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Germany - Military Personnel

Germany suspended compulsory military service in 2011, but still has some volunteers alongside its professional military personnel. According to the 1990 Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany — also known as "Two plus Four" — signed by the two Germanies, as well as the Soviet Union, France, the UK and the US, Berlin was permitted to have up to 370,000 troops. As of 2019 the state had some 170,000 active-duty troops.

The parliamentary armed forces commissioner, Eva Högl, proposed compulsory military service as a way to combat far-right extremist tendencies within the Bundeswehr. Eva Högl, a Social Democrat, said she considered it a "big mistake" that compulsory military service had been suspended in Germany in 2011. It would do the army good if "a large part of society does its service for a while," she told newspapers of the Funke Media Group. "That makes it difficult for far-right extremism to spread among the troops."

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on 23 July 2020 gave details of a new volunteer scheme for the army that will focus on "homeland protection." The scheme, which Kramp-Karrenbauer presented under the motto "Your year for Germany," is to begin in April 2021 and aims to initially recruit up to 1,000 participants. Those in the scheme will receive six months of military training, then serve for several more months over the following six years while undertaking social tasks within Germany. These would be similar to Bundeswehr missions now underway in Germany to help fight the coronavirus pandemic by distributing protective equipment, Kramp-Karrenbauer said. She said the scheme targeted young people who did not want to take part in the Bundeswehr's existing volunteer program because of the possibility of being deployed abroad.

The number of Bundeswehr soldiers is gradually climbing, according to Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. The number of armed forces’ personnel is expected to have reached 182,000 by the end of 2018, which is 2,500 more than in 2017 and exceeds the 2016 low point by 6,500. The minister told the outlet that the number of Bundeswehr soldiers should depend on the security situation and the valid tasks for the troops, although the preliminary staffing plans suggest that the number of soldiers should be 203,000 by 2025. Besides debates around a shortage of personnel, with 21,000 junior officers and NCO (non-commission officer) positions currently unfilled, the state of the German military has been the subject of controversy amid regular complaints of underfunding.

After years of decreasing military spending, the country’s forces reportedly have to deal with a lack of personnel and equipment. The Defence Ministry is seeking a way to rectify this by requesting bigger budgets and enticing more people to serve in the military. Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, representing Angela Merkel’s party Christian Democratic Union, wants to let foreigners, particularly, Poles, Italians and Romanians, join the German military, Der Spiegel reported 27 December 2018, citing an interior ministry concept paper. The paper says that there’s a “quantitative potential" for the Bundeswehr among young nationals of these three countries.

With about 255,000 Poles, 185,000 Italians and 155,000 Romanians, aged between 18 and 40, living in Germany, only 10 percent of them, possibly showing an interest in military service, could ensure 50,000 possible applicants. At the same time, the Bundeswehr's general inspector Eberhard Zorn told the German Funke Mediengruppe that recruiting EU citizens was "one option”, pointing out that this practice could be applied to doctors or IT-specialists. According to the commander, in times of shortages of skilled workers, the military should "look in all directions and take care of the right new generation". While the German military reportedly wants to narrow down the group of potential recruits to EU citizens who have already lived in Germany for several years and speak fluent German, neighbouring countries are said to share fears over losing potential soldiers due to better salaries.

The government is under mounting pressure to boost military spending to address the woeful state of Germany’s armed forces, with just a third of its new hardware operational and over 20,000 officer vacancies unfilled. Plagued by a lack of manpower, and with recruitment campaigns failing, some politicians have suggested adopting a conscription system to quickly address the issue, though there is significant opposition to the proposal.

Germany is to expand Bundeswehr to almost 200,000 troops. Germany's Defense Ministry announced in February 2017 it would increase the number of professional soldiers by around 10 percent. "The Bundeswehr is under demand like never before," Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (a Christian Democrat) said on 21 February 2017, as she announced plans to increase the number of Germany's professional soldiers from 178,000 to 198,000 by the year 2024. "In light of these increasing responsibilities, the Bundeswehr must be allowed to grow accordingly." As part of its enlargement plans, the Bundeswehr will also expand its non-combat civilian employees to over 61,000 in response to the growing threat of cyber and hacking attacks.

