Monthly Mind March 2014 - On the Brink of a Major Breakthrough? The German Ministry of Defense on the Path to a More European Military Procurement Policy

Wolfgang Ischinger (Photo: Kuhlmann)

The German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, has identified armaments policy as a key problem area, and has drawn various conclusions. The Ministry's armaments policy as a whole is being reviewed. There is talk throughout Berlin that a good few mines may still be hidden deep in the armaments jungle. The introduction of modern cost controlling and a realistic risk assessment for major procurement projects are, therefore, urgently recommended.
Of course, it is not enough to simply review the costs and realization prospects of forthcoming armament plans. Putting only some projects under the microscope would not go far enough. If we really want to make changes and make Germany's armaments policy viable for the future and for Europe, then the overall structural framework of the procurement policy must be tackled: budget law, multinational obligations and considerations, industrial policy strategy and military capability planning form a network of factors which have a significant impact on procurement policy design.
The first thing that has to be reviewed is budget law. The annual budget, with its inflexible regulations, is simply not compatible with long-term armaments processes. A reform of the procurement policy will have to pinpoint new solutions in this respect.
Secondly, the opportunity should be taken to courageously extend those ambitions that have already been expressed regarding closer cooperation in European security and defense policy to the area of armaments policy as well. Thinking nationally is an outdated approach in the field of defense and armaments policy, too. This is an approach which the EU states can no longer afford, in the truest sense of the word, to pursue. The majority of major armaments projects nowadays are the result of multilateral cooperation and international treaties anyway. If the Ministry of Defense is now considering giving up on the idea of "breadth before depth", then this inevitably requires discussion with our European partners about who will retain which capabilities in the association of European forces in the future - and who will choose to do without which capabilities. Applied to the area of armaments policy, this will logically also mean that agreements will have to be reached at European level on which areas of procurement each country will focus on.
This brings us to the third point: traditionally, armaments policy has been dictated by industrial policy considerations, which bring security policy implications with them. Contracts are awarded in order to retain national industrial capacities or to, quite rightly, minimize dependence on international technologies and products as far as possible. So it is important, from both a political and industrial policy perspective, for countries to continue developing and maintaining their own technologies and skills. Here, too, however we have to think in European terms: it is a question of developing European technologies and maintaining European capacities in the armaments industry. In addition, a more comprehensive reform approach can only be successful if there is interaction between politics and industry. The "Weise Commission" had already reached this conclusion back in 2010, when it warned of the need to fundamentally change the collaboration between the German Armed Forces and industry, moving from a "purely principal-contractor relationship towards a development partnership".
Fourthly, military capability planning must be further improved, both within the German Ministry of Defense and at the European level. Which skills need to be developed and maintained in order to master the challenges of the future? Here, the planning framework for the armaments policy of the future should be developed using an appropriate strategy.
The German government now has the opportunity to structure German armaments policy in a new and more effective way, while at the same time taking an important step forwards with regard to European policy. In order to do this, the different dimensions of armaments policy will need to be integrated: capability planning for the future, resolutely promoting the European dimension, project controlling in the here and now, and collaboration with industry. If these efforts prove successful, then it would really be a major breakthrough.
Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger is Chairman of the Munich Security Conference. A version of this Monthly Mind appeared in the Handelsblatt newspaper on March 11 in an article entitled "Zukunftsfeste Rüstungspolitik" (An armaments policy viable for the future).

17 March 2014, by Wolfgang Ischinger