Thomas de Maiziere, left, hands over his office as German defense minister to Ursula von der Leyen by inspecting a military honor guard with her. (Agence France-Presse)
BONN — The German military is stretched to its limits, and the goals of the ongoing restructuring program might not be reached, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces said.
Helmut Königshaus presented his 100-page annual report for 2013 on Jan. 28 in Berlin and called for a thorough evaluation of the ongoing reforms with an eye for possible readjustments. The evaluation is planned for this year.
In 2013, the Bundeswehr implemented its future organizational structure alongside its existing structure.
“Despite significantly reduced personnel, two structures had to be run under the full load of the ongoing foreign missions,” Königshaus said. And there was great uncertainty among personnel about what their future careers will hold, he said.
Record Number of Complaints
The frustration has manifested itself in a surge of complaints filed to the commissioner, which reached an all-time high in 2013. Overall, 5,095 complaints were filed in 2013, 786 more than in 2012, at a time when the number of soldiers declined from 198,000 to 184,000. This means complaints per thousand soldiers increased by 20 percent.
“In many areas, the breaking point is reached, maybe even exceeded,” he said. “Staff shortages and a growing backlog of investment in infrastructure, equipment and armament of the armed forces over the years require quick rework.”
The parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces is not a member of the Bundestag, and takes action either upon instructions from the Bundestag, from its defense committee or on his own if he suspects violations of human dignity, freedom of opinion or other rights.
The staff shortage is especially severe in the lower ranks, he said. According to his report, operations have pushed the Bundeswehr to the limits of its personnel and equipment. This applies not just to specialists but to the infantry, tactical air transport and naval forces.
Complaints also have frequently cited too little recreation time, he said. So Königshaus approved a recent initiative of new Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen for a more family-friendly Bundeswehr and attractive workplace, but also called for more money if needed.
One-fifth of all complaints last year involved problems between family and career, he said.
Sexual harassment of women was another important issue. According to a study published by the military last week, 55 percent of all female soldiers had been sexually harassed at least once. The report said these numbers had been known in the ministry since 2011.
He also acknowledged deployed military are receiving better equipment and training, but criticized investment levels back home.
“The equipment on missions was rightfully a priority in procurement over the past years,” he said. Now, with the planned force reduction in Afghanistan, more funds should be used to replace discarded or massively overused equipment at home bases.
Individual Cases Are Known
A Defense Ministry statement says action will wait until midyear, when the parliament debates the report.
“The individual cases described in the report of last year are known. Appropriate measures have been initiated in the area of competence,” the ministry states on its website. “With regard to the general evaluation, conclusions and recommendations of the Commissioner, he draws from the individual cases and his own observations, first of all a comprehensive assessment of the ministry of defence has to be made.
“Politics must understand what changes currently happen in the armed forces,” said Lt. Col. André Wüstner, national chairman of the German Armed Forces Association.
According to the report, “soon only one quarter will live as [permanent] serving soldiers,” he said. All others will serve for a couple years or as many as 25 years, but then move to other careers. The military must realize this and make preparation for new careers part of the attraction of serving in the military, he said.
Therefore, he demanded improved social conditions and a better family-career balance, and improved infrastructure and training at home bases to make the service more attractive.
“The demographic development has long made the ‘soft factor’ attractiveness a hard factor.” ■