The German armed forces had conscription service for male citizens until 2011. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, then-defense minister, championed the abolition of compulsory service, calling it obsolete in an age of professional, well-trained military. However, Germany's Basic Law still contains provisions that could potentially see conscription being reintroduced. At the time, a recruit would go through three months of basic training and would normally reach the rank of Obergefreiter (similar to US Army's Private First Class). A German conscript was given free healthcare, housing, and food, and was provided with free tickets for travel between his home and the military base. Conscripts could not be deployed for active service in hotspots unless they consented to such a deployment. German contributions to forces such as ISAF in Afghanistan or KFOR in Kosovo were exclusively made up of professional soldiers and volunteers.

Troop shortages had become so pronounced in the Bundeswehr that military leaders said they were considering "available options" to fill their ranks, including attracting nationals of other EU countries by offering the prospect of obtaining German citizenship. However, skeptical politicians doubted if compulsory service would be sufficient to address the needs of the modern military.

Seven years after abolishing conscription, in 2018 Angela Merkel's party floated the idea of bringing back mandatory military service. The proposal, which didn't sit well with everyone in Germany, has stirred a nationwide debate.

The discussion unfolded after Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, secretary general of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic (CDU) Party surprisingly proposed the reintroduction of national service. "I can promise now – we will discuss the issue of conscription very intensively again," she told Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has been tipped as Merkel's heir apparent, added that she was not necessarily in favor of compulsory military conscription. "There are many ways to serve," she said.

Another top CDU official, Michael Kretschmer, who is the prime minister of Saxony, called for a referendum on bringing back conscription. "Suspension of conscription has been perceived premature. At the end of a thorough discussion, citizens should be asked [about the issue]".

Hans-Peter Bartels, head of the parliamentary defense committee, whose Social Democratic Party is the CDU's junior partner in the grand coalition, argued that mandatory service would clash with Germany's ban on forced labor. "I think it is very unlikely to assign 700,000 young men and women every year to various mandatory assignments, as attractive as this idea may sound," he said, as cited by Deutsche Welle. The pro-business Free Democrats dismissed the proposal as "absurd" and cautioned about the "horrendous waste of money" should conscription be brought back. Other opposition parties in the parliament; the Left and the Green Party, also oppose the idea. "Old-fashioned universal conscription is not going to help us with our current security challenges," said Henning Otte, a leading CDU MP.

By 2015 the Bundeswehr employed 179,000 soldiers of the 185,000 troop positions, of whom some 3,000 were deployed overseas, the lowest number since the 1990s. A reform of the Bundeswehr in 2010 saw conscription abolished and the size of the army reduced from 250,000 soldiers. The military also had about 56,000 civilian positions.

German media research network RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) reported 12 March 2016 that the defense ministry, headed by Ursula von der Leyen, wanted to expand the country's Bundeswehr (armed forces) by thousands of soldiers and civilian staff. The RND is a network which conducts research for more than 30 German daily newspapers. The reports outlined an initial planned increase of 7,000 troops and 3000 civilian positions. In a second step, 15,000 additional personnel were planned.

On 17 May 2016, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen publicly abolished the upper limit of 185,000 soldiers introduced in 2011. The number of soldiers in the German army is expected to increase by about 14,300 servicemen and 4,400 thousand employees until 2023.

In December 2015 the German Bundeswehrverband (Armed Forces Association) said numbers had been reduced too far to cope with current crises. "At present, we need at least 5,000 to 10,000 more soldiers," the director of the association, André Wüstner, told the newspaper Passauer Neue Presse 06 December 2015. He said this was made necessary not only because of Bundeswehr missions in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali, but also because of new laws on working hours that will "rightly no longer allow health-endangering round-the-clock shifts during normal operations."

"During the reform in 2011, no one had in mind the Ukraine crisis or the fight against 'Islamic State,'' he said. He pointed out that the government had not been able to predict that in 2016 more than 20,000 soldiers would be involved in military missions or obligations including helping refugees. "Now the Afghanistan mission is being extended as well, and we will soon have a stronger presence in northern Iraq and Mali," Wüstner said.

The Bundeswehrverband is an independent association that represents the interests of current and former members of the German armed forces and their families, as well as those of civilian employees of the Bundeswehr.

