Germany spends a lot on defense
Situation in absolute values:
Germany is among the countries with the highest absolute defense spending with 49.3 billion US dollars (2019; Source: SIPRI). It is surpassed by the United States, China, India and Russia. Each of these countries is much larger and has major geopolitical ambitions. Then there is Saudi Arabia, which is currently at war (in Yemen), and finally France. Contrary to France Germany doesn't have any DOM-TOMs to defend, no aircraft carriers operating far from its coastline, no force de frappe to carry nuclear weapons, no former colonies, in which it is still active. (Germany is engaged in Mali alongside French troops.)
Germany spends more on defense than the United Kingdom, Japan (even though its GDP and population are much larger) or Brazil.
Situation in relative values:
In relative numbers, the situation looks different. It spends about 1.3 % of GDP (from other sources 1.38 %). This is far from 2 per cent and one may wonder, if and how Germany intends to reach 2 %. Yet, Germany has increased its spending by 15 per cent between 2010 and 2019. While Germany doesn't appear to be on track for the 2 % target, it has increased its defense budget more than other countries for example, the United States and the United Kingdom (both -15 %), France (+3,5 %), Italy (-11 %), Spain (-7 %), the Netherlands (+12 %), Belgium (-7 %), Denmark (+8 %), Greece (-23 %).
This means that Germany is far from being the single country lagging behind. Some of the above countries are in the same situation as Germany. (Of course, the US continue to spend far more than 2 per cent. France and the UK are below 2 %, but much closer than Germany. Greek spending is well above 2 per cent.)
Countries that increased their spending more than Germany:
There are a few NATO countries which have increased their spending faster than Germany, mostly those which feel most threatened by Russia and/or losing NATO protection:
- Canada: +27 %
Now about equal to Germany; challenged by Russia in the Arctic.
- Norway: +30 %
About 1.7 %; strained relations with Russia over the Arctic Sea.
- Poland: +51 %
Target value reached; strained relations with Russia with which it has a land border.
- Romania: +154 %
Now 2 %. There have been Russian threats to dissuade Romania from allowing US missiles to be stationed in the country; future of Moldava.
- Turkey: +86 %
Spending far above 2 per cent; fighting against Kurdish secessionists in its own country, Iraq and Syria, supporting factions in Syria against the Assad government, fighting Haftar and his supporters in Libya, tensions with NATO partner Greece about maritime borders, Cyprus, drilling for oil/gas.
Should Germany spend more on defense?
Germany might have the means to spend more on defense, but it is not certain that this would promote its security. One could argue that Europe is spending more than enough to defend itself from Russia with no other potential threat visible. Russia spends 65 billion US dollars, while France, Germany and the UK alone spend about 150 billion US dollars (about 50 bn $ each). The additional joint spending by Italy, Turkey and Spain almost equals the Russian one. Furthermore, the Europeans' available manpower is also much larger.
Thus, Germany may feel that the current military budget is already sufficient for deterrence. By contrast, there is a feeling that it is not wise to outspend France and the UK, even if some French politicians also clamor for Germany to spend more. Maintaining the political equilibrium and keeping NATO stable looks more important than augmenting the number of weapon systems.