Attrition: German Army Recruits Quit

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December 26, 2011: The German armed forces went all-volunteer last July. During that month, for the first time in over 70 years, there were no conscripts joining the military, only volunteers. As one of many incentives to encourage young men to volunteer the new recruits were allowed to leave the military at any time during the first six months, no questions asked. So far, 28 percent of the 3,459 July volunteers have bailed. Most did so because they got a better job offer, although about a fifth of the 28 percent were forced out because they were not suited for military service. Some left because they were recent high school grads who had applied to university and got an acceptance letter after they joined. Some 25 percent of civilians of the same age also leave their first job in the first six months. The military will have to adapt to this because public opinion is very much against bringing back conscription. The voters also like the idea of new recruits having six months to change their minds, especially since Germany has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe and a growing shortage of skilled workers.

The switch to an all-volunteer force caused the German armed forces to shrink from 220,000 to about 170,000 troops, and end up a more capable force. When conscription ended, about 22 percent of the troops were conscripts in service for only six months (although many could, and did, volunteer to stay in for up to 23 months.) The number of civilians working for the armed forces is also shrinking (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, and seems likely to be ten percent or more. Many large equipment contracts are being sharply reduced. 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 still 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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