Friday marks the first day of the weekend-long Munich Security Conference, in which 500 security experts – and over 4,000 police protecting them – will gather at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Bavaria's capital to discuss the state of security in Germany and abroad.
— Wolfgang Ischinger (@ischinger) February 15, 2019
It's a key time for keeping an eye on Germany's military, which has been slowly dwindling in size, but maintains its importance due to its role in NATO, still-active peacekeeping missions around the world, and its own internal defence.
At the end of January, an annual parliamentary report sparked calls to discuss Germany's military readiness after it revealed that 21,500 positions remained vacant, recruitment numbers fell by 3,000 in 2018, and that there are equipment issues in the army, navy, and air force.
In the same report, though, a positive statistic emerged, showing more women are joining the Bundeswehr – or Germany's armed forces – than ever before.
Vacancies and recruitment issues
These headlines and developments encourage a look at the Bundeswehr’s current state-of-play. The Bundeswehr was formed in 1955 – eight years before the first Munich Security Conference kicked off in 1963 – and is divided into a military section (armed forces or Streitkräfte) and a civil section involved with administration (Wehrverwaltung).
One of the top 10 best funded forces in the world, Germany's GDP expenditure on the Bundeswehr is 1.24% -– still well below the NATO target of 2 percent.
The parliamentary report, spearheaded by Dr. Hans-Peter Bartels, the military commissioner for the Bundestag, revealed that there are currently 21,500 vacancies within the Bundeswehr.
Recruitment numbers fell in 2018 by 3,000 to 20,000 recruits. In 2017, recruitment numbers were at 23,000. In December, Germany's military chief General Eberhard Zorn said he was considering recruiting in other EU nations, a controversial proposal, to target specialists like IT professionals and medical doctors.
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, upon the report’s release, addressed positives like digitization, finances, modernized materials, and even personnel.
Chart produced for The Local by Statistica.
Von der Leyen said, “Yes, it is true that we have 21,500 vacancies, but unfortunately the military commissioner did not point out to the same extent that we have 35,000 men and women in training at the same time. Many of them will be able to fill these vacancies.”
“I would also like many things to go faster, but 25 years of shrinking and cutting back in the Bundeswehr cannot be reversed in just a few years,” von der Leyen said, though concluding the Bundeswehr is “going in the right direction: uphill!”
Women on the rise
One personnel statistic revealed in last month’s report, however, was on the rise: Women.
In 2018, women soldiers comprised about 12.1% of the German military, indicating a steady rise in women troops over the years.
Of the 181,274 total troops in the Bundeswehr, 21,931 of those are women, the German military reports. In 2000, women comprised just 1.4% of the Bundeswehr.
Most of the women, 8,150 of them, serving in the Bundeswehr are assigned to the medical corps. 17,110 of the women soldiers are temporary soldiers, 3,275 are career soldiers, and 1,546 are volunteers.
Graphic created for The Local by Statista.
Equipment, readiness, and the “bureaucracy monster”
January’s report found that less than half of Germany’s Tornado and Eurofighter fighter jets and no submarines were combat ready last year. The Bundeswehr also experienced long waiting times for industrial repairs and shortages in personal equipment like protective vests, boots, clothing, modern helmets, and night vision goggles.
Many of the shortfalls in both heavy and personal equipment availability and standards were due to “the bureaucracy monster,” Bartels, a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), explained in his report.
Bartels said that many soldiers relayed that they “administer ourselves to death” and speak of the “bureaucracy monster” among themselves.
“But there are still too many, often self-made, bureaucratic hurdles – old and new – on the way to full operational readiness,” Bartels said in the report, which also acknowledged that in previous years, too, the Bundeswehr has been far from being fully equipped.
Role as a mediator in other countries
Adding to the attention on Germany’s military is not just its own actions, but its role as a mediator in long-standing tensions between other countries.
Days after the Bundestag’s report, the United States of America and Russia both withdrew from a landmark arms control agreement putting the spotlight on Germany as a possible mediator – a key discussion point in the coming days at the Munich Security Conference.
Currently, the Bundeswehr is involved in 12 foreign missions. A total of 3,466 German troops are assigned to those operations worldwide, according to Bundeswehr numbers released at the end of January.
More than one-third of German troops abroad are stationed in Afghanistan for the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission. There, alongside allies and in cooperation with the Afghan government, 1,244 German troops contribute to the non-combat mission dedicated to training, advising, and assisting Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
Behind the United States, Germany is the second largest contributor of troops to NATO overall.
A significant number of Bundeswehr troops abroad – 906 – are stationed in Mali, supporting the EU Training Mission there. Troops are also assigned to Syria and Iraq, Kosovo, Sudan and South Sudan, and throughout the Mediterranean Sea among elsewhere.
The Bundeswehr is also involved in other military deployments, like to Lithuania for NATO Enhanced Forward Presence.
Germany is to join the ranks of NATO countries making its cyber warfare skills available to the alliance to help fight hacking and electronic warfare, officials said on Thursday, February 14th.
NATO has designated cyberspace as a conflict domain alongside land, sea and air and says electronic attacks by the likes of Russia and China – but also criminals and so-called “hacktivists” – are becoming more frequent and more destructive.
German officials used a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels on Thursday to tell allies that Berlin would make its cyber capabilities available, including offensive elements.
“Just as we provide army, air force and naval forces to NATO, we are now also in a position to provide NATO capabilities on the issue of cyber within the national and legal framework that we have,” Defence Minister von der Leyen said.
In February, the US suspended its obligations from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) agreement, saying Russia had been violating it for years. In a move mirroring Washington, Russia withdrew a day later.
If Russia, does not recommit to arms control obligations set in the INF Treaty within six months, when the US will make its withdrawal final, the arms control limitations that have defined a post-Cold War world will be done. Such a development would put NATO, namely Germany, centre stage in geography, diplomacy, and military.
Die Welt ist ohne den #INF-Vertrag gefährlicher. Sie wird aber nicht sicherer, wenn wir die Drohungen aus dem Kalten Krieg wieder aufwärmen. Nukleare Mittelstreckenraketen dürfen nicht Verhandlungsmasse werden. Müssen verhandeln, wie wir die Rüstungskontrolle ins 21. Jh. retten.
— Heiko Maas (@HeikoMaas) February 3, 2019
“We urge Russia to use the remaining six months to return to full and verifiable compliance to preserve the INF Treaty,” a NATO statement issued February 1 read. NATO said allies “fully support” America’s action.
Alluding to such developments, Bavaria’s Minister President Markus Söder told Bild, “Especially in an increasingly uncertain world, Germany needs an army ready to defend our country and to secure our independence. We need a Bundeswehr where aircraft, equipment and equipment work.”
With reporting by AFP.