Exclusive Interview with the German Federal Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck

Posted in NATO | 20-May-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

German Federal Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck.
German Federal Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck.
What is your view of the present status of German-American relations at your level ?

German Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck: German-American relations are a partnership based on mutual respect and common values. As far as I am concerned, there is no question about it: in view of the complex challenges to common security in the global context, the European and American democracies will continue to be dependent on one another in future, too.

These relations build on open dialogue at all levels. In a close relationship, disputes can be settled without causing any harm. Particularly in the field of defence, German-American dialogue is excellent and is characterised by close cooperation between our armed forces, frequent visits of high-ranking officers and civil servants from the Ministry of Defense in Washington and regular talks between me and my American colleague. The role of the Bundeswehr in guarding US facilities as well as its role in fighting terrorism in general is highly appreciated on the part of the Americans. Furthermore, we should not forget that there is far more to German-American relations than security policy. Our cultural and economic relations, in particular, link our societies in a manner which is unique in the world.

How many German soldiers are committed in Peace Support Operations ?out-of-area?? Where are this soldiers committed?
Are the German Armed Forces robust enough to sustain this commitment over years without negative consequences?

German Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck: Currently, there are about 6,800 German soldiers committed to Peace Support Operations. An additional 260 are committed to Operation Enduring Freedom, 360 to Operation Active Endeavour. The equipment of the German forces deployed corresponds with the demands of a UN Article VII operation, e.g. armoured vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, ground based surveillance.

With regard to our deployment in Afghanistan, Germany provides the largest number of troops to ISAF - approximately 2,000 soldiers out of approximately 6,500. Our national mandate allows for up to 2,250 soldiers, up to 450 of those are assigned to our PRT in Kunduz. Currently, approximately 1,500 soldiers are stationed in Kabul, 230 in Kunduz; 250 have logistical duties at our air base in Termez.

The German armed forces have proven in all international operations that they are up to the job. The ongoing reform of the Bundeswehr will ensure that in spite of an increasing international engagement the Bundeswehr will continue to perform well. Nevertheless, the actual engagement of the Bundeswehr is certainly a heavy burden to our armed forces. The wide spectrum of international peace support operations makes is imperative to spread the burden evenly among the nations involved.

What is your view of developments in Afghanistan ? How long will NATO forces have to stay there? What are the major obstacles to success?

German soldiers "Out-of-Area".
German soldiers "Out-of-Area".
German Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck:
In the long run, we expect a positive development in Afghanistan. This year?s presidential and parliamentary elections will constitute a milestone in the political and democratic development of this country. The elections will also be the formal end of the Petersberg Process which started in 2001. Nevertheless, in order to sustain and stabilise this process comprehensive assistance of the international community will be necessary for the next few years. The recent Berlin Conference demonstrated the commitment of the international community, which includes assistance in the area of security as well as reconstruction, in an impressive way.

As long as the security situation in the country remains fragile and unstable and the build-up and training of the Afghan security forces has not been completed, substantial international military presence mandated by the UN will be necessary. In Kabul and surroundings ISAF was able to stabilise the security situation in a lasting manner. In order to further stabilisation throughout the country, the decision of NATO to pursue the step-by-step enlargement of ISAF by taking over already existing PRT or establishing new ones has to be pursued. Such an enlargement is also a prerequisite for supporting AFG in the upcoming elections as planned by the Alliance.

Besides ISAF, the ?Operation Enduring Freedom ? (OEF) also constitutes an important security element of the international security presence in Afghanistan, especially in regions where opposing military forces are still active. But I cannot see the necessity, as demanded from time to time, to merge the very different mandates of ISAF and OEF. ISAF should focus its activities on assisting measures in the process of reconstructing the country. The responsibility for the fight against terrorism rests with the national authorities and OEF. Nevertheless, there are no objections to identifying and enhancing synergetic effects of both operations.

The major stumbling block in the development of Afghanistan remains poppy growing and opium production. But I am sceptical with regard to suggestions that NATO should assume a major role in drug enforcement. It is questionable whether the stabilising role of ISAF would be strengthened by such measures. According to the ?ownership principle?, responsibility for law enforcement and anti-drug activities rests with the Afghan security forces. Therefore, our priority task should be to enable these forces to deal with the problem rather than to get ISAF involved in anti-drug activities.

Germany will form another ?Provincial Reconstruction Team? in Afghanistan. What are the prime tasks of these teams ?

German Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck: Germany is considering establishing a PRT in Faizabad, Badakhshan province, along with partners. As in our already existing PRT Kunduz, we will follow a civilian-military approach: the military presence will be complemented by diplomatic and reconstruction elements as well as police training.

The overall goal of our PRTs is enhancing stabilisation efforts and strengthening the authority of the central government throughout the region. To this end we pursue close co-operation and co-ordination with the Afghan Transitional Authority as well as with local political and military authorities. CIMIC elements can be integrated as part of the military mission.

By establishing a second PRT Germany will contribute to the NATO commitment according to the ?Berlin-Declaration? to establish five additional PRTs under ISAF lead by this summer.

After five years of UN and EU activities in Kosovo there have been new attacks against the Serb minority. What went wrong?

Briefing for the Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck, in Kosovo.
Briefing for the Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck, in Kosovo.
German Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck:
Following the disturbances in March NATO reacted swiftly, mobilising the necessary reserve forces and deploying them to Kosovo. With the additional forces and by taking a firm stance, KFOR was able to ease the situation.