The reorientation of the Bundeswehr called for a restructuring of personnel to create mission-oriented all-volunteer armed forces and, at the same time, to achieve a reduction in strength. The Personnel Structure Model 185 implements the reorientation objectives for the body of military personnel. With the downsizing of the armed forces to 185,000 soldiers, responsibilities would be concentrated at all levels, decision-making processes pooled and the Service Office levels streamlined to provide personnel and materiel flexibility for the reorientation.

Target/Actual Comparison
PSM 2010

Strength as
at 31 May 2012

Target PSM 185Actual/target difference +/-
Senior NCOs73,07668,26960,992-7,277-11.9%
Junior NCOs45,50037,79930,778-7,021-22.8%
OR temporary-career volunteers38,42439,17242,3263,1547.5%
Military service volunteers25,00017,20812,500-4,708-37.7%
Positions for reservists2,5002,5002,50000.0%

As of 2010 the German armed forces [Bundeswehr] had 252,000 troops, including around 60,000 conscripts. Germany was one of the last European countries with a draft. Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg [one of Germany's most popular politicians] suggested that national conscription might have to be suspended. Mr zu Guttenberg was also considering big cuts in defence procurement to go hand in hand with a possible reduction in the size of the German army from 190,000 to about 150,000 professional soldiers. Under his plan, conscription would be suspended in 2011. He was to present a feasibility study in September 2010 showing what effects a reduction in the size of the Bundeswehr would have on the country's commitments within NATO.

On 12 April 2010, Federal Minister of Defence Dr. Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg set up the structural commission agreed on by Germany's coalition government. On 23 August 2010 zu Guttenberg presented lawmakers with five potential models to reorganize the German military, which might entail reducing the number of soldiers by almost a third, from 250,000 to as few as 170,000. Guttenberg wanted to have 7,500 volunteers and 156,000 professional soldiers, making a total of 163,500 soldiers. The final details would be worked out over the following few months. By the end of 2010 the commission was to submit proposals for streamlining the Bundeswehr's command structures and administrative structures.

Elke Hoff, a lawmaker for the Free Democratic Party that serves in Merkel's coalition, said she supported Guttenberg's plans. The pro-business Free Democrats, the junior partner in Mrs. Merkel's center-right coalition, wanted to abolish the draft altogether as one of the conditions for joining her government last October. In the end, they agreed to reduce the period of service to six months from nine months.

German Defense Minister zu Guttenberg's plans to suspend the military draft as part of an overhaul that aims to shrink the size of the military may face resistance from Chancellor Angela Merkel's bloc. On 23 August 2010 zu Guttenberg said he favored a package that would convert the army to a volunteer service. Ernst-Reinhard Beck, the parliamentary defense spokesman for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said he wanted to preserve conscription in its current form. Beck, a member of the German Parliament's Defense Committee, said troop strength shouldn't be cut much below 200,000 soldiers. Members of Guttenberg's own Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's CDU, also expressed skepticism about suspending the draft.

The Bundeswehr's former chief of staff, General Harald Kujat, and zu Guttenberg's predecessor as defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, were both sharply critical. Former defense minister Franz Josef Jung condemned the number of soliders that would remain as "nothing like enough," and was strongly critical of plans to suspend conscription. Retired General Klaus Naumann, the former chief of staff of the German armed forces, said 08/24/2010 "I am a convinced supporter of conscription because in my country it is the only duty that is demanded of young people that makes possible a whole life in freedom and, in the final analysis, in peace. But following the coalition's decision to reduce the length of basic military service to six months, I have my doubts about whether it still make sense from a military point of view. I no longer see any military point in it. And I am also extremely doubtful about whether it provides any advantage to the armed forces and whether the financial costs justify the benefits in any meaningful way."

In June 2010, lawmakers cut the time recruits must serve from nine months to six months. In 2009, a total of 417,300 potential conscripts took medical examinations, but the Army only accepted 63,413 of them.

