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Germany's Defense Spending: Fact-checking the NY Times

Yesterday, the New York Times published a short article by Professor Hendrickson with wrong claims about Germany’s defense spending:

“Germany’s cuts of 25 percent over the next four years are similarly appalling.”

Ryan C. Hendrickson’s only stated reference about such drastic defense cuts is a RAND study, which he describes as „recent“, although it was published in mid-2012 and relies on data mostly from 2011. The professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University took the phrase „the next four years“ from the first paragraph of the RAND summary. It seems that he has not read the next two pages, which state: “The German Ministry of Defense plans to cut $10 billion (or roughly €7.8 billion) from its defense budget by 2013. If these cuts are implemented as planned, the entire German Armed Forces will…” This means that the 25 percent cut was supposed to already have happened. Professor Hendrickson also missed RAND’s qualifier expressed with the big “If” and he has not bothered to check the numbers for 2013. Fact is that Germany’s defense spending has increased by 2 billion Euro between 2009 and 2013.

Why hasn’t it occured to the professor that Germany’s plans from 2011 could have changed in the meantime? That’s appalling research. A student attending a decent university would have received a „FAIL“ for it.

It would have been easy to get more recent data. The German Defense Ministry’s website is not very informative and its English version only has information about the 2012 budget (the German version has data for 2013), but they state clearly that defense spending has increased since 2011 rather than decreased as stated in the RAND study.

Professor Hendrickson and the NYT fact checkers could have googled and found Dr. Patrick Keller’s article German hard power: Is there a there there? published by the American Enterprise Institute in October 2013:

Surprisingly, de Maizière—who is one of Angela Merkel’s closest advisers and was, in her first term, the chief of her chancellery—proved capable of working under less harsh conditions than assumed: the prescribed cuts of €8.3 billion were taken off the table. To the contrary, the administration and parliament even agreed to a slight increase in defense spending and to project more modest reductions over the next two years. (See table 1.)

From 1991 until 1997, German defense spending was continually decreasing (from about €28 billion to €23 billion and, correspondingly, from approximately 2 percent of GDP to 1.6 percent). With the Kosovo War, the “peace dividend” era was over. Since 2001, defense spending has been on a slow but steady rise, with only minor cuts in 2003 and 2010. The financial crisis, starting in 2008, did not have a discernible effect on this trend. And, indeed, the projected cuts for 2014 and 2015 might yet be reversed—after all, the administration’s original projected defense budget for 2013 was €31.4 billion, well below the €33.3 billion that was actually allocated.

At the same time, German increases in defense spending have remained modest and have not even offset the effects of inflation over the past 20 years. In real terms, defense spending has been decreasing.

American Enterprise Institute: German hard power: Is there a there there?

 

Everything else in Professor Hendrickson's article is boring and has been said many times before. I am surprised that the NYT published his piece as part of a Room for Debate feature on „Fighting Extremism on a Broader Level“. I think, his article does not at all address the question posed by the NYT.

Okay, I gotta relax. I am just frustrated by the limited understanding and laziness of several US pundits who criticize Germany’s defense policies all the time, but I am also sympathetic to US and NATO calls for increased German defense spending, see my Defense Matters report with concrete recommendations for how to convince Germany to increase defense spending.

Jörg Wolf is project manager and editor of atlantic-community.org, the open think tank of the Atlantische Initiative e.V. and blogs here on Atlantic Review in his private capacity and free time. Follow Jörg on Twitter.

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