Peacekeeping Role of the Bundeswehr

Posted in NATO | 02-Sep-13 | Author: J.D. Bindenagel

I appreciate being invited to speak to such a distinguished group. Thanks to Rory Clark, President of the George C. Marshall International Center and Pat Daly as well as Dale Medearis representing the Eric M. Warburg Chapter of the American Council on Germany for the opportunity.  Today I will treat the role of the German Bundeswehr in peacekeeping/peacebuilding missions.

Bundeswehr Peacekeeping

The NATO mission in Afghanistan, which provided the common purpose for NATOs out-of-area/global deployment, is coming to an end.  Despite historical, cultural, and political bonds, the transatlantic relationship has been under stress lately to meet security crises in the Middle East/Libya and Afghanistan, the alliance also strains under the Great Recession and euro zone crisis, which limit the appetite for expensive deployments.

The future role and strategic function of NATO is unclear, and the role of the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) is important for NATO's success in confronting the complicated and vast array of borderless risks threatening both developed democratic counties and undeveloped and unstable regions today and for the foreseeable future – terrorism, cyber attacks, piracy, energy disruptions and the consequences of global climate change.  After decades of restricting the Bundeswehr to territorial defense, the first German expeditionary deployment out of NATO area was permitted in April 1993 when Chancellor Kohl's cabinet approved German Luftwaffe participation in AWACS in the Balkans over Bosnia.  Today the Bundeswehr is engaged in 11 deployments in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Africa.  The Germans have also provided Patriot missile defense units to Turkey on the Syrian border.  However, the bombing of two tanker trucks in Kunduz in Afghanistan, in which German Col. Klein, sensing a threat, and whose main force was on patrol, ordered air strikes against fuel trucks believed to have been captured by Taliban and intended to target the German military installation, killed hundreds of Afghans when the trucks stalled in a muddy road. That attack, reminded the German public that Germany was at war in Afghanistan.. German history remains problematic.

Despite the 11 German deployments, already in his valedictory address to NATO in 2011, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had warned against the demilitarization of Europe and the weakening of America's security partner.  He argued that the United States has a "dwindling appetite" to serve as the heavyweight partner in the military order that has underpinned the U.S. relationship with Europe since the end of World War II.  He warned that the U.S. is tired of engaging in combat missions for those who "don't want to share the risks and the costs."

The transatlantic relationship was strained by the war in Iraq, which divided allies over the wisdom and legitimacy of that mission, and by the war in Afghanistan over the prolonged conflict and elusive enemy. NATO solidarity was tested in the Libya operation when the Germans did not vote in favor of intervention alongside its allies and withdrew its ships from the coast of Lebanon in the fight against illicit arms trafficking.

The basis of the conflict is over the involvement of partners in combat duty and leveraging of associated budget outlays, and the U.S. has come to expect relatively less of a combat contribution from Germany and other European Allies. Steven Erlanger described the American view of Europe as a partner that is "seen just now as not a problem for the [United States], but not much help either." In that same farewell to NATO on June 3, 2011 Defense Secretary Gates expressed his concern about the viability of NATO and its capacity to carry out combat and civil-military operations, when he said: "In the past, I've worried openly about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance: Between members who specialize in 'soft' humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and negotiation tasks, and those conducting the 'hard' combat missions.  ... We are here today. And it [the two-tiered system] is unacceptable." [i]

This farewell comment followed Secretary Gates' address about NATO's strategic concept when he expressed concern about what he perceived to be demilitarization by European powers, even in the face of serious 21st-century threats.  His concern was heightened by the collapse of Dutch government in 2010 over the public opposition to military deployments to Afghanistan, which was also reflected in many European countries.[ii] In the U.S., opposition has also grown against the continuing war in Afghanistan, as the public tires of a conflict that seems endless and without discernable progress, and the 2014 date for turnover to the Afghans is widely accepted as the end date of ISAF operations.  The post-Afghanistan role of Germany in NATO is being debated today.

Missions are changing.  NATO needs to develop political and military capabilities to meet new threats. Germany will have a central position in this re-alignment of roles and has entered its third military role change since the end of the Second World War.

Its first role following WWII was the establishment of the German Army during the Korean War and joined NATO in 1955 soon after Stalin's death and the armistice in the Korean War.  The new army met widespread public protests of "Ohne Mich" (Without me) public sentiment..  Opposition to the formation of Bundeswehr, a critical problem for a conscription army, was widespread; protestors disrupted swearing-in ceremonies and domestic terrorists attacked both the German and American military forces, especially during the Vietnam War.  In the end, the argument that every country has an army, either its own or a foreign one was accepted.

Its second mission, at the end of the 1989 democratic revolution and the unification of Germany, the country had two armies, and General Joerg Schoenbohm was charged with forging a single Bundeswehr out of the existing West German Bundeswehr, and what once was the East-German National Volksarmee, while Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President George H.W. Bush negotiated with President Mikhail Gorbachev to allow the united Germany to remain in NATO.

Now in its Third incarnation, NATO and the German Army now must define a new common purpose to meet a challenging international environment: One that meets the U.S. pivot to Asia to deal with the rise of China that has shifted the geopolitical role of the United States; the withdrawal of the U.S. permanently stationed Forces in Europe, and the many 21st century borderless threats.  These changes call for re-thinking the role the Bundeswehr plays in NATO.  I have a few suggestions.

