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Germany

Military commission recommends cuts at German Defense Ministry

An independent commission of military experts has recommended that the German Defense Ministry make significant cuts to staff and the number of Bundeswehr troops, as well as moving the ministry's headquarters.

German troops

Conscription is likely on its way out in Germany

A report released on Tuesday by military experts commissioned by the German Defense Ministry calls for significant cuts to the number of civilian staff and troops serving in the Bundeswehr, Germany's armed forces.

Zu Guttenberg and Weise

Zu Guttenberg, right, recieves the report from Weise

The proposed reductions would see the Bundeswehr reduced from 250,000 to 180,000, and the practice of German conscription would no longer exist.

A general conscription of all young men is "no longer necessary for security policies in the foreseeable future," the report read.

Roughly half of the Defense Ministry's 3,000 jobs would also be eliminated.

Cuts are coming

The commission's suggestions are more or less in line with proposals made from within the ministry itself. Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had previously called for troop levels to be reduced to about 160,000. Zu Guttenberg also favored ending conscription in Germany.

The main differences between the commission's report and plans already in the mix at the Defense Ministry are the exact number of troops to be cut and the job reductions at the ministry itself.

German troops in Afghanistan on an armored vehicle

Most German troops abroad are in Afghanistan

The commission was led by Frank-Juergen Weise, who is head of the German Labor Agency and also a colonel in the reserves.

Hedda von Wedel, a former president of the German Constitutional Court and currently the deputy chairwoman of Transparency International Germany, and former NATO General Karl-Heinz Lather were among the others who helped write the report, which was commissioned by zu Guttenberg in April.

Weise's report was welcomed by zu Guttenberg, who confirmed that drastic measures were needed to modernize the Bundeswehr and cut costs.

"Cosmetic measures alone will no longer get the job done," zu Guttenberg said in Berlin on Tuesday. "As far as I can tell, the direction [indicated by the commission] is pretty much spot on."

However, zu Guttenberg was careful not to say that all of the commission's proposals would be adopted.

Moving the ministry

In addition to troop and staff reductions, the report suggests moving the Defense Ministry's headquarters from its current location in Bonn, the former capital, to Berlin. Most of Germany's ministries moved to Berlin after German reunification in 1990.

A man in fatigues stands in an empty room

The ministry may have to pack up and move

As part of the deal that moved the capital to Berlin, Bonn was guaranteed that it would not have to face job cuts on a large scale because of the move, but opposition Green Party defense spokesman, Omid Nouripour, said in an interview with German public radio on Tuesday it was high time to act.

"We're talking about a weekly mass migration of public servants," he said of the commute between Bonn and Berlin. "We would certainly be well-advised to call the Bonn-Berlin Treaty into question 20 years after German reunification."

Weise was clear in his assessment why the ministry needed to cut positions.

"There's definitely no need for so many different and competing command units in the Bundeswehr, which have been found to distort and block information on many occasions in the past," he said in Berlin. "In my view only half of the people we have in leading positions right now are required to do a proper job."

Changes coming soon

While the total number of German Bundeswehr troops would be reduced, the commission recommended increasing the number of troops that are available to serve abroad at any particular time from 7,000 to 15,000.

These troops would voluntarily sign up for military service and would serve a minimum of 15 months in the armed forces.

Civilian posts within the military, also filled by voluntary sign-ups, would be reduced from about 75,000 to 50,000 and serve for a maximum of 23 months, according to the commission's suggestions.

Zu Guttenberg said that the commission's report would be examined and that the government would begin debating on concrete decisions regarding defense cuts in December.

Author: Matt Zuvela (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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