German Armed Forces in transition

Posted in Europe | 26-Mar-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

General Wolfgang Schneiderhan is Chief of Joint Staff German Bundeswehr: "We are ready for new missions!"
Reform is no longer the correct description of the period which the German Armed Forces have already started – it is transition.

The success story of the “Bundeswehr” is a story of reforms.

I can not remember how many reforms I have seen in my 39 years of active duty. We never were able to finalise the implementation of a single reform. They were all overtaken by new reforms. All these reforms were implemented in the same framework of the given structure – i.e. in the airforce, navy and army. There seemed to be no need for fundamental changes because the mission of the armed forces did not change – at least not until the end of the cold war.

After the end of the Cold War, a number of new reforms were implemented, including the integration of officers and NCOs from the former East German Armed Forces. From the very beginning of this modified German Armed Forces there was a gap between the mission and the resources available – irrespective of which political parties were in charge of the government. The defence budget in Germany was never dictated by strategic and operational demands. It was always the monetary side which determined the availability of resources.
But this dilemma acquired a new dimension by the “peace dividend” that followed the end of the Cold War. The German defence budget has been cut by half in the last 15 years – as were the German Armed Forces. But at the same time the new missions of NATO and its member states in the field of crisis management continued to expand.

The German Armed Forces lost any balance between capacities for collective defence and crisis management on one side and the resources for investments, logistics, personnel and training. The Minister of Defence and the Joint Chief of Staff are in a situation in which “circling the square” is quite an easy task. With about 24 billion Euros fixed for the years to come they are forced to make tough and unpopular decisions.

I had the privilege to interview General Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Joint Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces, exclusively for

General Wolfgang Schneiderhan, 58, came to his present position after having performed in many different posts. As a troop commander, he advanced from a leader of tank squadron to Division Commander. In between, he served at the – “joint”- Command and Staff College and in the MOD. In his previous influential position as Chief Policy and Advisory Staff of the Minister of Defence he became well prepared for his present job regarding the interface between the political and the military worlds.

We covered all important aspects of the present and future situation - the necessity of crisis and conflict prevention, collective defence, capability gaps, network based operations, the three categories of the future forces, role specialisation and burden sharing.

For our non-German readers I want to pick up a special German issue: our conscript system.

I want to support what General Schneiderhan said about this topic. Many domestic and foreign experts are very loud and clear: the conscript system is outdated. That might be true in other countries. Nobody should forget that the German Armed Forces re-launched this system about 50 years ago. Over the decades there emerged a special character and quality of the mixture between volunteering and conscript soldiers. Many of the admirals and generals we see today started as conscripts. Up to 50 percent of the conscripts volunteer to stay longer in the armed forces – especially looking at commitments in the Balkans and Afghanistan or elsewhere. They are young, ambitious, qualified and knowledgeable. They are excellent ambassadors of Germany in all trouble spots. They continuously fill the reservoir of reserve soldiers. Whatever the size and structure of the future German Forces, the decisive factor for their character and quality are the conscripts. It’s a question of political will whether to keep the system or give it up.

Worldsecuritynetwork therefore asks the German politicians: Give the German Armed Forces sufficient resources to take a sufficient number of conscripts into the service, guarantee a good training to regain young citizens who have the experience of serving their country and know that duties are part of their life!