Gabriel is now using the battle over increased defense spending as a symbol of resistance against the unpopular President Trump, a man who most German voters view with a significant distrust. For the SPD, the debate has great potential: the enemy is clear and, at its core, the debate is about morals and values. It also has the advantage that it pushes Merkel’s conservatives into the Trump camp and puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to insist on spending more money on arms, which has never been politically palatable for a broad swath of the electorate.
The debate has now become so potent that it has slowly begun losing all connection to reality. The actual needs of the German military, the Bundeswehr, hardly play any role at all. Which means the question as to what it would actually mean were 2 percent of GDP invested in the military has gone unanswered. Would it really be a “rearmament spiral” as Gabriel would have it?