This article was originally published by Jacobin.
Erich Kästner, the great critic, humanist and anti-militarist, once said: “You must never sink so low as to drink from the cocoa you are being dragged through.”
In what follows, I will tell you about this cocoa and about the fairy tales they have told us in order to raise 100 billion euros in special debt for rearmament in ad-hoc fashion and to change the German constitution for this purpose.
They want to tell us that the arms build-up is now necessary because Russia has invaded Ukraine. Russia’s war in Ukraine must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Politicians today face two tasks: They must end the bloodshed in Ukraine as quickly as possible. And they must prevent the escalation of the war in Ukraine as well as its escalation beyond its borders into a third world war between nuclear powers. But: The 100 billion euros that are now to be spent additionally, especially on the air force and the navy, are not intended for Ukraine. They make no contribution to ending the bloodshed. Accordingly, when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the 100 billion euros worth investment decided in back rooms three days after the war began, there was no pressure to act in terms of security policy or morality.
They want to tell us that the rearmament plans are only a reaction to Russia’s war, which they describe as a “turning point in history.” That is a fairy tale! The rearmament plans have already been in place long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. By and large, they were already mentioned in the coalition agreement of SPD, Greens and FDP! This was concluded in November 2021. It was not until December that the first warnings of an imminent invasion of Ukraine came. It is dishonest in the extreme that the horror and outrage of all of us at the war victims, the dead, the wounded, the terrible destruction and the unbearable suffering of the people on the run are being exploited today to implement plans that were made much earlier and for completely different purposes. To instrumentalize a situation of empathy and fear of war among the population in order to push through a policy that previously had been rejected over and over again by the majority of the population for more than three quarters of a century after the Second World War is unworthy of a democracy.
Yet they still want to tell us that “deterrence” is needed in the face of Russia’s war of aggression. This is also a distortion of the facts! Already in 2021 the military expenditures of the NATO states would exceed those of Russia by almost 20 times. Already today, 1.9 million soldiers of the European NATO states (i.e. without the USA) are compared with only 0.9 million Russian soldiers, who, by the way, are distributed over the entire area of the largest country in the world by far. In terms of weapons systems, the European NATO states already have at least a twofold superiority over Russia when it comes to combat aircraft, artillery, battle tanks and armored vehicles. But also this house-high military superiority alone of the European NATO states, not to speak of the USA as by far the most powerful military state of the world, did not prevent the Russian war!
Despite this blatant asymmetry, the government of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP, indeed all parties in the Bundestag with the exception of Die Linke (The Left) decided on June 3, 2022 to make Germany the country with the third largest military budget after the USA and China.
Nevertheless, they want to tell us that the arms buildup is now necessary because the Bundeswehr has been “systematically cut to the bone.” Germany is “indefensible,” they say. That, too, is an interest-driven myth. According to the Federal Audit Office (Bundesrechnungshof), military spending has already been systematically and significantly increased from 32.5 to 50.3 billion euros since 2014. Even then, politicians, the media and corporations claimed that it was necessary to rearm because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the “Islamic State,” although here, too, the plans had long been implemented in the coalition agreement of 2013, i.e. long before the “IS” and the annexation of Crimea were an issue. Even today, newspaper and radio journalists, talk show hosts, columnists and politicians tell us every day that the Bundeswehr soldiers don’t even have underpants anymore. But if there has already been a 55.2 percent increase in defense spending since 2014, then either there should be enough money for underpants or the Bundeswehr has a massive procurement problem. It is also for this reason that the Bundesrechnungshof opposes rearmament.
Incidentally: Where does the money actually come from? For years, they have been trying to tell us that there is no money to overcome staff shortages in schools, hospitals and government offices. They want to tell us that there is no money to put a stop to insecure and exploitative employment, from social work to higher education temp-work. They want to tell us that the state cannot do anything about skyrocketing rents, and that when someone does something about it, as with a Die Linke senator’s Berlin rent cap, liberal and conservative federal judges are right to shoot down those measures. They want to tell us that they can’t do anything about the galloping inflation of 7.9 percent (May 2022), even though it plunges every third student into poverty and every second pensioner already has to get by on less than 803 euros a month. They want to tell us that for the poorest of the poor, who have to live on Hartz IV, an additional 8.33 euros should be enough to get by with, even though already in pre-inflation times the money never lasted till the end of the month.
