Leadership: Von Panzertruppen zu Friedenstruppen


May 28, 2011: The German armed forces are going to be quite different in a few years. It will be an all volunteer force, because conscription ends on July 1st. That will cause the armed forces to shrink from 220,000 to about 170,000 troops, and end up a more capable force. Currently, about 22 percent of the troops are conscripts, in service for only six months (although many can, and do, volunteer to stay in for up to 23 months.) The number of civilians working for the armed forces will also shrink (from 75,000 to 55,000). The number of staff at the Defense ministry will shrink from 3,500 to 2,000. This will all be a big change from what's been going on for half a century.

During the Cold War, the West German army was 400,000 strong, well equipped and trained to fight. There were another 250,000 troops in the communist East German armed forces. Then the Cold War ended in 1991, the two Germanys united and East German forces were disbanded. The West German military absorbed some of the East German troops. Then the united German forces began to shrink. With the Soviet Union gone, and the former Soviet allies in eastern Europe clamoring to join NATO, Germany no longer had any threatening neighbors. The Cold War German army of Panzertruppen (mechanized troops) had lost its mission. Thus in two decades, German armed forces have been reduced to a third of their combined 1991 strength of 650,000.

Today, a reunited Germany has an army of peacekeepers. Well, only about 15,000 of them are involved in peacekeeping each year (either overseas or preparing to go). The peacekeepers, particularly in Afghanistan, are getting more modern gear, and the expense of this is another reason for shrinking the size of armed forces. The rest of the force is getting modern gear as well, but the troops in Afghanistan have priority. This is the first war German troops have fought in over 60 years. Germany had never gone that long without a war. While most Germans would rather keep the troops at home, there is no question that those under fire must get all the gear they need.

Germany's cutting its defense budget (currently $41.2 billion), but the amount is still being debated. More than half the military budget goes to pay and benefits, including $300 million in bonuses for troops going overseas. The military is being reorganized to better deal with peacekeeping, and less with conventional warfare. More modern equipment is arriving. Currently, about 7,000 German troops are overseas in nine peacekeeping operations, and part of the reorganization will increase that number by 43 percent.


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