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How many should be committed to missions abroad?Image: AP

Foreign Deployments

DW staff (jam)
October 31, 2006

German soldiers are engaged in eleven foreign missions. But after a scandal with soldiers in Afghanistan and fears that the military is overstretched, some want a reduction in the numbers of troops being sent abroad.


For decades after World War II, the prospect of German soldiers being stationed in any foreign country was taboo. But since reunification, the German military is being called upon increasingly to contribute troops to United Nations or NATO-sponsored operations abroad.

Right now, there are some 9,000 soldiers on foreign missions, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Balkans, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

But in recent days, a debate has broken out over whether Germany has been too fast to agree to send troops abroad and if Berlin's willingness to participate in various foreign deployments has overstretched its military. The debate comes a week after the unveiling of a new long-term vision for the Germany military which foresees it playing a stronger role internationally. Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung also talked this week of withdrawing troops from Bosnia.

German soldiers in Afghanistan surround Defense Minister Jung
German soldiers in Afghanistan meet with Defense Minister JungImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Germany's president, Horst Köhler, has called for more prudence when it comes to committing troops to hotspots abroad, although he added in an interview with German public broadcaster MDR that as a medium-sized power, Germany was obliged to contribute to some foreign missions.

But, he said, the missions must be carefully thought out and planned taking German foreign, development and security policy into consideration.

In this area, he said, there are still things to be done.

Other high-ranking officials involved in defense matters had similar sentiments, including the former commander of the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, General Klaus Reinhardt, who worried that German peacekeepers were simply being thrown into a country with little thought given to long-term stabilization and exit strategies.

"Policy makers haven't yet devised a strategy that goes beyond the fact that one wants to intervene in a country," he told the Financial Times Deutschland. "There is no strategy for the Balkans, none for Afghanistan."


There are some fears that Germany's army of 245,000 is overstretched, although only a relatively small percentage are engaged in foreign peacekeeping missions. There are 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan, 2,844 in Kosovo and 750 in Congo.

Minister Jung kündigt Abzug der Bundeswehr aus Bosnien an
Some troops from Bosnia are likely to come homeImage: picture-alliance / dpa

"In some areas, we have already hit the limit," said German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung.

On Sunday, he announced that Germany would begin as early as Sunday to withdraw troops from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where troops have been involved in stabilizing the country that was ravaged by war from 1992 to 1995.

After a recent scandal involving soldiers in Afghanistan posing for photographs with a skull, others say German soldiers might not be getting sufficient training to understand the cultural sensitivities they might encounter abroad.

"It is a question of the capability and skill of the troops," said Michael Berndsen, a Defense Ministry spokesman.

Doubts in parliament

While Jung said there is still wide support for foreign missions in the German parliament, which must approve them, some parliamentarians are now of the opinion that the limit has been reached.

Bundeswehr Afghanistan Verteidigungsminister Franz Josef Jung
Defense Minister Franz Josef JungImage: AP

"Therefore we must exercise restraint regarding foreign deployments," he said, adding that any further commitment must be carefully explained and its goals clearly laid out.

After the Afghanistan photo scandal, a survey by the Forsa polling institute found that 46 percent of Germans thought Germany should reduce its foreign commitments while 50 percent thought there was no need to change the current levels. Four percent had not opinion on the subject.

However, there were some calls for the Bundeswehr to expand operations abroad.

Afghanistan Soldaten des 373 Batalions der Bundeswehr patroullieren in der afghanischen Hauptstadt Kabul
Some wonder if German peacekeeping troops are being adequately preparedImage: AP

The chair of the defense committee of the German parliament, Ulrike Merten, told German public radio that the military was not overburdened and a study has shown that up to 14,000 troops could be sent overseas. She said it was "unfortunate" to link a possible pull-out from Bosnia with other missions in other parts of the globe.

The Green Party would like to see more German troops head abroad, perhaps as many as 16,000.

"We have to prepare the German public for the fact that we'll probably get more requests (for soldiers) in the future than fewer," said Kerstin Müller, the party's foreign policy spokesman in the parliament.

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