A naval mission to the region would be a low-risk way for Germany to show that it’s committed to alliances – and that it still has a navy.
Politico has reported that high-level discussions are underway in Berlin about sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, following similar U.S. and French excursions that challenged China’s claim to the waterway. It shows the German establishment is worried about the U.S. perception of Germany as a less than reliable ally and about France’s transparent ambition to be the European Union’s leading military power.
At the same time, the Taiwan plan is clear evidence that Germany doesn’t want to take any risks or invest too much in tackling these issues.
Germany is under constant pressure from the U.S. administration to spend more on defense, but that’s a political impossibility while the Social Democrats are part of the governing coalition: They don’t recognize the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 2% spending pledge as reasonable. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are more pro-NATO and pro-U.S. –although they’d like someone other than Donald Trump to be president – but their ability to back up those loyalties with action are limited.
One reason is that German voters are consistently opposed to their country’s participation in any overseas conflicts; about three quarters were against interfering in Syria, for example. The German concept of a “parliamentary army” – one that only intervenes abroad with the parliament’s permission – makes acting against such formidable majorities problematic. If German troops do go overseas, it’s usually on training and support missions. Even in Afghanistan, the only country out of a dozen with German deployments where Germany serves as a lead nation, training Afghan soldiers is the focus of the mission.
Another reason is that the German armed forces face combat readiness problems. Though the Bundeswehr’s inspector general reported to parliament in March that the situation was improving, he admitted that only about 70% of the military’s weapons systems were immediately usable and that difficulties remained with submarines and combat aircraft. Exact numbers of how much of every specific type of military equipment is battle-ready are not being released anymore, which is somewhat suspicious given alarming reports from previous years.