Chancellor Merkel and Deterrence in Europe


A number of European nations are looking to enhance their capacities for direct defense and deterrence of Putin’s Russia.

We are focusing currently on the question of how Germany might do so, and the consequences if they do not do so in a manner credible to European allies and to the United States.

The Bundeswehr has been so altered and under resourced that a serious question is whether for the short to mid-term whether defense to the East will not require means other than relying on German capabilities, not really words.

There is a serious constitutional issue in play as well.

During the Cold War, if the Soviets attacked West Germany there was no question that this was an act of war and the Chancellor empowered to act.

This is no longer so.

If the German brigade were destroyed by the Russians in the Baltics, is that an act of war?

If the Russians carry out hybrid operations up to and including the use of Russian soldiers in the countries to the East of Germany is this an act of war?

This is not clear if one talks to the current German leaders.

It is unfortunate that President Trump has called into question Article V with statements at various times.

As one retired senior German military leader put it in a recent interview:

“From my perspective, one challenge to winning the debate in Germany for commitments to the kind of deterrent force we need has been President Trump’s position taken during the campaign claiming that NATO is not really relevant but obsolete.

“His calling into question of Article V is also not helpful.

“He has asked for increased allied defense spending. For Germany, it is only through a strengthened NATO that such a commitment will happen.

“Or put another way, to demand that Germany increase its defense spending, clearly a necessary position, will not happen without reinforcing the notion that NATO matters.”

But there is a clear question of whether or not European allies have the capabilities and will to move force over the continent to counter directly the Russians.

A recent article in The National Interest by Maximilian Terhalle focused on the key question of the impact of the policies of the German Chancellor on deterrence in Europe.

Some suggest that, after fourteen years in power, she may be burnt-out and thus no longer able to undertake a strategic turnaround of her longstanding policy regarding Russia.

But by far the biggest obstacle for change is that she wholeheartedly despises Trump and his domestic and foreign worldviews.

Nowhere was that clearer on display than when she reminded her audience, in the presence of the incumbent U.S. president, that late president George H. W. Bush had imbued the international rule-based order with supreme value.

While her remarks were certainly well-intended, Merkel appeared to ignore today’s realities and, more importantly, she provided a disservice to this order by widening the personality, and consequently, the transatlantic gap even further, thereby needlessly playing into Putin’s hands.

But outright dismissing any proposals of “the Donald” is not a strategy.

A strategically more effective way of strengthening the transatlantic West would be to recognize the failure of her own appeasement policy and choosing U.S. gas over Russian gas, thereby alienating Putin from Trump and strengthening NATO’s cohesion.

Additionally, siding with Trump on his post–INF policies will further deepen Putin’s reluctant disagreement with POTUS.

Against the conventional wisdom held in Berlin, Trump has offered Merkel the keys to safeguarding NATO—possibly unintentionally.