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Germany's lack of military readiness 'dramatic'

February 20, 2018

The German parliament's military commissioner has published a report sharply critical of Germany's combat-readiness. The problem comes amid the country's increasing involvement in military missions abroad.

Stock photo for readiness of the Bundeswehr.
Image: picture-alliance/Ulrich Baumgarten

Germany's military has deteriorated in recent years amid budget cuts and poor management, according to a report published on Tuesday by Parliamentary Armed Forces Commissioner Hans-Peter Bartels.

The call on politicians to double-down on reforms and increase funding came in the same week a Defense Ministry paper revealed German soldiers did not have enough protective vests, winter clothing or tents to adequately take part in a major NATO mission.

Read more: Germany's Bundeswehr 'lacks basic equipment' for NATO mission

What's wrong with the Bundeswehr?

  • Bartels pointed to "big gaps" in personnel and equipment. At the end of 2017, no submarines and none of the air force's 14 large transport planes were available for deployment due to repairs.
  • Other equipment, including fighter jets, tanks and ships, was outdated and in some cases not fully operational because of bad planning or a lack of spare parts. Some air force pilots were unable to train because too many aircraft were being repaired.
  • Soldiers have experienced increasing levels of stress and there was a lack adequate leadership due to some 21,000 vacant officer posts.
  • The report said the government needed to pursue reforms "with greater urgency" and increase defense spending.
  • A lack of funding and inefficient management structures and planning were behind the problems. Germany has cut defense spending since the end of the Cold War. In 2017, it spent about 1.2 percent of its economic production in 2017 on the armed forces, which is below the 2 percent target recommended by the NATO alliance.
Hans-Peter Bartels and Wolfgang Schäuble
Bartels handed over a copy of the report to the Bundestag President Wolfgang SchäubleImage: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

Read more: German military short on tanks for NATO mission

Bundeswehr Chief of Staff reacts: Volker Wieker defended the military, saying "no complaints have come to my ear either in Germany or from our allies." He did however admit that combat-readiness needed to be improve.

Bad timing: Bartels, a member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), said the meager state of the military was particularly bad because Germany has committed more troops to NATO and missions in Mali and Iraq. "Tasks for which there are supposed to be additional people and equipment in future are already upon us", he said.

Von der Leyen in Afghanistan

Read more:  German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen at a crossroads

Germany's spending promise: Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the SPD have committed to improving the Bundeswehr's equipment and increasing defense spending to meet NATO targets in their coalition deal. SPD rank-and-file are currently voting on whether to accept the agreement and form a new government.

Read more: German defense minister envisions expanded Bundeswehr role in Iraq

Two-percent-goal controversial: On Monday, the parliamentary leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Alexander Dobrindt, said it would be a "mistake" if Germany failed to meet NATO's two-percent-goal by 2024. Acting SPD leader Andrea Nahles later said the coalition agreement only referred to a "target range" for defense spending, "but did not explicitly name the two-percent-goal."

Read more: 'No more missions for Germany's navy,' warns armed forces ombudsman

Allies expect more: Some of Germany's NATO allies have repeatedly criticized alliance members who fail to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense. US President Donald Trump raised the criticism at a NATO summit in 2017 and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said those countries that do not meet the NATO target threaten the alliance's "unity."

amp/rt (AFP, dpa, epd, Reuters)

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