Interview series Future of NATO

Von Geyr: “Reliability is crucial in NATO”

Von Geyr: “Reliability is crucial in NATO” Géza Andreas von Geyr during an interview. Photo: BMVg

Interview: Robin Fehrenbach

In the debate on the two percent defense target, Géza Andreas von Geyr states that it is strategically imperative for Germany to increase its expenditure on security and defense. In an interview with Atlantik-Brücke the Director General for Security and Defense Policy with the Federal Ministry of Defense also expresses his support of an activity index within NATO as a means of reliably determining the extent to which NATO members are engaged in the Alliance – outside the military sphere, too.

Dr. von Geyr, the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization pledged to increase their defense spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product or maintain it at that level at the 2014 summit in Wales. Germany’s defense spending is currently 1.26 percent of GDP. Can you estimate when Germany will be spending the agreed amount?

The target existed long before 2014. The NATO member countries initially agreed on it in 2002 and then again in 2006. But in 2014 there was much stronger focus on it. The summit decision was prepared by the Federal Ministry of Defense and the Federal Foreign Office before it went up to head of state and government level. The wording is: ‘We aim to’. It’s a political pledge by all NATO members and it is up to each country individually to honour that pledge. In Germany we have an annual budget process. Other countries are structured differently. But this ‘We aim to’ is an expression of the collective will of 28 heads of state and government who looked each other in the eye and made a strong political self-commitment on a consensus basis. I’m emphasizing ‘all 28’ because the two percent pledge is made on the basis of reciprocal trust and reliance.

It was reiterated again at the Warsaw summit in 2016. And at the 2017 summit, which was a special summit only attended by foreign secretaries and defense ministers so there was no published decision. But if you take a look at a transcript of the NATO Secretary-General’s press conference, you’ll find a passage confirming that the spirit of the 2 percent pledge was reiterated.

In 2014 President Obama and his administration pushed the 2 percent issue, but he wasn’t the only one! Now, in 2017, President Trump’s doing the same. So we have two U.S. governments with very different policies that both agree on this point.

When will Germany be able to meet the target?

The issue of national implementation is one that all the countries – 29 now that Montenegro has joined NATO – face and each of them have to plead the case of why it makes sense to spend two percent of GDP on defense to their parliaments and tax payers. They can’t simply argue that they have to do it because they made a joint commitment. More importantly, they have to focus on the security policy perspective, the common defense planning process at NATO and national armed forces planning. The arguments have to be financially forward looking and properly substantiated. In a white paper published in 2016 we set out the reasons why changes are necessary in the Federal Armed Forces for strategic reasons and what they mean for personnel, equipment and the budget. The Federal Armed Forces’ headcount is finally starting to increase again for the first time in many years. As far as equipment is concerned, the objectives are to increase transparency, fill gaps and accomplish modernisation in the broadest sense – for example by building cyber capability and using future technologies. We’ve also paved the way towards increasing federal budget spending in this area. We’ll have to see how the next parliament deals with these issues. But the framework is in place for increasing the budget in practical increments.

In a white paper published in 2016 we set out the reasons why changes are necessary in the Federal Armed Forces for strategic reasons.Dr. Géza Andreas von Geyr

I assume that the new German government will also realize the importance of reliability in NATO and remain consistent. In 2014 there was talk of ‘within a decade’. Now we have to create the right roadmap. It has to be ambitious, feasible and justifiable.

What exactly do you spend the German defense budget on?

The budget is spent on personnel, equipment and operations, as well as missions. We have some very large complexes and many of the investments are long-term. We also spend budget funds on research and development activities. Basically, the budget proves that we, our partners and our allies accept responsibility for our security at a time when we all face some serious external security challenges.

Defense Minister Dr. Ursula von der Leyen regularly emphasizes that the defense budget isn’t just spent on military equipment. She also suggests an activity index that includes NATO missions. How is the debate on these contributions to NATO’s overall success progressing in the transatlantic security alliance?

It’s important that the debate on the activity index doesn’t challenge the two percent target. The two should be complementary. The basic issue is that NATO needs a legitimate means of checking the extent to which countries are meeting the planning objectives, and by that I mean the activities that are assigned to them on the basis of their size and economic strength. The two percent target alone doesn‘t solve that problem because no NATO member will spend its entire defense budget on NATO. Here in Germany, we place a substantial amount of our military capabilities at NATO’s disposal. But we’re also involved in EU operations in Mali and Somalia, and we support United Nations operations in South Sudan and along the Lebanese coastline. We also make targeted investments in providing support to partners in fragile regions such as Jordan so that they are equipped against risks such as terrorism and IS.

No NATO member will spend its entire defense budget on NATO.Dr. Géza Andreas von Geyr

So we don’t spend our entire defense budget on NATO. The same applies to the other countries. The United States has a lot of activities on the Pacific side of its continent which have nothing to do with NATO. France has anti-terrorism units in Operation Barkhane, western Africa, which is unrelated to NATO. So none of the member countries spend their entire defense budgets on NATO. That being said, NATO has to know what each country is contributing to the alliance.

