German Defense Minister Peter Struck calls for shortening the length of military missions abroad and removing guards from U.S. bases by the end of the year in order to save money.
Leaving home for just four months.
The German military, the Bundeswehr, has more troops deployed in peacekeeping missions abroad than any country apart from the United States. From Kosovo to Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, some 7,700 German soldiers participate in international security forces. But the country is undergoing massive cost-cutting reforms, and the finance ministry has targeted the defense department as one of the areas where the government needs to cut back.
According to the weekly Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Struck plans to shorten the length of missions abroad. "We will reduce the duration of international missions from six months to four months in the second half of the year," he said on Sunday.
The minister, however, resisted plans to trim down defense spending even more. "The finance minister wants to push through budget reforms in all areas, but I cannot accept that," he was quoted in the newspaper.
The defense ministry's current finance plan is based on an annual budget of €24.2 billion euros, of which only €1.15 billion went towards underwriting foreign deployments in 2003. Cutting that amount even further would jeopardize several international missions, to which the Bundeswehr has pledged itself, Struck argued.
No more protection of U.S. bases
German soldiers on patrol outside the U.S. air base at Rhein-Main near Frankfurt.
Instead of withdrawing itself from its international military commitments such as the international fight against terrorism, the minister proposed terminating the protection of U.S. military installations in Germany. Since the start of the war in Iraq last January, around 2,500 German soldiers have been providing guard duty for 100 U.S. bases throughout the country.
"At the end of the year, we want to stop the German federal armed forces guarding American military bases," Struck told the newspaper, adding that negotiations were already underway for ending the policing process.
The U.S. defense department is currently studying a "base realignment and closure" program aimed at relocating installations around the world so the Pentagon can react quickly to new military threats. Under the plans, a number of bases are likely to close in Germany as tens of thousands of troops leave the country, probably for central and eastern Europe.
Euro 2004 and Olympics still safe
Germany will still participate in security missions to protect the European soccer championships in Portugal this June and the Olympics in Greece in August. Both countries had appealed to NATO to provide military assistance in protecting the events from possible terror attacks. Germany's contribution will be primarily limited to patrolling the air space, for which the German air force will send troops.
As to the question of German involvement in Iraq, Struck unconditionally rejected sending troops. Even if NATO is asked to participate in a prospective security force once the U.S.-led coalition transfers sovereignty to an Iraqi government at the end of June, the minister said Germany would not be a part of it.
"It seems highly uncertain if and when NATO will be asked for support," Struck said. "Whatever the case, Germany will not take part in it. The army will only provide special aircraft to transport wounded if this proves necessary."