Will the real leader of the free world please stand up?
Apparently Angela Merkel of Germany is now the real leader of the free world. Wait – I thought it was supposed to be Stephen Harper of Canada. No, wait – isn't it David Cameron of the United Kingdom? Actually, perhaps it is Tony Abbott of Australia.
In reality, there hasn't been anyone near a true leader of the free world since Ronald Reagan. But claims that Merkel is now sitting on the free world's throne strain credulity.
This is the same Germany whose military, under Merkel's chancellorship since 2005, is so underfunded "that German soldiers tried to hide the lack of arms by replacing heavy machine guns with broomsticks during a NATO exercise last year." As the Washington Post reported, "to make matters worse, the broom-equipped German soldiers belong to a crucial, joint NATO task force and would be the first to be deployed in case of an attack." Perhaps that is Germany's foreign policy approach toward sweeping Russia out of Ukraine? In all seriousness, various reports have recently come out showing that the German military is in shambles.
One would think that the leader of the free world would maintain and expand the preeminent military force – as Reagan did. Otherwise, it is all just talk (see: all hat, no cattle). This is why nobody outside the United States can ever – at least for the foreseeable future – credibly claim, or be assigned, the title in question. If you aren't the military leader of the free world, you simply cannot be the overall leader of the free world.
Germany spent just 1.4 percent of its GDP on the military during 2013 (the latest year with available data in the SIPRI database). This is the same level as before Merkel came to power. Denmark also spends 1.4 percent of GDP on its military. Perhaps it too can be leader of the free world. By comparison, France and the U.K. spent 2.2 and 2.3 percent, respectively, in 2013 – meeting the NATO defense spending target at that time. Other sources suggest that 2013's military expenditures in Germany were only 1.3 percent of GDP, meaning a net decline under Merkel's watch.
As of 2015, the situation appears even more bleak. Now, only the U.S. and that regional powerhouse Estonia are meeting the NATO target of 2 percent of GDP. Germany looks to fall from 1.3 percent in 2013 to 1.14 percent in 2014 and down to 1.09 percent in 2015 – declining in both real and nominal total expenditure terms. The excuse being manufactured and employed by the NATO laggards such as Germany – and also my nation (the People's Democratic Republic of Canada) – is that there are too many inefficiencies already in the minuscule military budgets, and thus more spending would only exacerbate the problems because the depleted defense forces could not absorb spending increases without gross amounts of bureaucratic waste.
The argument is as ridiculous as it sounds. One might almost think it was being promoted in the West by hostile foreign entities – such as Russia – seeking to sabotage and weaken us from within. But that would just be lending credibility to those supposedly wild conspiracy theories that have, unfortunately, been largely proven correct over time. In the meantime, perhaps pretending that the West's defense forces couldn't effectively spend increased budgets – say, on real guns to replace broomsticks – will fool some of the people all the time, but it is not fooling the geopolitical realists.
This is exactly what happens when societies become decadent – too much of the populace wants to devote all possible funding to entitlement programs and social engineering goodies, forgetting that without a strong national defense, there will eventually be no more entitlement delights. History teaches us this, as the fine suite of works by conservative scholars such as Victor Davis Hanson clearly illustrate.
A recent report by the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) in Warsaw, Poland (and briefly featured at National Review) does a good job describing how Germany is possibly a "weak link ... in the Euro-Atlantic security system." That such concerns can even be plausibly raised – and they most certainly can – attests to the unreasonableness of placing Merkel in the free world's leadership position:
Germany's policy may increasingly pose a risk to maintaining the cohesion of NATO in the global dimension. On the one hand, Germany faces the temptation to put political and economic relations with the emerging powers above relations with the USA. Deepening political and economic relations with emerging powers may leave Germany facing difficult political, economic and military choices in the long term, should global crises or conflicts arise between the new partners (such as China) and the 'old' allies (the USA). On the other hand, Germany's aversion to using military instruments leaves its European partners, particularly France and Great Britain, questioning German solidarity and willingness to participate in crisis management, especially in Europe's southern neighborhood. Due to the differences in strategic cultures, European military integration simultaneously involving France, Great Britain and Germany is highly unlikely to happen. As a result, the landscape of military co-operation in Europe will be increasingly fragmented in the long run.
Germany's approach to Russia is especially problematic. Merkel's government adopts the weak inclusionary principles that "security in Europe is only possible with Russia, not against it" and of "not provoking" Russia on NATO's eastern border. The notion that you can sleep comfortably with a growling Russian Bear is not realistic. As the OSW report notes:
The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has shown two things. On the one hand, it demonstrated that Germany has been willing to make concessions to Russia at the expense of its own interests and those of the EU (postponing the implementation of and modifying the DCFTA [Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas]) and at the expense of Ukraine ... Moscow considers Berlin to be a partner who – facing Russian military pressure – might be inclined to negotiate a change to the European security architecture at the expense of the sovereignty of the eastern NATO members. This encourages the Russian leadership to pursue its strategic objective by testing and undermining NATO's ability to meet its commitments in the region. Uncertainty about how Germany would react in the event of a crisis or conflict in the region makes the smaller and medium-sized partners ambivalent about developing deeper military-technical co-operation with Germany.
This is hardly leadership material for the West.
At Real Clear Politics, Mark Salter – the former chief of staff to Senator John McCain – has argued that Merkel appears to be under some deeply problematic illusions about the Cold War:
Merkel reminded the audience that she was a little girl living in East Germany when the Soviets built the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the West had responded appropriately by patiently waiting 28 years for it to come down. That a leader of Merkel's intelligence and ability could be that clueless was the surprise of the conference ...
Her shockingly ahistorical view of how the Cold War was won suggests she isn't up to the job. Neither, apparently, is our chronically confused president. Someone had best step up to the job, and soon. More than Ukraine's sovereignty is at stake.
Merkel does indeed have intelligence and ability. Thus, she isn't "clueless." We need to start looking deeper at Germany's real motives and loyalties.
The OSW report notes that Merkel's misguided views about the West are not unique in her nation, even all these years after the fall of the Berlin Wall:
There is the conviction that the policy of detente towards the USSR was the most important factor in ending the Cold War and in German reunification. This has produced a deeply rooted belief that Germany itself and Europe as a whole should pursue a policy of dialogue and co-operation towards Russia, also in times of crisis ... [The] ambivalent attitude towards the US is further reinforced by the anti-Americanism of the German public, a legacy of the pacifist movements co-financed by the USSR during the Cold War.
There are still "pacifist movements co-financed by the USSR [now the neo-USSR]" in the Western media. Apologists for the aggression in Ukraine are all around and on both sides of the political spectrum (some would argue they are most prevalent in conservative circles, playing off Putin's purported dislike of Islamism – although Putin just prefers a different flavor of authoritarianism), including and especially in Germany's political milieu.
Merkel is not the leader of the free world. Unfortunately, no one currently is. There is one shot left for the West as we know it – the 2016 U.S. presidential election. If a real leader of the West does not emerge and get elected POTUS at that time, the downward slide from the shining city on the hill of Western civilization could be long indeed, and with a very rough ending.