“Warfighting Capability” as Guiding Principle for Action

New Defense Policy Guidelines call for warfighting capability of the Bundeswehr and orient toward war with Russia. Berlin also hopes to increase its military clout within NATO and the EU.

BERLIN (Own report) – The German government seeks to adapt and upgrade the German army for possible war with Russia, according to the New Defense Policy Guidelines presented by German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius last week. Berlin remains committed to increasing its military strength and declares “deterrence” of Moscow as the Bundeswehr’s core task. In the guidelines, there is no mention of possible negotiated solutions and de-escalation. Ignoring NATO's war of aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999, the authors claim that Russia brought war back to Europe in early 2022. Germany must therefore become “combat-ready” as quickly as possible. The two focal points of the document – the expansion of national military capabilities and the orientation of the Bundeswehr towards war with Russia – do not represent a “Zeitenwende” in German military policy. They have been continuously promoted by German governments for years, throughout several legislative terms. On the basis of new military clout, Berlin is seeking a leading military role in Europe and a “creative power” within NATO.

“Ready to Fight at any Time”

The Bundeswehr is a “core instrument” of Germany's security policy, according to the New Defense Policy Guidelines.[1] Instead of diplomacy, the German government relies on “comprehensive military preparation already in peacetime,” raises the claim of “reliably ensuring the military ability to act,” and declares “warfighting capability as a guiding principle for action.” “The focus of all initiatives and measures” must be aimed at “further enhancing the operational capability of the Bundeswehr as a whole,” according to the guidelines. What is needed is a “fully equipped Bundeswehr that is ready to deploy and fight on a sustainable basis at any time.” The benchmark for this is “the readiness to fight to achieve success in high-intensity combat.” Thus, Berlin wants to modernize and expand the infrastructure of the Bundeswehr “at an accelerated pace,” increase “production and storage capacities in the procurement of weapon systems, equipment, food, ammunition and consumables and develop “strong national and European defense industries.” Finding enough soldiers, is “one of the central challenges,” according to the defense ministry. To achieve the desired boost in military clout, the ministry has announced a permanent increase in the defense budget to “at least” (!) two percent of the GDP.

Victory over Russia

To build up its capabilities, Berlin seeks to focus the Bundeswehr even stronger on the so-called national and collective defense, which in the New Defense Policy Guidelines, has been declared the Bundeswehr's “core task”. The resulting requirements determine the structure of the military. The Bundeswehr's previous focus on “international crisis management operations abroad” must be “reversed,” even though military interventions in Germany's “immediate security environment in Africa, the Middle East, the Arctic and the Indo-Pacific region” remain “indispensable.” The Ukraine war shows that Germany must base its military potential “on a combat scenario involving an adversary that is at least our equal” – meaning Russia. With the new defense policy guidelines, Berlin is explicitly placing its security policy “focus” “ on “ensuring security against the Russian Federation.” The paper identifies a “direct threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Germany.” The “Euro-Atlantic area” must therefore be the “clear focus” of the Bundeswehr's “commitment of forces.” This also includes “a new type of permanent presence at NATO’s external border.”  The permanent deployment on NATO's eastern flank will become the “norm” for the Bundeswehr. “The timely deployment and supply of robust and sustainable forces” must be ensured. The permanent deployment of a German brigade in Lithuania is the “beacon project.” Concerning the “conflict” with Russia, the Defense Policy Guidelines state, “winning this conflict is not just our intention – it is an imperative.” “All other tasks and missions are subordinate to the victory over Russia.

The First Military Strategy

With its Defense Policy Guidelines, the ministry of defense is following up on last summer’s National security strategy, and replacing, according to its own information, the 2016 White Paper on Security Policy as well as the 2018 Bundeswehr Concept. In a next step, the ministry intends to concretely implement the Defense Policy Guidelines’ fundamental strategic considerations in terms of the Bundeswehr’s weaponry, structure and personnel. For that, an update of the Bundeswehr’s 2018 capability profile has been announced and a military strategy has been ordered, for the first time.[2] Whereas the Defense Policy Guidelines represent an escalation, they are, by no means, a turning point in German foreign policy.

Continuities in Military Policy

In its 1992 Defense Policy Guidelines, Germany had already laid claim to its “unimpeded access to markets and raw materials throughout the world” – militarily if necessary. At the time, the German government proclaimed military interventions beyond NATO’s borders, a military “priority” [3] and committed itself to building up its military capabilities accordingly. Based upon this, Berlin declared the Bundeswehr “an army in action” in its 2011 Defense Policy Guidelines. In October 2013, based on its growing military power, leading German politicians began proclaiming a new German claim to power, under the slogan, “New Power, New Responsibility.”[4] When, in the following year, the EU’s eastward expansion had led to civil war in Ukraine, Berlin made a strategic decision. Since then, Germany’s buildup of military capability has been pursued under the presumption of having to go to war with Russia. The 2016 White Paper as well as the 2018 Bundeswehr Concept already contained the increased importance of “national and collective defense” over wars of intervention outside NATO territory. The new Defense Policy Guidelines now being presented are merely the next step along the path embarked upon back in 2014. However, the strategic focus on the struggle for influence against Russia does not alter the overriding objective, publicly formulated in 2013, of being able to achieve a militarily-supported policy of power projection also to other theatres of conflict.

National Ambitions

Since its shift in focus to “national and collective defense” in 2014, Berlin has been increasingly arming itself within the framework of NATO specifications. However, by meeting NATO capability targets assigned to Germany,[5] which the Defense Policy Guidelines invoke, the Bundeswehr is also contributing to “develop national capabilities in the long term,” and thus strengthening Germany’s military. Accordingly, Germany faces its allies in Europe and the USA with new self-confidence in the paper. It announces that it is showing “leadership” and “responsibility” and lays claim to play a “constructive role,” not only within the EU but also in NATO. The Bundeswehr seeks “in good time” to become not only one of “the strongest armed forces in Europe,” to not only a “military supporting partner in Europe,” but to become a “pillar of conventional defense” in Europe, according to the new Defense Policy Guidelines. With this document, Berlin declares the above-mentioned power projection policy course to be the basis of its security policy in full awareness that as a result of this, Germany also “faces particular threats,” – “including military ones”.


[1] Verteidigungspolitische Richtlinien 2023. Bonn, November 2023.

[2] Neue Verteidigungspolitische Richtlinien fordern kriegstüchtige Bundeswehr. bmvg.de 09.11.2023.

[3] Verteidigungspolitische Richtlinien. Bonn, 26. November 1992.

[4] See also Die Neuvermessung der deutschen Weltpolitik.

[5] Verteidigungspolitische Richtlinien 2023. Bonn, November 2023.