BERLIN — Pressure on German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht mounted significantly on Thursday after her two government coalition partners, including the finance minister, criticized her over failures to procure ammunition.
Lambrecht, who’s from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), has already faced criticism over the slow rollout of defense spending despite a brand-new €100 billion special armament fund.
Critical voices multiplied this week after it emerged that nine months into Russia’s war in Ukraine and Scholz’s bold announcement of a “Zeitenwende“ or turning point in German defense and security policy, she had failed to sufficiently procure new ammunition for Germany’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr.
Given that these shortages have been known about since Lambrecht took office in December last year, and only intensified as Germany donated arms such as the Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzer and corresponding grenades to Ukraine, the minister’s apparent inaction is raising pressing questions about her leadership — not just from the opposition but also from within the government’s ranks — at a crucial moment in which Germany seeks to take up more military leadership in Europe.
Media reports suggest that for some weapon systems, Germany may only have ammunition left for a few hours of combat should war break out.
In an apparent last-minute attempt to address the critical shortcomings, Lambrecht wrote to Finance Minister Christian Lindner on Tuesday, urging him to “immediately provide significant amounts of budget funds” for purchasing new ammunition.
Yet Lindner, who is from the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), turned down that request on Thursday in a spicy letter, sent on his behalf by Finance State Secretary Steffen Saebisch, who suggested that Lambrecht should first do her own homework before asking for financial help.
In a rather cynical tone, Saebisch wrote that he “must state” that Lambrecht never mentioned the need for additional ammunition procurement during budget debates in the last months.
Adding to the insult, the state secretary argued that, according to defense industry officials, “the sluggish availability of ammunition and equipment … is not caused by a lack of budgetary funds, but by complicated, partly non-transparent and inconsistent planning and bureaucratic ordering processes.”
Stark criticism of Lambrecht also comes from the Greens, the other coalition partner of Scholz’s SPD: The party’s defense spokesperson Sara Nanni and budgetary spokesperson Sebastian Schäfer issued a joint press release on Thursday, saying that it had been long known that Germany is “far from meeting” the ammunition targets of the NATO military alliance.
“It is unclear why ammunition was not at the top of the Defense Ministry’s to-do list after [Russia’s invasion on] February 24 at the latest,” the lawmakers said.
Scholz sought to defend Lambrecht on Thursday, telling reporters that she was “very committed” to eliminating shortcomings in the Bundeswehr’s ammunition stocks.
“I can assure you: She is doing everything she can to ensure that this succeeds, and it will succeed,” the chancellor said.