Germany plans to expand the army's role whilst cutting costs



From the current edition of 'Time'.,13005,901040126-578933,00.html

Leaner, Meaner, Cheaper
Germany remakes its military for rapid deployment — and to ease its strained budget



HANDS UP: Struck will cut 35,000 troops and €26 billion of planned spending on equipment

In 1667, Frederick William, the great Elector of Prussia, set the country's militarist tone by saying, "Alliances to be sure are good, but forces of one's own, upon which one can rely, are better." In the half-century after World War II, Germany turned this dictum on its head: the country relied on its alliance with the U.S. to protect it from the Soviet Union, maintaining only an undersized army that was constitutionally prohibited from fighting abroad. That began to change in 1999 when Germany sent troops to Kosovo and then three years later sent them to Afghanistan. Last week, Defense Minister Peter Struck announced the latest change in strategy: the German military will shift its focus from territorial defense to overseas interventions and peacekeeping — while cutting 26 billion euros' worth of high-tech weaponry to help reduce the bloated federal budget.

Despite the cuts, the Germans are talking big. "The possible area of deployment for the Bundeswehr is the whole world," Struck declared, adding that the military's priorities are "the prevention of conflicts and coping with conflicts, including the fight against international terrorism." To accomplish that mission, the armed forces will be divided into three groups: a force of 35,000 "intervention" troops that could be sent into conflict areas; a 70,000-strong "stabilizing" force that would be used for peacekeeping operations; and 137,500 support troops. "Tasks such as conflict prevention and crisis management require fundamentally different armed forces," Struck said. "They must be rapidly available and robust enough to carry out international missions together with our partners."

Those words could easily have come from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — because the German strategy echoes America's plans for a lighter, faster military. (Among other moves, the U.S. is planning to withdraw troops from bases in Germany and deploy to smaller bases in Eastern Europe.) Struck said the deep cuts in the German military budget — uniformed personnel trimmed from 285,000 troops to 250,000, civilian employees cut by 10,000 — will help finance the transition to a more mobile army. "If you want to free the army for investments, this is a step in the right direction," says Bernhard Gertz, chairman of the German Armed Forces Association.

Not everyone is applauding. Christian Schmidt, defense spokesman for the opposition Christian Social Union, complained that Struck "didn't state how to organize homeland defense in the midst of structures that favor foreign peacekeeping missions. He's not meeting the challenge of Sept. 11 and what to do about a terrorist attack and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists." Struck maintains the new structure will help the fight against terrorism worldwide, including inside Germany.

Struck also said the new configuration would make Germany better able to respond to calls for troops from both NATO and the European Union. The E.U. is planning a 60,000-man "rapid-reaction force" that can deploy within 60 days to crisis areas. And Germany isn't the only European nation streamlining its military. British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon released a white paper last month saying that the government planned to cut the number of armored brigades and concentrate on becoming more technologically advanced and capable of moving quickly around the world.

Struck sidestepped one of the most controversial issues — whether to scrap conscription and create a professional army, a move favored by the Greens, the Social Democrats' junior partner in the governing coalition. Struck said the earliest the military could switch to a professional army was 2010. Another big issue is the future of alternative service, through which conscientious objectors take civilian jobs — such as working in hospitals and retirement homes — rather than serving in the army. If the draft is abolished, there would be no provision for conscientious objectors — and the government would need to hire a lot more health-care workers.

Despite these squabbles, there was surprising agreement across the political spectrum that the armed forces are in need of reform. The government has said repeatedly that current deployments abroad — numbering just 7,000 troops — have stretched the military to the breaking point. To get its 2,300 soldiers and vehicles to Afghanistan, for example, Germany had to charter Antonov transport planes from Ukraine. The hope is that by cutting unnecessary real estate and big-ticket equipment, the armed forces will be better able to get highly trained soldiers to the world's hot spots. Then Germany will have both alliances and troops to rely on.

Latest Threads