But, they say, there is no alternative to the capitalist market and no money for socio-ecological restructuring. They want to tell us that there is no money for all these things. But whenever banks and corporations want to be saved, they suddenly pull hundreds of billions out of the hat. Whenever it is a question of rearming in the interests of this class, because a “globalization-dependent economy” like Germany also needs the “strongest and most powerful army in Europe” (German Finance Minister Christian Lindner), they suddenly find an additional hundred billion euros. From this we learn: There is never any money for working people, who create all the wealth in Germany, but there always is for corporate and state power.
Now they, the Social Democrats and namely SPD general secretary Kevin Kühnert want to tell us that the money is a “special fund” and that therefore there are not going to be compensational massive cuts in the cultural and social spheres. They have the cleverness to decide on the 12 Euro minimum wage increase on the same day as the high armament, so that it looks like you can have your cake and eat it too. Every “Swabian housewife” knows that if you spend money on armaments, you have to save it somewhere else, especially if you fail to get it where it is: in the accounts of the billionaires in Western tax havens, smooching alongside the untouched assets which Russian billionaires stole from the Russian people.
The fund for the Bundeswehr is a “special debt.” Because the debt brake – balanced budget amendment to the German constitution – applies and is to continue to apply to all social areas – education, health, housing, etc. – an amendment to the Basic Law was needed for the “special funds.” And for this, the CDU/CSU under the market fundamentalist Friedrich Merz was needed. The approval of the CDU/CSU came at a high price. Last Sunday’s negotiations (29 May 2022) were all about how much of the 100 billion would be spent on weapons alone, what additional arms spending on cyber security and alliance security would have to be paid for out of the federal budget, how much and, above all, how quickly the social austerity measures would have to be implemented – the keyword being the “payback plan” – and how permanently Germany would commit itself to high levels of armaments amounting to 2% of gross domestic product.
The outcome was clear from the outset when German Finance Minister Christian Lindner, the free-market zealot in the government, negotiated with the free-market zealot in the opposition, Friedrich Merz. Lindner’s chief advisor Lars Feld already emphasized in advance on ZDF heute journal that there would be massive cuts in the social sector in the next few years as a result of the 100 billion and explicitly brought pensions into play, as if there weren’t already far too many poverty pensioner lining up at soup kitchens and looking for deposit bottles. Robert Habeck puts us in the mood for the fact that “we will become poorer” and pleads for a “voluntary” pension at 70. Merz, in turn, has openly declared that “the times of our prosperity are over.” By this, of course, the man from the “upper middle class” does not mean his prosperity, not his private jet, and not even the prosperity of his class, for which he worked until the end as the European business manager of the world’s largest capital fund, Blackrock, in whose interests the housing corporation Vonovia is currently massively raising rents for millions of Germans. So it’s clear who should foot the bill: All of us working people!
In fact, the CDU/CSU got its way on almost all points. Expenditures for cyber security, munitions and alliance commitments must not be financed from the 100 billion, not to mention non-military security structures or even development cooperation etc. The money is reserved for the purchase of nuclear weapons-carrying F35 fighter jets from the U.S., air systems that can rapidly deploy large forces over long distances, weaponized drones, etc. The rest must be funded within the current budget. Cybersecurity alone accounts for 12 billion. Accordingly, the SPD and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen parliamentary groups are saying that the planned “citizens’ insurance” and/or “basic child security” – two of the biggest cost items in the budget – will probably be sacrificed as a result.
The 100 billion euros in special debt for the Bundeswehr are a scandal in terms of distribution and social policy. They are a climate policy scandal. And last but not least, they are also a scandal in terms of democracy: Rushing through a “180-degree turnaround” in German foreign and security policy, as Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens calls it, without a broad social debate, indeed without internal party discussions, as happened after January 27, is absolutely unworthy of a democracy. It is also highly untrustworthy given the imperial pretext – with a view to China as well – that “we” in “the West” are amidst a struggle for existence between democracy and autocracy.
Almost 100 years ago, Erich Kästner wrote: “Do you know the land where the cannons bloom?/ You don’t know it? You will get to know it!”
High armament does not make Germany and Europe more peaceful or safer. It misappropriates social resources that we urgently need in the fight against poverty, social insecurity, global hunger and pandemics and the ongoing climate catastrophe. In the name of the future, as a society, we cannot afford this armament buildup! The super-grand coalition that has decided this is not a “progress coalition”, as liberal journalists romanticize it, but a coalition of regression.
Ingar Solty is the (co-)initiator of "The Appeal" against high armament, which was signed by 600 prominent first signatories from trade unions, social associations, science, churches, politics, art and culture, and was the expert nominated by Die Linke at the public hearing in the Budget Policy Committee of the German Bundestag on the 100 billion euro "special assets" for the Bundeswehr.