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The Sunday Read: ‘Can Germany Be a Great Military Power Again?’

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After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany told Parliament that the attack was a Zeitenwende — a historic “turning point” for Europe and Germany. The risk of a large land war in Europe had previously been considered far-fetched, but recent years of Russian aggression have inspired fear in Germany and a 100-billion-euro fund to bolster its military.

In Germany, skepticism of the merits of military strength has enabled a long post-Cold War process of disarmament. As a result, it is a historic anomaly in the heart of Europe — an economic leviathan but a military minnow. Now German leaders are vowing to transform the country into a military power capable of taking responsibility for Europe’s security.

In Nienburg, a medieval town in Lower Saxony, civilians come to train for “homeland protection” units in the country’s reserves. The question is whether a hesitant German society can follow through on this paradigm shift.

“I would say, many of them lean in the direction of being pacifists,” said Anne Katrin Meister, who is training at the base in Nienburg. “But you can only be a pacifist if you have this safe, ideal world. And we don’t have such a world.”

This story was recorded by Audm. To hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.

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