The Bundeswehr has invested nearly two million euros in a new web reality series called "The Recruits." For some critics, it’s money that could have been better spent elsewhere.
"Starting in November, the days will be longer." So goes one of the taglines for the Bundeswehr's new reality web series, "The Recruits," which premieres on Tuesday and paints itself as a tough-hearted look at the rewards of military service. Every day over the next three months the Bundeswehr will post a new episode to YouTube, part of an effort to broaden its appeal as Germany seeks to expand the ranks of its armed forces.
The premise of "The Recruits" is simple: 12 young people – ten men and two women – are shipped off to northern Germany for three months of basic military training. The series, much of which is filmed with handheld cameras by the participants themselves, aims to show in intimate fashion "how young people become soldiers," according to a press release.
Officials say the show is meant to clear up some of the clichés associated with the Bundeswehr for a generation of Germans who came of age after the country did away with its compulsory military service. But the show, which cost around 1.7 million euros ($1.9 million) and is part of a new military PR campaign tagged with the slogan "Do what really matters," is also debuting not long after Angela Merkel's government announced plans to expand the Bundeswehr.
New era for the Bundeswehr
Under pressure to modernize the military, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced over the summer that she would scrap the old 185,000 cap on the number of troops able to serve, adding that the military would seek to recruit an extra 14,300 troops through 2023. It was a notable reversal for Germany, whose armed forces have been steadily dwindling since reunification in 1990. As of May 2016, there were 177,000 soldiers in the Bundeswehr.
The decision came in light of new challenges faced by Berlin, including the ongoing refugee crisis and numerous foreign missions, such as the anti-"Islamic State" (IS) operation staged from Turkey's Incirlik Air Base, of which Germany is a part.
In October, pointing to pressure from US President Barack Obama, Merkelthen announced that she would raise the defense budget for the year 2020 from around 39.2 billion euros ($43.3 billion) to 60 billion euros. "In the 21st century, we won't be getting as much help as we got in the 20th," Merkel told youth representatives from her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in the city of Paderborn.
Opponents fire back
Still, some politicians have called the project a waste of money and resources. Hans-Peter Bartels, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces and a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), doubted the usefulness of the series, while adding that important investments in Bundeswehr equipment still had to be made.
"The current security situation demands that decisions about these investments aren't kicked down the road," Bartels told German news organization Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.
The Left Party also expressed outrage at the show, with one party representative, Peter Ritter, calling it "drivel." "We don't need advertisements for dying abroad," he said, according to the Göttinger Tageblatt newspaper.
According to the Bundeswehr, it recruits more than 20,000 people each year, including about 10,000 young people.