In 2007 Germany's military consisted of 245,702 active-duty personnel and 161,812 reserves. These two totals are 38,800 and 197,000 lower, respectively, than several years ago. The reductions in force reflect the realities of the post-Cold War era, as Germany's military moves away from territorial defense toward readiness to participate in multilateral operations under the aegis of the UN, NATO, European Union, and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The active-duty troops, who normally serve for nine months, are assigned to the various services as follows: army (160,794), navy (24,328), and air force (60,580). The reserves, including enlisted personnel up to age 45 and commissioned and noncommissioned officers up to age 60, are assigned as follows: army (144,548), navy (3,304), and air force (13,960).

In 2005 the Defense Ministry set itself the goal of being able to draw on 14,000 soldiers from a pool of 70,000 well-trained troops. Foreign deployments are already possible, though only professional soldiers or conscripts who have voluntarily signed up for a longer period and therefore have received the corresponding training, are deployed.

More than 8 million young men have performed military service in the Bundeswehr for the good of their country and have thus made a personal contribution to the protection of Germany against external threats, to the safeguarding of peace and freedom and, ultimately, to German unity. Through conscription the Bundeswehr remains in close contact with every segment of the population, particularly the younger generation. Especially in the new Laender, conscription is instrumental in anchoring the Bundeswehr in people's minds. It promotes the exchange of young people from the eastern and western Laender. The Bundeswehr thus also contributes to Germany's internal unity.

The changed security situation made it possible to shorten basic military service. As of 1 January 2002 the duration of basic military service has been cut from 10 to 9 months. The option of volunteering to stay on for as long as 23 months is still available. The two-month standby readiness for conscripts who have completed their compulsory military service as well as the call-up of conscripts with physical fitness level "T7" have been abandoned.

Whereas basic military service hitherto had to be completed en bloc, the new regulation permits the term of military service to be split into sections. In an initial uninterrupted six-month period, basic military knowledge and skills are imparted. The remaining three-month term of service can be rendered in two six-week periods, respectively. All portions of basic military service must be accomplished within a period of three years. Personnel are still only called up once for compulsory military service. This reorganisation measure is intended to permit the personal and occupational interests of conscripts to be taken into account to a greater extent.

When the Federal Republic was founded in 1949, and during the ensuing years, public discussion of the re-creation of a German armed force was unavoidably shaped by the memories of wartime disaster and the terrible legacy of German militarism. For many Germans, even the thought of rearming the country was distasteful. Those citizens favoring the formation of new armed forces were convinced that these forces would have to represent a near-complete break with German military history. The consensus was that the military would require a constitutional basis for its existence, with the Bundeswehr unequivocally controlled by civilian authorities.

The planners of the new Bundeswehr wanted to be sure that no images of the armed forces (Reichswehr) of the Weimar Republic or Hitler's Wehrmacht would be associated with it. The twin concepts of "citizens in uniform" and Innere Führung (inner leadership) were introduced to ensure that there could be no resurgence of German militarism. Behind the emphasis on citizens in uniform was the concept that military personnel were of the people and worked for the people, not part of a military elite that would precipitate a "state within a state" phenomenon. In the new Bundeswehr, the constitutional rights of service members are guaranteed, even though those rights might be restricted at times because of the special nature of military duties.

Military personnel do not give up their political status as citizens when they don a uniform. They continue to be members of the community from which they entered the service, as well as of the West German political community as a whole. They can run for office on local councils and for seats in the parliaments of the Länder and the Bundestag. Regulars and volunteers are permitted to join a military or civil service union and have the right of free expression, although by law they have the obligation to exercise discipline and restraint in expressing their views publicly.

The concept of Innere Führung imposes the responsibility upon all military personnel to defend their country according to the dictates of conscience rather than out of blind loyalty. For the NCOs, officers, and generals who formed the nucleus of the new forces in 1956, most of whom were veterans of the Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe of World War II, adherence to the new principles meant unlearning principles that had guided them in their earlier service. Officers and NCOs received training to help them respect and impart the principles of Innere Führung, including the role of the Bundeswehr in the state and society and the duties and rights of individual service personnel.

The West German military and the political leadership had difficulty agreeing on the measures needed to forge a new democratic spirit that would break with Germany's military past. Specific issues continued to be debated during the 1980s--whether some traditions could properly be carried over from the Wehrmacht, the place of military pageantry, public oath-taking by new soldiers, and attitudes toward the Wehrmacht's complicity in the crimes of the Nazi period and toward the officers implicated in the 1944 attempt on Hitler's life.

