Building Germany′s Bundeswehr | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.06.2005
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Building Germany's Bundeswehr

On Tuesday, Germany celebrates the 50th anniversary of its postwar military. Things have marched on since 1955, when the presence of German troops was unimaginable. Now German keeps peace across the world.


Germany's modern military started small

Just under a decade after the end of the war, on June 7, 1955, the Federal Republic of Germany inaugurated its very own ministry of defense.

In essence it was really just a case of renaming the authorities -- the so-called "Blank Bureau" -- which had been responsible for defense issues since 1950. It was named after a Christian Democratic politician, Theodor Blank, who served as the "chancellor's plenipotentiary for issues relating to the expansion of allied troops."

Speaking all those years ago, Blank, who was made the federal republic's first defense minister, outlined the difficulties of any kind of military mission for the fledgling state.

Erste deutsche Bundeswehr-Soldaten ernannt

Theodor Blank (2nd right) and contemporaries

"We are confronted with a new and difficult challenge," he said. "We have to build troops from nothing, with no reference point to existing units. And we have to do it in a state which is bogged down in a heavy past, in a young democracy, which often struggles with its appearance among its own people."

Long and winding road to agreement

Arriving at the point where West Germany was given the go-ahead to rearm involved five years of tiring complex negotiations with the United States, Britain and France.

The first opportunity for discussions on Germany's contribution to defense issues came in 1950 with the Korean War and plans for a European army with a German contingent. But the European Defense Community treaty collapsed at the eleventh hour following resistance from Britain and France.

The search for a solution eventually led to the Paris Pacts, the four international agreements signed in Paris in October 1954, which ended allied occupation of West Germany, restored full sovereignty to the state and secured it access to NATO.

Courting controversy

Unsurprisingly, the idea that the nation was preparing to rearm its youth became a highly controversial issue among both politicians and the public. Advocates not only spoke of their wish for a sovereign state capable of self-defense, but referred to the fragile Cold War security situation and the dangers of a Soviet attack.

But opponents, including the Social Democrats argued that the war was still too fresh a memory to consider rearming, and that in creating a military force, it would drive the wedge of division even deeper into Germany, thus provoking the Soviet Union.

60 Jahre Bundeswehr Vereidigung der ersten Soldaten der neuen Bundeswehr

The first soldiers are sworn in to the Bundeswehr

But the contra voices were not loud enough to prevent Adenauer's government from pushing ahead with the creation of a military body to be rooted in the constitution and controlled by parliament.

"We want troops in the democracy who comply with the seniority of politics. They should respect the principles of constitutional legality, take the civic rights and duties seriously and recognise the dignity of the people, "Theodor Blank told parliament in June 1955.

A few months later, on Nov. 12, 1955, which was also the 200th birthday of Prussian general and military reformer, Gerhard von Scharnhorst, the first 101 volunteer soldiers were sworn in.

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