And that’s why we need suitable indicators. Firstly, we need clarity on the extent of the member countries’ involvement in NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, for instance. Secondly, to what extent are they involved in the initiatives that were launched by NATO in 2014 in response to the Kremlin’s show of aggression? Which countries are involved in the new high-readiness spearhead force? Or in the enhanced forward presence in the Baltic region and Poland. Which countries are offering divisions for the larger formations that we need to create the new high-readiness spearhead force. Thirdly – and this is already being measured – to what extent are the member countries fulfilling the capabilities packages that each country has to deliver according to the resources it has available so that the joint defense agreements can be upheld? Only all three indicators together provide a clear picture of exactly what each member country is contributing to NATO. They are the logical consequence of the two percent commitment and they reflect its sense and purpose. We will have to wait and see whether the NATO partners are all willing to create transparency in these areas.

Are you expecting parliamentary disputes to flare up about the German contribution in the Bundestag?

The outcome of the defense budget debates in the last two years is that an increase in defense spending is practical, necessary and justified. It’s evident that our allies expect us to make a contribution to collective defense and security that is comparable to their contribution, based on our economic strength. And reciprocal reliability within the alliance is at the core of our security policy interests.

That’s why security shouldn’t be weighed up against other policy areas. That would be wrong. We have an open society that offers us freedom and prosperity, but it’s vulnerable and needs protection. Security may not be everything, but without internal and external security everything else would be a lot more difficult.

What function should Germany be playing in NATO, both in the European construct and in the transatlantic partnership, according to the German government?

There are very good reasons why our strategy should be to remain transatlantic and become more European. Both are complementary. It’s certainly in our interest for NATO to continue to be the world’s strongest military alliance because it guarantees our continent’s security. At the same time, though, we have to take the issue of European security into our own hands to a greater extent. Demographic developments leading to the shrinkage of Europe and geopolitical shifts including Asia and Africa’s increasing relevance support that. Also, broadly speaking, the United States isn’t worried about Europe any more. It sees Europe as a potential partner to overcoming major security challenges on other continents. If we Europeans want to safeguard our security policy interests, we have to express the political will to increase our relevance. And we have to demonstrate the political strength to do it. The necessary momentum already exists, both in NATO and in the EU.

In reality, though, the United States is still the country with by far the largest NATO commitment. We need more Europe within NATO, and we’re working very hard to achieve that. For example, with the Framework Nations Concept which allows European countries to collaborate more closely in various initiatives. Germany plays a central role in this.

The goal is a European security and defense union that allows us to more efficiently organize our capabilities, plan in a more targeted way, make smarter investments and respond faster.Dr. Géza Andreas von Geyr

We also want to – and have to – improve our defense capability in the European Union and we’re already working hard to achieve that in France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and other countries. The goal is a European security and defense union that allows us to more efficiently organize our capabilities, plan in a more targeted way, make smarter investments and respond faster. We made a lot of progress last year. Key projects include the European Defense Fund and the Permanently Structured Cooperation (PESCO). PESCO could be a crucial development because, for the first time ever, the EU countries involved would be committing to a high level of collaboration in the military sphere. So we really need both: more Europe in the alliance and an EU with a greater military capability. The transatlantic partnership would benefit from both.

Is the German government getting through to President Trump with this commitment?

U.S. security policy is made in the White House, but also in the government ministries, the intelligence services and Congress. I think they won’t just accept our approach. I think they will probably even support it because our efforts don’t fundamentally question NATO; they represent a perspective that would strengthen NATO. It is essential that Article 5 – the principle of collective defense within the alliance – remains at the heart of NATO. It is also necessary to maintain the integrity of NATO’s very delicate planning processes. On this basis, the Americans know where they stand and how to categorize the higher level of European collaboration.

The Europeans worked hard to convince the U.S. last year and they’ve earned its trust and understanding.

President Trump, like all the other U.S. Presidents since NATO was established, is demanding that the burden for this treaty, which is such a central aspect of the western world’s security architecture, is fairly shared between the U.S., Canada and Europe. Do you think fair burden sharing among all NATO members is realistically possible?

The issue of burden sharing within the entire Euro-Atlantic security architecture extends far beyond NATO. There are many factors to be considered in any fair distribution of the transatlantic burden, and they have to be considered in terms of a modern concept of security. That includes the fact that we Europeans will have to be capable of efficiently guaranteeing the security of our neighbouring regions in the future, and that’s also in the interests of U.S. security. Another focus is the security policy relevance of diplomacy and development policy and how these tie in with military activities. Finally, whatever happens, we have to prove by strategic consensus and foresight that the western world is prepared to deploy all its capabilities and strengths to persuade the non-western world that we are not the enemy. All these aspects are part of the wider picture on fair transatlantic burden sharing.

What role will NATO be playing in transatlantic security policy in ten years’ time?

I’m certain that NATO will continue to be the security cornerstone on the European continent and in the Atlantic region. It will also continue to guarantee collective defense and express the collective transatlantic will to uphold peace, freedom and security. It will be working very closely with a stronger and more relevant European security and defense union, have a more European character and probably be involved in a greater number of non-European partnerships and cooperations. I also very much hope that Moscow’s politics will have changed, making it possible for us to have a better relationship with Russia in ten years’ time.

Note: The content of this interview represents Dr. von Geyr’s personal opinions.

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