From rearrangement to turning point: the Bundeswehr at the end of the shrivelling treatment

Franz-Josef Meiers


Since its foundation, the Bundeswehr - with regard to scale, structure, equipment and training -had been oriented towards the operational requirements of a static-linear defence in the centre of Europe. The end of the East-West-Conflict made the strategic necessity of a contiguous defence in front near the border, to be executed together with the allies, against a visible military threat, obsolete. The breakup of the bipolar order consequently enhanced the geographic and functional spectrum of responsibilities, posing new requirements to the Bundeswehr, but up to then no or only limited precautions had been taken concerning structure, equipment and training. Security precautions in a geographically enhanced environment required providing mobile and flexible task forces which could be moved and deployed over strategic distances out of the NATO area within short notice. The necessity to radically and permanently adapt to the altered geo-strategic situation in the centre of Europe, however, faced the increasing hiatus between the capabilities profile of the Bundeswehr and the altered requirements profile. The requirements of deployment the Bundeswehr was confronted with, concerning numbers, intensity, size and duration, have increased much more rapidly than expected. The Bundeswehr takes part in 16 multinational foreign missions, especially in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Mali, with roughly 3.800 soldiers. Apart from the mandated missions, the Bundeswehr is continuously ligated in obligations equal to missions, such as the NATO Response Force with 4.600 soldiers, the taking over of the lead nation role - together with the Netherlands - for the newly established spearhead (Very High Readiness Joint Task Force), the air surveillance over the Baltic States with German Eurofighters, the deployment of German ships in the four permanent naval formations, and the different multinational missions especially in the Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, in the beginning of July 2016 at the NATO-Summit in Warsaw the Federal Government declared as lead nation to be willing to take part in the EEP Battle Group Lithuania with roughly 1.000 soldiers, together with Norway and Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, for a higher level of presence in advance of the alliance in Central and Eastern Europe. The obligations concerning refugee assistance included, almost 20.000 soldiers were ligated. Finally, not all 178.641 active soldiers (as of October 2017) are actually at disposal for the Bundeswehr - 10.000 to 15.000 soldiers are on vocational promotion duty. The greatest problem of the Bundeswehr of today is “speed” to meet the central requirement of the German security policy established in the White Paper of 2016, as well as “early”, as a source of inspiration to resolutely and substantially install taking over responsibility and leadership in the international political debate. The new Federal Government will be required to develop the necessary conditions for balancing the tasks, personnel and material of the German armed forces as quickly as possible. Everything else would only be the fourth edition of a déjà vu with the well-known result: Waiting for Godot.