Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer Appointed as Germany’s New Defense Minister: What’s in Store?

On Wednesday (17/7/2019) in Bellevue Castle Berlin, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (widely referred to by her
initials “AKK”) was appointed as Germany’s new defense minister to replace Ursula von der Leyen that left the post to become European Commission President. AKK, who has been dubbed as Angela Merkel’s protégé, also leads Germany’s center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU) party. Naturally, her appointment also brought new changes and reactions within the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) and the CDU itself, German’s domestic political reconfiguration are on the move. Come as a surprise, almost no one expected the leader of the CDU to take the post, not with that kind of responsibility and challenge to divide concentration. Previously, Angela Merkel has emphasized the importance to replace von der Leyen with someone from CDU-Lower Saxony branch too to sit in the cabinet, however none of the CDU minister candidate came from there (Riedel, 2019). Surprisingly as well, she ‘beats’ Peter Tauber, the former CDU secretary general, veteran and current Reserve Captain in the Bundeswehr, a prominent candidate favored by the soldiers. This of course, disappointed many in the Bundeswehr. Yet, expecting defense minister to have served in the military to performed well is utterly nonsense, as minister can and should rely on the professionalism of the Bundeswehr, argued Carlo Masala, a security policy expert at the Bundeswehr University (Deutsche Welle, 2019).

Despite stumbled into a scandal when she accused the Bundeswehr to have some right-wing extremists within its rank (which drew heavy criticism from the troops), von der Leyen actually set good reference for her successor. Von der Leyen managed to keep the pace to modernize the Bundeswehr, in material, personnel and budget; making it as an ever ready armed forces in Europe and more attractive to young recruits. AKK has to stand to this standard, at least by avoiding controversies on ‘right-wing extremists’ comments, despite the effort to actually combat them within the Bundeswehr. She needs to genuinely learn and listen more to the troops with her non-military background to earn trust. “Germany can rely on you! And you can rely on me.”, as she said to the Bundeswehr (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2019).

Although simultaneously leading the CDU too, which many concerned the heavy burden and responsibility she
has to take, her appointment as defense minister can actually brought new wind of change for the Bundeswehr. The dual responsibilities means she has greater political weight as a CDU leader and can assert more power to influence the political arena in favor for the Bundeswehr needs; and it rarely happens, this is the first time since the 1960s. As her recent statement shows, this might well be the case, as she urged the needs to enlarge defense spending to 2% by 2024 despite heavy criticism from the opposition, which means 0,63% higher than the 2020 budget (Handelsblatt, 2019). The increase is to sustain Bundeswehr commitment to the NATO and EU, as well as a response to Donald Trump’s previous yelps at NATO members’ lack of commitment on defense budget. As von der Leyen take the seat in Brussels, Bundeswehr position and contribution might be increased; and it will require a lot of money. Starting out with good impression and ability to fulfill the commitment, AKK could be on the right track in the eyes of the Bundeswehr.

In the political sphere, this might be the beginning of German “Frauenpower” succession in the throne. As a former Minister-President of Saarland, AKK had earlier withdrawn from public office, but as if following the footstep of her mentor, Merkel, she took the ministerial job. Is it CDU strategy to prepare her as the next chancellor? AKK has never held any cabinet positions and the appointment could be a test-bed for what she has in store for Germany. As widely reported, Jens Spahn, another CDU veteran and Health Minister, was also eyeing the defense minister post in line with his ambition to become the next chancellor. On the other side, AKK appointment could also be seen as an attempt to boost CDU leverage after its catastrophic loss in European Parliament against the Green Party. Whether it is by design or not, we have to see AKK’s performance if she indeed wants to prepare for the 2021 elections; still plenty of time left for other candidates to outshine her. In the end, the defense minister is an appealing post for ambitious politicians that need good stepping stone, but that’s not what the Bundeswehr wants and needs. Time and attention need to be given by whoever become the defense minister for the 181.377 troops under his/her command, and it requires pure commitment (Bundeswehr,2019). For now, that’s what AKK needs to focus on, and other things will follow.

References:
Bundeswehr. (2019). Stärke: Militärisches Personal der Bundeswehr. Retrieved from https://www.
bundeswehr.de/portal/a/bwde/start/streitkraefte/grundlagen/staerke/!ut/p/z1/04_Sj9CPykss
y0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8zinSx8QnyMLI2MQgKcXQw8fY2dnAwDjYzcwwz1wwkpiAJKGAAjgb6wSmp-
pFAM8xxmRESCFSkH6UflZVYllihV5BfVJKTWqKXmAxyoX5kRmJeSk5qQ
H6yI0SgIDei3KDcUREAGR5wyw!!/dz/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/#Z7_B8LTL292
2TPCD0IM3BB1Q22TQ0
Deutsche Welle. (2019). New German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer out to win over
military.Retrieved from https://www.dw.com/en/new-german-defense- minister-annegret-krampkarrenbauer-
out-to-win-over-military/a-49722715
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. (2019). AKK zur Bundeswehr: „Sie können sich auf mich verlassen“ (Video
File). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ln5o03fHMEM
Handelsblatt. (2019). Kramp-Karrenbauer fordert deutlich höhere Rüstungsausgaben. Retrieved from https://
www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-kramp-karrenbauer-fordert-deutlichhoehere-
ruestungsausgaben/24682774.html
Riedel, Donata. (2019). Von der Leyens Nachfolger soll noch heute feststehen. Handelsblatt. Retrieved
from https://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/bundesverteidigungsministervon-
der-leyens-nachfolger-soll-noch-heute-feststehen/24667250.html?ticket=ST-5915893-
P1Zj0gNqbVxBAJdw9rUe-ap6

Writer :M. Ilham R. Adamy, S.IP

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