BONN — Despite continuing challenges, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière told the Bundestag he sees progress in the ongoing restructuring of the country’s military.
In a general debate at the Bundestag on this topic, he gave an interim report of the current situation of the Bundeswehr. Only a few days earlier, the military had canceled the prestigious EuroHawk medium-altitude long-endurance UAV project.
“The restructuring of the Bundeswehr is not a further step in a series of reforms,” de Maizière said, but a defense-political end to the Cold War and its aftermath. In addition to the practical and technical changes, it is also a mental process that touches the self-conception of the Bundeswehr. He pointed out Germany’s new responsibility as a united, strong and sovereign country in the heart of Europe.
“The aim of the restructuring is therefore a combat-ready and capable Bundeswehr, which offers the politicians a wide capability spectrum and options for action,” the defense minister said. To achieve this, nearly 5,000 of its 6,400 organizational elements would be restructured.
According to the minister, more than half of the new elements will be ready by the end of the year, the new leadership organization by the end of 2014, the units and agencies will be restructured by the end of 2016 and the whole process completed in 2017.
“The time scale is ambitious, but realistic,” de Maizière said.
Broad Spectrum of Capabilities
Needed capabilities include the ability to act as part of an international coalition within NATO or EU, but also with a broad spectrum of capabilities, he said.
“We do not have to be able to do everything, but much,” he said.
Finally, de Maizière said that the defense budget would provide a stable base for future development.
Germany’s largest ruling party, de Maizières’ own conservative CDU, applauded its minister.
“The changes make the armed forces fit for the future,” said Henning Otte, the deputy defense spokesman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. “It can ensure the security of Germany here and as part of alliance obligations.”
“de Maizière wasted tax money on a large scale,” criticized Andrea Nahles, secretary general of the Social Democrats, the country’s largest oppositional party, with respect to the scrapping of the EuroHawk project.
“Over half a billion euros were invested in the failed EuroHawk drone project, because now it is clear that the drone will never fly.”
After three years of flawed military reform, Nahles said the mood in the military is miserable and clouded by uncertainty.
Col. Ulrich Kirsch, head of the German Bundeswehr Association, said in an interview with the online news site heute.de on May 16 that during a survey of the University of Chemnitz, 88 percent of the military’s executives who responded said they saw an urgent need to adjust the restructuring.
“We expect more attractive forces from the federal government,” commented Kirsch. “This includes, among others, an improved work-family balance with nationwide child care, part-time jobs, extra jobs for parental leave and more.”
In this context, he also criticized the sacking of conscription.
Kirsch mentioned the candidate ratio of three to one for enlisted men and NCOs and a high dropout rate of the voluntary military service.
“The Bundeswehr as a volunteer Army has not quite yet fully arrived in the 21st century.”