AGI Profiles: Nils Hilmer

Fiona Muhleisen

Halle Foundation/AGI Intern

Fiona Muhleisen is a research intern at AGI for the summer of 2023. She assists resident fellows with their research projects, manages databases, and helps organize and document events.

Ms. Muhleisen is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Relations at Pomona College with a minor in German Studies. She has completed coursework on topics including the intelligence community, U.S. foreign policy, German film, and German contemporary literature. Her research interests center on national security and the implications of democratic backsliding on transatlantic relationships.

Aside from her academic pursuits, Ms. Muhleisen is a research assistant for Pomona College’s German Department developing a course about Swiss film. In this capacity, she explores the European film industry and entertainment law. Ms. Muhleisen is fluent in German and Hungarian.

State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Defense

Nils Hilmer, a member of the Social Democratic Party, was appointed State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Defense in March 2023. Along with another State Secretary, Hilmer supports Minister Boris Pistorius in the technical management of the ministry and the exercise of command and authority. A long-time friend and colleague of the defense minister, Hilmer joined the Ministry of Defense as the head of management staff upon Pistorius’ appointment in January 2023.

After passing his Abitur in 2001, Hilmer completed six months of civilian alternative service instead of the previously obligatory military service. After studying public administration at the University of Potsdam, Hilmer became involved in the SPD political party early in his professional career. During his undergraduate studies, he worked for Netzwerk Berlin, a progressive, reform-oriented sub-faction within the SPD. Upon graduation in 2007, Hilmer worked for the state chairman of the SPD in Lower Saxony, Garrelt Duin, and was later employed as an advisor to the former SPD General Secretary Hubertus Heil from 2008 to 2009. Shortly thereafter, Hilmer underwent a two-year training program at the Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie, Energie (Mining, Chemical, and Energy Industrial Union) trade union to become a union secretary. It was his next position as the head of Osnabrück’s Office of Council Affairs under former Lord Mayor Boris Pistorius where the two men became acquainted. Following Pistorius after his appointment as the Lower Saxon Minister of the Interior and Sports, Hilmer served the ministry in various positions from 2015 until 2023.

Role in the Defense Ministry

The position of State Secretary reports directly to the defense minister and is responsible for more bureaucratic, day-to-day business (i.e., personnel and legal affairs) and the management processes of about €50 billion Ministry of Defense budget. Because this position essentially entails acting as an administrative head, success depends almost entirely on the confidence of the minister. Therefore, Hilmer’s promotion is perhaps more symbolic and personal than tactical as Defense Minister Pistorius appointed a decade-long colleague and friend rather than using civil servant career progression as criteria.

Nils Hilmer is part of a greater realignment of the Ministry of Defense after Former Minister Christine Lambrecht’s resignation in December 2022. Her decision to step down was a response to heavy criticism over the German government’s slow rollout of the defense fund, her lackluster response in support of Ukraine, and a series of public blunders. Her successor is taking a different approach and is restructuring ministry personnel to ensure quick yet well-informed decision-making processes. Hilmer is specifically implicated in this reorganization, for Minister Pistorius will rely on his State Secretary’s ability to improve the efficacy of producing viable policy options in his management of staff. Although it is difficult to evaluate Hilmer’s success in the position after just two months, the general popularity and trust enjoyed by the Ministry of Defense under Pistorius is a sign of a well-oiled bureaucracy.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.