Germany to double peacekeeping troops

Posted in NATO | 25-Apr-06 | Author: Judy Dempsey| Source: International Herald Tribune

German defence minister Franz Josef Jung meeting German ISAF soldiers in Kabul.
BERLIN As Germany seeks to play a greater role on the world stage, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said in an interview that Berlin would soon double, to 15,000, the number of troops trained for peacekeeping and other missions despite tough restrictions on the ministry's budget.

The sharp rise in the number of soldiers Germany will make available to NATO's special Response Force and to the European Union's Rapid Reaction Force reflects changes that have taken place since the early 1990s, when the German government was reluctant even to send troops to peacekeeping missions in the former Yugoslavia.

But with more than 7,500 German troops already in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, Jung said the government was prepared to play a greater role.

"We have developed a concept for the military with a vision based on our international responsibilities," he said.

"From July 1, 2006, we must have 6,600 soldiers ready for the NATO Response Force," said Jung, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union party appointed minister in November. "From January 1, 2007, another 1,300 soldiers have to be ready for the EU's battle groups which must be deployed within five days. Altogether, that is over 15,000 soldiers."

The NATO Response Force, which will have 25,000 troops at its disposal and be fully operational by next year, was established three years ago to make the U.S.-led military alliance more flexible and capable of reacting quickly to conflicts. But NATO is hampered by low defense spending by many of the 26 member states and the shortage of essential military equipment like heavy air transport carriers.

Jung acknowledged that the number of troops Germany will need for both missions will be much higher than 15,000 because German soldiers serve four months abroad at a stretch.

"Our plan is to have 35,000 highly trained soldiers for missions," he said. "Furthermore, there will be 70,000 soldiers trained for providing stability for long-term peacekeeping missions and 145,000 support troops."

Jung said Germany's defense budget this year will amount to €24 billion, or $29.6 billion, which constitutes 1.4 percent of gross domestic product, compared with France's 2.4 percent and Britain's 2.6 percent. It was unlikely to increase because of the government's decision to introduce spending cuts of €35 billion in next year's budget.

"In the near future, if the German economy is better, then more will be available," he said.

When Jung visited Washington shortly after his appointment last year, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chided Germany for its small defense budget.

"Of course Don Rumsfeld spoke about his wish" for greater spending, said Jung. "But I could demonstrate how we were meeting out international obligations. We are the biggest provider of troops in the Balkans, in Afghanistan and we are involved in" the U.S. fight against terrorism. Jung added that Germany's armed forces had come a long way since the 1990s.

Back then, Germany was slow to make the transition from a conventional, territorial defense army to a modern army more flexible and agile, and capable of carrying out high-intensity combat missions.

The first part of the 1990s was spent trying to integrate the two armed forces of West and East Germany. The 175,000- strong army from the former East Germany swelled the armed forces of the reunited Germany to over 675,000 troops.

"In the last 12 years, the defense budget has been reduced by a third," said Jung.

In 2004, Germany announced further cuts, closing 105 military bases, selling land and reducing the number of brigades from 22 to 12.

As the modernization of the armed forces sped up over the past five years, Germany also went through a fundamental reassessment of the role of its military. This was led by the Green foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, who challenged his own party's pacifist tradition.

He argued that Germany could no longer use World War II and its Nazi past as an excuse for remaining passive when confronted with conflicts like ethnic and civil war, which were ravaging the Balkans in the 1990s.

Germany had a political and moral responsibility as a large and democratic country to provide security and stability inside and outside Europe, Fischer said.

In 1999, Germany supported and participated in the NATO-led bombing of Serbia. Since then, both NATO and the EU have been making increasing demands on their members.

Jung said it was not a choice between opting for one organization or the other. "Both have different functions," he said. "We have to use both and have the closest cooperation as possible."