Rethinking the German security debate must include the history of the 20th century wars, which is a history that is not closed.  Recently, ZDF television broadcast a TV series "Unsere Muetter, unsere Vaeter."  (Our mothers, our fathers). That widely seen made-for-TV movie re-opened the questions about the Wehrmacht military's involvement in the Second World War, including a losing war, and what they did or did not do to stop it, and why.  The TV series  reinforced public rejection of war itself.  Peacebuilding has strong political support in Germany, while combat has weak support.  In terms of the military objectives and necessary operations the tension the public has about combat and civil- military operations, and the inseparability of the two, is explained by Chancellor Merkel:  "Without Security, there will be no development; without development, there will be no security".

Consequently, the German concept of Peacebuilding through Vernetzte Sicherheit includes civilian operations and functions described in detail by Friedel Eggelmeyer in the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development's "Magazine for Europe und International Affairs".  Collaboration with non-governmental organizations and the host society are additional critical operational elements of a targeted partnership strategy to achieve civil-military objectives.

German UN Ambassador Dr. Peter Wittig explained the diplomatic priority of the German Government is a sustainable political solution to crises.  He also noted that military engagement abroad is determined by constitutional restrictions – whether the constitution allows for military deployment in question.  This constitutional requirement is usually met by a UN mandate or part of a collective security system; i.e., NATO. The second  requirement is for a parliamentary mandate authorizing specific military action since the Bundeswehr is a "parliamentary army."

America is facing global challenges that call for collaboration with its NATO allies in new ways.  The solidarity shown in Afghanistan is appreciated, but has its bitter side as well that is captured in the ISAF acronym. Some American military forces  say that when it comes to allies, ISAF stands for "I Saw Americans Fighting".  NATO needs interoperability and joint-operations capabilities. Europe needs its own air and sea-lift capabilities to deploy their own forces and many other smart defense projects will help create the needed forces.

Partnerships also need to be strengthened. For example, the Illinois National Guard-Polish Land Forces have had integrated deployments in Afghanistan and have trained together for nearly two decades under NATO's Partnership for Peace program. That embedded U.S. – Polish force structure could be the model U.S. combat and European civil-military/Peacebuilding forces.  Expanding that kind of partnership like the Illinois National Guard with Poland is another idea to achieve deeper US-European collaboration.

Transatlantic Combined combat-civil military Brigades

From the US perspective, what we probably would find most helpful is if Europeans achieved greater inter-operability and enabled joint deployments and operations. U.S. special forces units could train and be deployed into the same areas in where German and Allied soldiers operated to ensure capacity to conduct joint-missions.

One idea that can help inform the debate from the tactical and operational level is to help identify novel approaches to meet and defeat current and future threats to our security is the creation of joint combat-civil military brigades.  An open question remains whether allies are willing and capable to deploy with other allies into combat. Are political leaders willing to use the military for expressly military purposes?  Given the constitutional limits of the parliamentary army of Germany, perhaps temporary co-mingling of military and civilian forces with clear lines of authority would allow success of Peacebuilding with the necessary security provided by combat forces.  Such an option would deal with the national caveats placed on the Bundeswehr by the Bundestag.

A German peacekeeping/Peacebuilding role could be found in another novel concept; namely, international joint U.S.-Allies combat-civil military brigades that could incorporate combat and civilian-military forces in collaboration based on lessons learned from military deployments in Afghanistan.

An avenue to explore would be to have NATO focus on Germany's nonkinetic role in complex operations and consider embedding civil-military capabilities modeled on the Maneuver Enhancement Brigades (MEB) in stabilization operations. Maneuver enhancement brigade-like units could play an important role in achieving some of these objectives.  They could combine the combat role for counterinsurgency and a capacity-building unit integrated in the command structure to coordinate civilian agencies and capabilities.

That idea would need policy level collaboration, called  "Targeted Partnership" is the idea for civil-military collaboration in a double-hatted Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) concept. In the German case in Afghanistan the Foreign Office partnered development agencies with military commander.  Diplomats could be tasked with creating reconstruction and stabilization programs and also with the coordination of NGO programs to strengthen governance in Afghanistan, while the military provides security.

Soldiers who are not familiar or trained to control and monitor civilian projects could partner with experts on projects coming from the German civilian agencies such as the German Foreign Office, the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) or the Association for International Cooperation (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – GIZ). As a German federal enterprise, GIZ supports the German Government in achieving its objectives in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development.

NATO needs these kinds of effective stability and reconstruction capabilities to implement its comprehensive approach.  In its report, "Alliance Reborn: An Atlantic Compact for the 21st century," Daniel Hamilton notes that " Although many of the necessary capabilities – civilian as well as military – exist within the EU, NATO and the Partnership for Peace, they are not organized into deployable assets that can provide cohesive, effective response."  Deploying the Bundeswehr needs to follow Germany's political consensus-building process that determines and decides the international deployments of the Bundeswehr on a case-specific basis, taking constitutional requirements and both historical and current circumstances into account. Such a joint combat-civil military brigade concept could meet German constitutional requirements.

As evidence of achievements in living standards in Afghanistan, the "Magazine for Europe und International Affairs" cites several successes, including an increase in per capita income from $100 to $500, a ten-fold national revenue increase, and reduction in child mortality rate by one third.  The German emphasis is on economic development, water and energy supply, elementary and primary education, and governance.

Finally, the German Foreign Ministry assists with other support Peacebuilding efforts in the health sector, civil aviation, cultural preservation, and in higher education.  German civil-military operations are in the areas of security assistance with the development of the Afghan Army and police forces.  These are capabilities that are underfunded in the U.S. and offer productive areas for Allied cooperation.

The German-American partnership can address these needs if we can collaborate in ways suggested here.  Thank you.

George C. Marshall International Center
Eric M. Warburg Chapters of the American Council on Germany
April 22, 2013