The Defense Ministry wants to cut the Bundeswehr by 30,000 soldiers by 2010, but critics say it will be difficult for the country to fulfill its international defense obligations with a pared down military.
Germany's army faces a serious downsizing
As the new year approaches, Germany’s opposition conservatives warn that the Defense Ministry’s plans for the restructuring of the national armed forces in 2004 are not worth the paper they’re written on.
Criticism has focused on the lack of financial means to support structural reforms that would prepare the forces better for peacekeeping and enforcement missions abroad.
Shrinking budget, shrinking force
Social Democratic Defense Minister Peter Struck (photo) had to acknowledge earlier this year that the defense budget would be capped at around €24 billion until 2006. That’s less than 1.5 percent of the
German Defense Minister Peter Struck
national budget. It also goes against calls by Washington and NATO for members of the military alliance to increase future joint military operations, especially in fighting against international terrorism.
The defense minister plans to cut the forces by 30,000 to a total of 250,000 soldiers by 2010. Many military bases will also be closed, and civilian personnel tangibly reduced as part of the cost savings.
Opposition: 'cuts alarming'
In an interview with the German news agency DDP, the opposition Christian Democratic Union’s defense policy spokesman, Christian Schmidt, called the planned personnel and equipment cuts highly alarming. He said the restructuring, to be supervised by top military officer Wolfgang Schneiderhahn, would result in a fiasco with the scarce resources at hand.
The CDU estimates that the forces will even have to reduce the number of professionals by another 20,000. Schmidt says any more troops couldn’t be financed under the budget.
Meanwhile, the head of the armed forces employee’s association, Bernhard Gertz, has warned that the number of troops can’t be reduced endlessly, especially at a time when the Bundeswehr is expected to be deployed on new missions and provide even better performance.
"You can’t give endless quality instead of quantity," Gertz told Deutsche Welle. "You have to have quantity, too. So this goal of 250,000 soldiers is an operative minimum. If we reach this goal, we would still have about 130,000 soldiers for engagement in, for example, Afghanistan or in the Balkans, but that wouldn’t be much more than today."
A simmering conscription debate
Schmidt is also wary of the defense minister’s intention to reform the forces so that they could be turned easily into a fully professional army. Peter Struck himself is known to be a staunch supporter of the current conscription-based army, but is aware of mounting opposition to conscription within his own Social Democrat ranks and even more within the Greens, the junior government partner. The Greens’ most prominent figure, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Struck could go down in German history by ushering in the end to conscription, which was introduced in post World War II West Germany in 1955.
Struck himself demanded last week that the issue be raised again during a special parliamentary debate early next year. He personally doubts that a professional army will be cheaper as the opponents of conscription claim.
But other factors have to be taken into consideration as well. In line with the planned reduction in troop strength, a maximum of 50,000 soldiers, down from around 80,000 today, will be drafted each year starting in 2004. Many believe there’s no justice in a system under which only some of the eligible young people are drafted, while the majority wouldn’t have to serve.