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Air Defender 2023: "Population must be accustomed to such exercises again"


Highlights: NATO's large-scale Air Defender 2023 exercise will begin in a few days. 10,000 soldiers, 250 aircraft and 25 nations are involved in the maneuver. Germany's role as a logistical hub in NATO is an important point, says Torben Schütz. Left Party leader Dietmar Bartsch complains that there is "more sabre-rattling, less 'defender' in the air" during the exercise. The exercise has been planned for years and is not a direct response to Ukraine's 2022 invasion.

Torben Schütz is an expert on defence policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). In an interview with, he explains why the large-scale Air Defender 2023 exercise is so important for the NATO alliance.

In a few days, NATO's large-scale Air Defender 2023 exercise will begin, with a total of 10,000 soldiers, 250 aircraft and 25 nations involved in the maneuver. Germany is the host. In an interview with, defense expert Torben Schütz classifies the significance of the large-scale exercise. Schütz is a doctoral student at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Hamburg. His research interests include conflict dynamics, military technology and European security policy. At DGAP, he is responsible for security and defence.

Preparations for the Air Force Operation Air Defender are already in full swing. © IMAGO/Droese

Mr. Schütz, Air Defender 2023 is currently a big topic in many media, and the Bundeswehr is talking about the largest air exercise since NATO was founded. Is the exercise really that extraordinary?

Yes, I think they are extraordinary. Both the large number of participating nations and the fact that the exercise is taking place in Germany. Germany's role as a logistical hub in NATO is an important point.

What exactly makes Germany this logistical hub?

There are three aspects. First, Germany has the necessary infrastructure to maintain air exercises for long periods of time. After the Cold War, some US Air Force bases, such as Ramstein or Spangdahlem, remained in Germany, and the Bundeswehr has a relatively large air force compared to other NATO partners. Secondly, it is geographically convenient. Material and armed forces of many alliance states would have to be transported more or less through Germany during an operation on NATO's eastern flank. The third aspect is the NATO command authorities stationed in Germany.

Schütz: Air Defender does not complicate political dialogue with Russia

Will Air Defender also send a political signal to Russia in 2023?

It should not be forgotten that this exercise has been planned for years. It is therefore not a direct response to Ukraine's 2022 invasion. The main message is to be capable of both deterrence and defense in the event of tension – and should it come to that, even in an emergency.


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Do you think the exercise will complicate dialogue with Russia?

I can't really imagine that the exercise will complicate the dialogue with Russia. Especially because it takes place mainly in Germany and not directly on the Russian border. The geographical proximity to such exercises is an important point in perception and political communication.

There is also criticism of the exercise. Left Party leader Dietmar Bartsch complains that there is "more sabre-rattling, less 'defender' in the air" during the exercise. Do you think this criticism is justified?

I don't think that's justified. It is not the attack of another country that is simulated, but the reaction of the air forces in a case of defense. The fact that the Left Party has a very critical attitude towards NATO and military exercises should come as no surprise to anyone.

"People don't even know how to deal with aircraft noise during military manoeuvres anymore"

Do you think the practical exercises of the Airborne Forces within the framework of Air Defender are important?

Absolute. Large-scale exercises and their coordination are enormously important for the troops of the participating nations. What distinguishes the NATO air forces is the ability to conduct complex air operations. For this, it is important not to always practice in the small and small, to put it bluntly. NATO is often imagined as a more or less homogeneous bloc in which everything is standardized. In reality, however, this is not always the case. And the population must also be accustomed again to the fact that such exercises take place and are necessary. Unlike in the Cold War and in the early nineties, people no longer know how to deal with aircraft noise and the like during military maneuvers.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the defense committee in the Bundestag, said that attacks on national territory are often carried out from the air. Germany no longer had enough such danger scenarios on its radar. Do you think that's true?

I think that is a valid assessment, yes. This should come as no surprise. Since the end of the Cold War, we have not had a pronounced concern about enemy air forces attacking targets in Germany. This is also one reason why the air defense of the Bundeswehr has been massively reduced over the last 30 years. It wasn't just us: air defense was also neglected in other European countries and NATO. But after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, some of our allies reacted more quickly and began to rebuild these capabilities.

Interview: Marie Ries

Source: merkur

All news articles on 2023-06-07

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News/Politics 2023-06-05T11:20:45.849Z

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