A strong antimilitarist element within the left wing of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands--SPD) repeatedly protested against military symbolism and public military ceremonies. In a wider sense, these protests reflected the reluctance among young people to devote time to military service and objections to a NATO strategy of defending Europe by using nuclear weapons in the heart of Germany.

An innovation to help ensure civilian oversight of the Bundeswehr was the establishment of the defense ombudsman (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Federal Armed Forces), who is appointed by the Bundestag. The ombudsman is responsible for overseeing the administration of the services while upholding the constitutional rights of individual service personnel. All Bundeswehr personnel have the right of direct petition to the ombudsman; several thousand exercise this right each year. The ombudsman and staff can also be called upon by the Bundestag or the Bundestag Defense Committee to investigate specific problems.

Serious shortages of eligible conscripts began to appear in the late 1980s. Because of the declining birth rate in the 1970s and the increasing number of conscientious objectors, the Bundeswehr struggled to meet its recruiting goals. However, the reduction of the Bundeswehr's active-duty soldiers to 370,000 by the end of 1994, as required by the 1990 Two-Plus-Four Treaty and CFE Treaty, meant that the annual requirement for conscripts could be decreased from 180,000 to 140,000. Also, the incorporation of East Germany into the Federal Republic added significantly to the pool of potential inductees. About 50,000 personnel in 1994 were career soldiers transferred from the NVA or draftees from the new Länder.

The Bundeswehr has been handicapped by a shortage of NCOs, a problem that is expected to become more critical as the army increases its dependence on career cadres to staff reserve battalions subject to mobilization. A soldier must meet high entry qualifications, undergo extensive training, and complete years of service before reaching the rank of sergeant, which entitles him to make the military a career and remain in the service until retirement. Reliance on experienced NCOs is a distinctive feature of the Bundeswehr, where the ratio of officers to enlisted personnel is the lowest in Europe. An infantry company may have a captain and one lieutenant, but most platoon leaders and the company executive officer are usually master sergeants. However, NCOs of the former NVA are generally confined to specialist categories, without experience or training as unit leaders.

Under the Obligatory Military Service Law enacted in 1956, all males between the ages of eighteen and twenty-eight were subject to conscription for military service. In 1985 the period of active duty was increased from fifteen to eighteen months, but before the new provision was introduced, the term of service was reduced to twelve months, effective in 1990. Beginning in 1996, conscripts will be required to serve ten months. The Basic Law guarantees the right to refuse military service on grounds of conscience.

During the 1970s, about 35,000 young men applied for conscientious objector status annually. Under liberalized rules and the decline of the overt threat from the east, the number who claimed the right to alternative civilian service in 1992 (134,000) was about as high as the number of draftees needed by the Bundeswehr. Alternative service, which is one-third longer than military service, usually takes the form of such social service as serving as a hospital orderly. In fact, one of the obstacles to shifting to an all-volunteer force is the effect it would have on the health and social agencies that have come to depend upon conscientious objectors to perform essential work.

Under Bundeswehr policy, all soldiers begin their careers as conscripts. Those performing satisfactorily may be induced--in part through considerable financial incentives--to volunteer for a short-term enlistment of two years, or as temporary career personnel for four years. Those attaining NCO rank during their four-year enlistment period may then be permitted to serve up to fifteen years or longer if accepted as career professionals. The army has been able to recruit about 10 percent of its conscripts for extended service.

The maximum retirement age of career sergeants is fifty-three. The mandatory retirement age rises, depending on rank, to fifty-nine for colonels and sixty for generals and medical officers. Special rules may apply to particular specialties.

Two branches of the Bundeswehr, the medical and health service and military music, accept women as volunteers. As of the mid-1990s, about 900 women were in uniform. No significant expansion of the role of women is foreseen, particularly in light of the overall contraction of the services. The Basic Law states: "Women shall not be required by law to render service in any unit of the armed forces. On no account shall they be employed in any service involving the use of arms." Of more than 50,000 women occupying civilian positions in national defense, only a few serve in higher civil service posts, although officially women enjoy the same career opportunities available to men.

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Page last modified: 12-08-2020 15:07:37 ZULU