Another Perspective

New Marching Orders

The German Army reaches for an increased role.

By 10.30.06

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It won't have much of an immediate impact on world military affairs, and certainly not on the American elections, but the fact that Berlin is about to approve a reorganization of the German army is going to heighten that country's role in international peacekeeping and thus world politics.

The Bundeswehr with a total of 250,000 personnel (the regular U.S. Army now has about 490,000 soldiers) will be reorganized primarily into a combat capable intervention and security force, as opposed to its original mission of assisting in defending its borders. This mission change will require not only a near complete alteration of it current training and doctrine, but it also will demand a reordering of its equipment and supply structure.

These actions are an outgrowth of a recently completed strategic review begun nearly a year ago authorized by the new German chancellor, Angela Merkel. The objective of the reorganization is to provide the Bundeswehr with the ability to assign a total of 14,000 troops to five international missions simultaneously. At the present up to 9,000 German troops serve in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Congo, primarily in non-combatant rear echelon security assignments.

Germany annually spends about 9% of its federal budget on defense. Under the new concept, Merkel's opponents say, this will most likely have to be substantially increased. The government spokesman naturally insists the small necessary additional expenditures would be fully justified.

While the obvious result of this military redirection is to put Germany more in line with the enlarged international activity of NATO and the European Union, Berlin's political role in international peacekeeping, and global affairs generally, could be increased exponentially. Interestingly, the high level strategic study justified its recommendations with references to "the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" along with the dangers of "international terrorism and regional conflicts." The Bush Administration must have liked that one.

Domestic German opponents of offensive action on any basis by their nation's forces hope to water down the recommendations endorsed by the chancellor's cabinet, but so far they have not gained the necessary support. What has challenged the quick acceptance of the new doctrine, however, has been a disagreement over the makeup of the Bundeswehr.

There is growing political support to do away with Germany's military conscription in favor of making the Bundeswehr more professional and combat oriented. Germany continues to have conscription as an important element in fulfilling its military enlistment goals. Approximately 55,000 draftees serve in their armed forces. More importantly, though, another 70,000 conscientiously deferred individuals provide strong support in Germany's hospitals and other social services. The ending of conscription thus would impact both military and civilian sectors.

From a strictly financial consideration, across the board increases in pay and enlistment inducements would have to accompany any effort to introduce an all-volunteer army. Germany's defense budget again would have to rise. The alternative of using the draftees in increased overseas assignments is a nettle that few German politicians wish to grasp.

For Angela Merkel and her national security team, a reborn modern German combat force appears to be envisioned as a useful way to expand their country's role in global affairs. Germany's status in the United Nations would be enhanced, as would its position within a strictly European context.

Increasing the German international military commitment fifty-five percent and taking on an active combat role where necessary has obvious historical implications. While there has been a considerable effort on the part of the U.S. and U.K. to get the Germans to share a greater burden of the military costs in personnel and treasure in international operations, the full impact of a revived German combat involvement carries implications of untested scope.

A fully professional German military would be a radical departure from the status quo. Apparent, though unspoken, would be the alteration of the European military balance that has enjoyed a Germany of limited capability since World War II. While France at this time might not militarily fear a rebirth of German power, it nonetheless is highly competitive with its EU partner. A strengthening of the German army would certainly exacerbate that rivalry.

At the same time that Germany has taken on an expanded role in the United Nations' negotiations regarding Iran's nuclear development, the steps to reform the German military mission and structure clearly has Berlin marching into the 21st century.

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.