However, the violent clashes showed what difficulties this mission of the international community is up against. The incidents mean a political setback for the aim of a multiethnic Kosovo. The violent clashes jeopardise the progress made so far regarding the return of the Serbian Kosovars.

UNMIK and KFOR must therefore continue to take a firm stance in order to keep public order and prevent further violence. At the same time we must avoid the international security presence in Kosovo being increasingly perceived as an occupying power.

In the long run, of course, even the strongest security presence cannot remedy the structural causes of the disturbances: continued deep-seated ethnic hatred and a lack of economic prospects added to mass youth unemployment.

Yet there is no serious alternative to international commitment. Not least in view of the fact that parliamentary elections have to be prepared and held in October 2004 is continued military presence of KFOR indispensable.

What are the preconditions for a commitment of German soldiers in Iraq?

German Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck: There is no question of this at present. Germany has a considerable interest in favourable development of the stabilisation process in Iraq. However, this process needs to be viewed from a considerably wider angle than reducing it to question of possible military contributions. Germany is already making important contributions, for instance in police training. The German position regarding a possible NATO operation remains unchanged: the UN must assume a leading role in the stabilisation process, a possible NATO operation can only be conducted in a multinational context on the basis of a new, sound UNSC mandate under Chapter VII and at the invitation of a democratically legitimated and sovereign Iraqi government.

The German Armed Forces face severe financial problems. There seems to be a mismatch between extended missions and the resources. How are you going to solve that problem?

German Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck: To keep the Bundeswehr up to the job I decided to adjust the structure as well as the equipment of our armed forces even more consistently to its most likely tasks. At the same time the major transformation of the Bundeswehr which is now in progress is to ensure optimum use of the resources available. I would like to emphasise three aspects:

First: By 2010 the Bundeswehr is to be completely restructured. The future force posture will consist of three categories of forces - response forces, stabilisation forces and support forces. The number of personnel will then total 250,000 soldiers and 75,000 civilian employees. The response forces are primarily earmarked for high intensity network centric operations and will total 35,000 servicemen and women. The stabilisation forces comprise 70,000 military personnel and are earmarked for the broad spectrum of peace stabilisation measures in up to five operational areas. Added to these there will be the support forces with 145,000 billets.

German soldiers at a checkpoint in Kosovo.
German soldiers at a checkpoint in Kosovo.
Second: We are adapting the Bundeswehr basing concept, which was hitherto determined by, amongst other things, non-military factors such as the economic situation in the respective region as well as other sociopolitical factors. In future, only military and management aspects will count.

And finally third: We will only invest in priority capabilities. These are, for instance, investments in command, control and communications systems, in capabilities for network centric warfare, in worldwide reconnaissance, in strategic airlift, in armoured transport for use on operations or in personal equipment and armament of soldiers on operations.

What really counts is output and performance during operations. This is the criterion underlying the process of the ongoing transformation of the Bundeswehr.

The conscript system gives the German Armed Forces a specific character and a widely accepted quality. What is the percentage of so-called ?volunteering conscripts? in the Peace Support Operations ? What is the future of the conscript system in Germany ?

German Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck: Those conscripts who - on a voluntary basis - remain in the military for a period of one to 14 months more than their regular duty time of 9 months, have all signed up to participate in operations outside Germany. On an average they stay in our armed forces for 21 months, for 6 months of which they may be deployed. For some time now, these conscripts have accounted for approximately 20 % of German forces deployed.

The conscript system in Germany has a long and successful tradition. It provides for strong bonds between German society and its military as well as for an insurance against possible threats to our country and people, including threats stemming from terrorists. For the foreseeable future I do not see any reason why Germany should abandon this system. Especially since only last year I initiated further restructuring of our forces that will provide for a new mix of forces and capabilities. As a result the Bundeswehr will be oriented much more towards expeditionary requirements without, however, neglecting the specific German situation. Of 250,000 active duty military servicemen and women, only 30,000 will be regular conscripts. In addition to some 195,000 professional personnel, a further approx. 25,000 conscripts who have volunteered to serve extra time will be available for any challenges which may emerge.

Does Germany want to strengthen the so-called ?European pillar? within NATO or is Germany aiming at autonomous European military capabilities?

German Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck: In reality, cooperation between NATO and the EU is successful and, in view of the complex tasks, very important. With the Berlin Plus agreement an acceptable framework was established which has already proved successful in Macedonia, to name a specific example.
The European Security and Defence Policy expresses the will and ability of the EU countries to accept more responsibility for the security situation. Amongst other things, this serves to achieve fairer transatlantic burden-sharing. It is hence not so much a matter of a ?European Pillar? but rather a prudent intermeshing of the activities of NATO and the EU regarding security policy, exploiting the comparative advantages of both organisations and avoiding unnecessary duplications.

What is your view of the emerging ?NATO Response Force??

German Minister of Defence, Dr. Peter Struck: The NRF is a significant and clearly recognisable element of NATO's transformation process. It also acts as a catalyst for transformation of the Bundeswehr. The NRF increases the capability of the Alliance to respond rapidly in a complex security environment. Germany's participation is substantial and we supported the concept right from the start. It is vital that all partners to the Alliance contribute so that we can master the transformation process together without any compatibility problems arising.