New German defense minister takes office, as allies await answers on spending, nukes

By Sebastian Sprenger for US Based DefenseNews 08.12.21

WASHINGTON – Social Democrat Christine Lambrecht took over as Germany’s new defense minister on Wednesday, as allies await specifics about Berlin’s stance regarding issues from military spending to nuclear weapons.

Lambrecht’s appointment to the Cabinet of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, also a Social Democrat, comes weeks after a coalition agreement with the Free Democratic Party and the Green Party signaled continuity on major questions about German defense and foreign policy. But that pact, aimed largely at the respective party bases and their approval, also left much room for the kind of clarity that tends to invite intra-government kerfuffles once fully articulated.

When Scholz introduced Lambrecht on Dec. 6, she acknowledged her proposed nomination might be a “surprise for many.” She pledged to reform the Bundeswehr’s acquisition processes — an evergreen objective for new office holders — and to examine anew the rationale for Germany’s overseas deployments, stressing the need for an “exit strategy” in every case.

Scholz praised her managerial skills for previously leading two agencies — Justice as well as Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth — at the same time, saying the experience would help her in running Germany’s defense apparatus of roughly 260,000 uniformed and civilian.

The German change of government comes as Europeans grapple with a response to Russia’s military build-up on the border with Ukraine, which has led intelligence agencies to surmise an invasion could be in the offing early next year.

That scenario and its longer-term implications could shape the early days of the new government’s international agenda, including Lambrecht’s portfolio, said Jeff Rathke, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

“Further afield, there are equally serious concerns about the possible use of force to alter the status quo, with China’s pressure on Taiwan and fears that Beijing may envision military action to reunite Taiwan with China,” he said. “So the stakes for Germany, Europe and the trans-Atlantic community are high.”

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, speaks while standing with SPD members of the new federal government cabinet during their presentation to the media on Dec. 6, 2021, in Berlin. Christine Lambrecht (3L, front row) was sworn in as defense minister on Dec. 8. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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