Carlo Masala is regarded as an undeniable authority in the field.


How 'war-ready' should a country be? Should it prepare for 'offensive war' or 'defensive war'? Words have explosive power. Because you can add whatever prefixes or suffixes you want – war is and will be war. In order to defend someone, you have to attack someone. And death does not discriminate.

Germany is a key country in European and transatlantic defense cooperation. At the same time, the country's history has made people hypersensitive to any interference in armed conflict. Some argue that Germany is suffering from an overdose of Coping with the past – processing of his Nazi past.

What one can undoubtedly observe is the shock that shook the world after Hamas's attack on Israel, but the very biggest shock for the German Foreign Ministry came in 2022, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Before this, the belief was that they were "surrounded by friends", as former chancellor Helmut Kohl called it – friends who could be appeased with diplomatic good-talk, pipeline deals and change through trade. Russia pulverized decades of German Eastern policy when it attacked Ukraine, and with it the European postwar order.

In the book Conditionally ready to defend itself: Germany's weakness at the turn of the century ("Conditionally prepared for defence: Germany's weakness after the turning point"), the German professor Carlo Masala dissects all the illusions the Germans (and the West otherwise) built their (lack of) military strategy on after World War II. With a number of top positions in international politics, crisis management and security, Masala is considered an undisputed authority in the field.

Germany's defense

The author leaves Angela Merkel a dubious honor: "Until 2015, it was an unspoken agreement between the chancellor and the population to shield the Germans from the global problems."

Masala's concern concerns the questions of where the international system is headed, how we can assert ourselves in the future, how we should relate to the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, and, not least – which roads lead to peace. He states that "a country's defense preparedness cannot be measured exclusively in the capabilities of the military. A nation's defense is, especially in times of cyber-warfare, disinformation and the vulnerability of civil infrastructure, a societal joint task".

In Germany, conscription was abolished in 2011.

Nevertheless, the ability to defend its citizens in war is one of the nation's basic tasks. If Germany had been attacked the way Ukraine was, according to Masala, the country would not have been able to defend its territory. The reasons are many: prolonged disarmament in peacetime, lack of equipment, too few and too poorly trained soldiers. In Germany, conscription was abolished in 2011, volunteers have initial service from 7 to 23 months. Necessary war materiel such as Leopard 2 tanks, fighter jets and submarines are high-tech devices that require specialist expertise, not to mention a defense budget far in excess of the current one.

West Germany became NATO-member only ten years after it had lost World War II. Their efforts within the alliance concentrated between 1990 and 2014 on foreign efforts. In this connection, both Germany and the West must admit that the idea of ​​nation-building and a military export of our liberal democracy (example Iraq and Afghanistan) has failed miserably, even though, for example, the Afghanistan effort meant a clear professionalization of the German army. Masala summarizes the process: "The age of liberal imperialism is definitely over, and the military can do a lot, but exporting a liberal democracy somewhere is not one of its skills."

Tjeerd Royaards. Palestine And Ukraine. © Libex.Eu

Urgent admonition

NATO is struggling on a larger scale with the same type of problem as Germany. (We leave America out for a moment, as we do not know what will come from that side after the presidential election in 2024. Should Donald Trump become president for the second time, Europe risks losing the United States as Forsvarspartner, with scenarios you don't want to imagine.) Should there be a Russian missile attack on Poland or the Baltic states, there would not be sufficient European air defense to defend the population, the security expert notes. Historical sources show that within Warsaw Pacts there were plans to deploy 400 tactical nuclear weapons in a first round of war. Consequently, Germany has announced a major European initiative to remedy the shortfall – the European Sky Shield Initiative, in a forced attempt to set realistic goals. Otherwise, a controversial undertaking.

Another problem creates dark clouds in the sky: bureaucracy. Around 3000 people work in the German Ministry of Defence. The ministry acts as the military's superior and conducts a detailed management which in effect results in "organized disclaimer of responsibility. And like most bureaucracies, this is also concerned with its own self-preservation, like "an enormous head of water" (Masala), where a real enemy easily lands outside the field of vision.

Whoever fails to modernize his army can quickly lose the weight of his vote.

"We need structures that are geared towards crisis», is one of the book's mantras. A military power that is not only an instrument for repelling attacks, but a means of exercising political influence. An example is the so-called Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), consisting of Americans, Britons, French and Germans, who meet before each NATO meeting to agree their positions. Whoever here fails to modernize his army can quickly lose the weight of his vote. A higher military budget and with it a necessary paradigm shift in both wartime and peacetime consequently means that "we are putting our structures, our procedures and processes in foreign, security and defense policy to the test. If these structures are not crisis-ready, they must be". Masala's urgent admonition is unequivocal.


Germans, Norwegians, Europeans, we all face many more threats than a country's military defense can handle. Geopolitics, the global power shift, terrorist attacks are key words. We, i.e. society, do best to practice resilience. We can complete Carlo Masala's reasoning by concluding that resilience is not about a final state, about certainty once and for all. Dangers are ubiquitous and permanent. We do well to be aware of them and train ourselves to deal with them. , ed is not limited to the absence of war. Peace is not about sitting back and slowing down.

Ranveig Eckhoff
Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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