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Germany

Struck Criticized Over Timing of Army Cuts

German Defense Minister Peter Struck is pushing through the most radical reform of the German army to date despite the impending massive US troop withdrawal from Germany. Opposition voices have questioned his wisdom.

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An estimated 30,000 German troops are to be cut in the reforms

German Defense Minister Peter Struck on Tuesday set out for a summer tour of military bases to see how the current restructuring of the national armed forces is progressing. In line with EU and NATO defense policies, the Bundeswehr is reshaping its troops to be better prepared for peacekeeping or peace-enforcing missions abroad.

However, Struck is facing a hard time explaining his decision to close numerous Bundeswehr bases across the country, which will coincide with the large-scale withdrawal of US forces from western Germany:

Struck had gained wide respect for starting to overhaul the national armed forces and handling out-of-area peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans. While he has given up pipe smoking after the stroke he suffered in June, he has not reduced his ambitions to push through the biggest restructuring of the Bundeswehr to date.

Troops to be cut down to 250,000

The emphasis will be on training mobile units to be employed quickly in crisis areas outside NATO territory. In the next couple of years, troop strength will be reduced by 30,000 to 250,000 -- a measure long overdue after the end of the Cold War. The number of military bases will also be cut drastically. Details on the closures will be announced in November.

Opposition conservative defense spokesman Christian Schmidt warned about rushing into defense decisions now that it has been announced that the United States will be withdrawing a large contingent of their 70,000 troops now stationed in Germany. Schmidt called on the defense minister on Tuesday to ensure that the communities affected will receive some sort of compensation for the looming economic losses.

"I myself come from a region which will be largely affected by the withdrawal of US troops with the bases in Bamberg and Würzburg soon to be deserted," Schmidt told DW-RADIO.

Looming economic and social problems

"We’ve always come out in favor of providing financial help for restructuring programs after such a pull-out of troops. But at present, there are no such means available, neither at federal, nor at community level. We’ll see massive social and economic problems in the affected regions. I’m optimistic that policy-makers will not leave these communities to their own devices and raise restructuring funds, probably also out of European Union coffers."

Schmidt, as well as Bavaria’s Christian Social Union leader Edmund Stoiber, is hoping that the defense minister will readjust his original plan to close down German military bases to the realities created by the US troop pull-out. Both theorized that a number of abandoned US bases may in the future be used by the Bundeswehr instead.

Future planning is questioned

“I can only suggest thinking harder about harmonizing US and national defense policies, said Schmidt. "Struck is expected to close down up to 100 Bundeswehr bases over the next few years. US bases will vanish too. I’m not convinced that everything has been carefully coordinated yet. I believe there’s a need to reconsider the planned scope of closures here.”

But the cash-strapped defense minister is unlikely to effect major changes. Many of Germany's military installations, Struck argues, weren’t needed any longer 10 years ago, but the government was afforded the luxury of maintaining them anyway. Now, with a revamped defense strategy in place and all the budgetary constraints at hand, he says, that doesn’t make sense anymore.

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