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Germany’s historic shift

Germany’s historic shift


Germany has overturned decades-old security and foreign policy doctrines in the face of Russia’s aggression in eastern Europe. How did it happen?

“This does not feel good! I’m pissed off!”

Alfons Mais, Chief of Germany’s army

The words of the chief of Germany’s army, posted hours after Russia launched its attack on Ukraine last Thursday.

Alfons Mais took to LinkedIn to vent his frustration. 

But his public rant wasn’t aimed at Russian president Vladimir Putin. 

It was aimed at his country’s own leadership and its long-running neglect of its military.

“And the Bundeswehr, which I have the honour to command, is standing there more or less empty-handed. The options we can offer the government in support of the alliance are extremely limited.”

Alfons Mais, Chief of Germany’s army

Alfons Mais criticised years of underinvestment in the German army, the Bundeswehr.

It’s something officers have been complaining about for years… that Germany has been neglecting its ability to defend both itself and its allies, because consecutive German governments have failed to fulfill NATO’s targets for military spending. 

But the frustration with Germany’s long-held stance of military spending didn’t stop there.

Unlike its EU and NATO allies, Germany was choosing not to send lethal weapons to support Ukraine. Instead, they offered 5,000 helmets and a field hospital. 

That was until Saturday.

“Germany has backed down on an initial refusal to send weapons to support Ukraine as it battles the Russian invasion. Berlin has now agreed to a major armaments delivery including anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, and rocket-propelled grenades.””

DW News

Germany reversed its historic policy of never sending weapons to conflict zones. 

The decision was an abrupt change of course, overturning security and foreign policy doctrines that date back to the Second World War. 

“This has to be one of the most significant shifts in German foreign policy in years… because Germany had had a long-standing policy of not sending weapons to crisis zones because of its own belligerent history, because it believed that it could make the diplomacy more difficult…”

DW News

And it came after weeks of Berlin clinging on to its initial position… a position that had bewildered European officials as the Russian threat intensified.   

So, what changed?


Over the course of last week, German chancellor Olaf Scholz began to transform his country’s policy as Russia threatened and eventually invaded Ukraine. 

The man who succeeded Angela Merkel, Germany’s leader for more than 15 years, had only weeks earlier stood next to US President Joe Biden as he warned Russia that its gas pipeline to Germany would be blocked if it invaded Ukraine… At the time, Olaf Scholz squirmed, knowing his country’s overreliance on Russian energy. 

But when Vladimir Putin recognised the independence of two regions in eastern Ukraine, Olaf Scholz did suspend the pipeline.

“The German chancellor saying his country will indefinitely stop the certification of the pipeline following Russian action on Ukraine, this is very important because Nord Stream 2 was set to double the amount of gas sent directly to Germany.”


That move, one that few expected, was soon followed by a decision to drop Germany’s resistance to suspending some Russian lenders from the Swift international banking system, which prompted the EU as a whole to cut them off.

“This will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international finance system and harm the ability to operate globally…”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the Economic Commission

Then came the biggest change.

Not only would other countries be allowed to send German-made weapons to Ukraine, Germany would also send its own missiles, armoured vehicles, and fuel.

And finally Olaf Scholz made an announcement that would answer Alfons Mais’s central criticism. The German chancellor said he would make €100 billion available to modernise the German military, and vowed to increase spending on defence from 1.5 per cent of economic output to 2 per cent, hitting the NATO target.



Reports coming out of Germany suggest the decision to modernise the Bundeswehr was Olaf Scholz’s alone.

Allegedly his party didn’t know, nor did the Greens, the party he’s in a coalition with. 

Now the decision has been made, Olaf Scholz can demand his government follow him.  

And it’s a decision that will be popular with the EU.

Germany is the EU’s biggest member state, both in terms of population and economic might and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, was once Angela Merkel’s defence minister.  

“For the first time ever, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack.””

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the Economic Commission

Germany, a country haunted by its Nazi past, has a strong pacifist culture. 

But as far as the new German chancellor is concerned, it could no longer stand by and expect its allies to bolster its security. It was time for a new era.

 Todays story was written and produced by Imy Harper.