Zeitenwende: The Bundeswehr’s Paradigm Shift Focus stratégique, No 116, September 2023
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, marked a turning point in German defense policy. After thirty years of military downsizing, the Bundeswehr found itself at an extremely low capability level just as a high-intensity war involving a great power was breaking out on Europe’s doorstep for the first time since 1945. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s response was to embrace this “turning point” (Zeitenwende) by launching a major program to reequip Germany’s armed forces.
However, this change is part of a longer trend that started after the first wake-up call in 2014, following which Germany began tentatively to rebuild its military power. Under American pressure to share the defense burden, the new government that took office in 2021 included in its coalition agreement a national security strategy and an increase in defense spending. The war in Ukraine precipitated these decisions, combining the urgent need to provide arms with the more gradual pace of a long-term rearmament program.
In order to implement this rearmament plan, Olaf Scholz’s government set up a special fund (Sondervermögen) of €100 billion, financed by debt and dedicated entirely to the procurement of new materiel for the Bundeswehr. In addition to capability modernization, the Zeitenwende is founded on significant ambition within NATO. The North Atlantic Alliance remains the fundamental framework for the Bundeswehr, both on a conceptual and a doctrinal level. Finally, this multilateral integration is underpinned by a robust network of bilateral cooperations. The first and most important of these is undoubtedly with the United States; this relationship is carefully cultivated by Berlin despite the tensions caused by American frustrations with German shortcomings on defense issues.
All of these considerations bring us to an assessment of the implications of such a change for France, both in its partnership with Germany and at the European and transatlantic level.