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Germany Announces Plan to Restructure Military

August 27, 2010

On Monday, the German Defense Minister announced that he wanted to restructure the German army and end conscription.  The planned result would be that the Bundeswehr would shrink from 250,000 soldiers to 163,000.  This reduction would free up money that could then be used to produce a more highly trained and mobile professional force.  For instance, Bundeswehr can only deploy up to about 7,000 troops in five missions at any given time.  In comparison, the German Army is about the size of the British Army, yet there are currently more than 9,000 British troops in Afghanistan alone.

Part of the reason for this low deployment capacity is historic.  After the Second World War, the Bundeswehr was designed to fight a Soviet invasion and it has not undergone a major reform to change this structure.  The German Army was structured on heavy armored units that could be rapidly mobilized but would not have to be transported very far, as the Soviet tanks would be charging into West Germany.  In contrast, the U.S. Army was designed to be much more deployable, since it was expected to fight anywhere in the world.  Similarly, the British Army is based on its imperial past, meaning that it was also expected to be highly mobile.

This Cold War heritage is only one of the weaknesses of European militaries.  The 27 member states of the EU actually have more soldiers than the U.S. Army, but the U.S. has a very important advantage of economies of scale.  While there is one American general staff, the EU has 27.  Similarly, the U.S. has only main battle tank, but the Germans, French, and British each have their own main battle tanks.  This problem only gets worse with smaller military equipment.  This means that the U.S. Army can buy “more bang for the buck” since there is a lot less replication.  As a result, not only is the U.S. the largest defense spender in the world, but it is also much more efficient in its spending than the EU armies.  Thus, the U.S. can do a lot more with its $620.5 billion defense budget (2008) than the total of $260.4 billion in defense spending in the EU in 2008.

The EU is attempting to fix this problem through the European Defense Agency (EDA).  The EDA tries to coordinate military procurement.  When two EU member states’ armies decide to buy a new piece of equipment, the EDA will coordinate these purchases.  This should place the armies in a better position to buy the equipment more cheaply, as the order will be the two countries’ orders combined, driving down prices.  For example, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK are working together to build the Airbus A400M, which would provide these countries with ability to transport troops by air far beyond their borders.

Thus, in the case of Germany, fewer troops could indeed mean more, since the Bundeswehr’s role has moved from defending Germany from a large armored invasion towards more peacekeeper operations far from German soil.

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