Merkel is happy to browbeat other EU countries over their fiscal and migrant commitments, but please don’t bother her to spend on her own defense.

The old saw, courtesy of Lord Ismay, NATO’s first secretary general, is that NATO exists to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in and the Germans down.” But the last item in his formulation, given the deep streak of pacifism in postwar German politics, is no longer apt.

It’s not as if the German tanks will inevitably rumble through the Ardennes if the country’s defense budget touches 2 percent (the EU, not military conquest, is now Germany’s tool for European influence).

The problem is that, for Germany, the end of history never quite ended. It still has a gauzy view of what matters. Its foreign minister has argued that its development aid should count against its goal for military spending, fundamentally confusing soft and hard power.