Although German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Monday reiterated that he currently had no intention of sending troops to Iraq, he has presided over an unprecedented change toward German overseas military involvement. Now apparently continuing the country’s changing role, Germany’s Defense Ministry has reportedly decided that it is ready to contribute more than 5,000 soldiers to a planned NATO rapid reaction force, the daily Berliner Zeitung newspaper said on Monday.
A ministry spokesman refused to comment on the report, but government sources quoted in the newspaper said that Germany’s contribution would include Bundeswehr (army) units specialized in detecting nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) weapons as well as minesweepers and six Tornado warplanes.
"The German participation corresponds to our actual weight in NATO and our proposed future role," the paper quoted a Defense Ministry official as saying.
NATO plans to have its 21,000-strong rapid reaction force up and running by 2006. But Berlin is making 1,200 navy and air force personnel available immediately, while the remaining troops will join the force before 2005, the Berliner Zeitung said. The first units are planned to be operationally ready later this year.
Immediate global response
The German Defense Ministry has said that the Bundeswehr's most important task nowadays is peacekeeping abroad, and national defense is no longer the priority -- at least in times of peace. German peacekeeping operations have deployed the armed forces over three continents with about 9,000 soldiers scattered in the Balkans, Afghanistan and as far as the Horn of Africa.
The ministry’s policy of promising troops to such operations now appears to stretch to the planned Rapid Reaction Force which will mean troops attached to the NATO brigade will be required to be on call indefinitely under the mandate that it should be capable of deploying within days to any crisis zone in the world.
The pledge of troops for the NATO force appears to be the latest step in the Bundeswehr’s restructuring plans which include modernizing the army, trimming the number of civilian jobs while at the same time increasing the number of soldiers (from 282,000 to 300,000), slashing military spending and training troops to gear up for new military challenges, including foreign deployments.
At the moment, Iraq does not feature as one of those possible deployments. But if the United Nations takes on a greater role in the country’s postwar reconstruction, NATO – and therefore Germany – could be called upon to send peacekeeping troops to relieve the overstretched U.S. and British coalition forces.