Germany's lack of military readiness 'dramatic,' says Bundeswehr commissioner

The German parliament's military commissioner has published a report sharply critical of Germany's combat-readiness. The problem comes amid the country's increasing involvement in military missions abroad.

Germany's military has deteriorated in recent years amid budget cuts and poor management, according to a report published on Tuesday by Parliamentary Armed Forces Commissioner Hans-Peter Bartels.

The call on politicians to double-down on reforms and increase funding came in the same week a Defense Ministry paper revealed German soldiers did not have enough protective vests, winter clothing or tents to adequately take part in a major NATO mission.

Read more: Germany's Bundeswehr 'lacks basic equipment' for NATO mission

Germany's NATO missions

Germany's role in NATO

West Germany officially joined the trans-Atlantic alliance in 1955. However, it wasn't until after reunification in 1990 that the German government considered "out of area" missions led by NATO. From peacekeeping to deterrence, Germany's Bundeswehr has since been deployed in several countries across the globe in defense of its allies.

Germany's NATO missions

Bosnia: Germany's first NATO mission

In 1995, Germany participated in its first "out of area" NATO mission as part of a UN-mandated peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the deployment, German soldiers joined other NATO member forces to provide security in the wake of the Bosnian War. The peacekeeping mission included more than 60,000 troops from NATO's member states and partners.

Germany's NATO missions

Keeping the peace in Kosovo

Since the beginning of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, some 8,500 German soldiers have been deployed in the young country. In 1999, NATO launched an air assault against Serbian forces accused of carrying out a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists and their civilian supporters. Approximately 550 Bundeswehr troops are still stationed in Kosovo.

Germany's NATO missions

Patrolling the Aegean Sea

In 2016, Germany deployed its combat support ship "Bonn" to lead a NATO mission backed by the EU in the Aegean Sea. The mission included conducting "reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings" in Greek and Turkish territorial waters at the height of the migration crisis. Germany, Greece and Turkey had requested assistance from the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Germany's NATO missions

More than a decade in Afghanistan

In 2003, Germany's parliament voted to send Bundeswehr troops to Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Germany became the third-largest contributor of troops and led the Regional Command North. More than 50 German troops were killed during the mission. Nearly a thousand soldiers are still deployed in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support.

Germany's NATO missions

German tanks in Lithuania

Forming part of NATO's "enhanced forward presence" in the Baltic states, 450 Bundeswehr soldiers have been deployed to Lithuania so far in 2017. The battalion-size battlegroups there are led by Germany, Canada, the UK and US to reinforce collective defense on the alliance's eastern flank. It forms the "biggest reinforcement of Alliance collective defence in a generation," according to NATO.

Germany's NATO missions

Taking over the leadership

The Bundeswehr is due to take over leadership of NATO's multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the start of 2019. The rapid reaction force has been set up to counter potential Russian aggression on the alliance's eastern flank.

What's wrong with the Bundeswehr?

  • Bartels pointed to "big gaps" in personnel and equipment. At the end of 2017, no submarines and none of the air force's 14 large transport planes were available for deployment due to repairs.
  • Other equipment, including fighter jets, tanks and ships, was outdated and in some cases not fully operational because of bad planning or a lack of spare parts. Some air force pilots were unable to train because too many aircraft were being repaired.
  • Soldiers have experienced increasing levels of stress and there was a lack adequate leadership due to some 21,000 vacant officer posts.
  • The report said the government needed to pursue reforms "with greater urgency" and increase defense spending.
  • A lack of funding and inefficient management structures and planning were behind the problems. Germany has cut defense spending since the end of the Cold War. In 2017, it spent about 1.2 percent of its economic production in 2017 on the armed forces, which is below the 2 percent target recommended by the NATO alliance.

Read more: German military short on tanks for NATO mission

Bartels handed over a copy of the report to the Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble

Bundeswehr Chief of Staff reacts: Volker Wieker defended the military, saying "no complaints have come to my ear either in Germany or from our allies." He did however admit that combat-readiness needed to be improve.

Bad timing: Bartels, a member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), said the meager state of the military was particularly bad because Germany has committed more troops to NATO and missions in Mali and Iraq. "Tasks for which there are supposed to be additional people and equipment in future are already upon us", he said.

Read more:  German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen at a crossroads

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DW News | 19.12.2017

Von der Leyen calls for long-term commitment in Afghanistan

Germany's spending promise: Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the SPD have committed to improving the Bundeswehr's equipment and increasing defense spending to meet NATO targets in their coalition deal. SPD rank-and-file are currently voting on whether to accept the agreement and form a new government.

Read more: German defense minister envisions expanded Bundeswehr role in Iraq

Two-percent-goal controversial: On Monday, the parliamentary leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Alexander Dobrindt, said it would be a "mistake" if Germany failed to meet NATO's two-percent-goal by 2024. Acting SPD leader Andrea Nahles later said the coalition agreement only referred to a "target range" for defense spending, "but did not explicitly name the two-percent-goal."

Read more: 'No more missions for Germany's navy,' warns armed forces ombudsman

Allies expect more: Some of Germany's NATO allies have repeatedly criticized alliance members who fail to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense. US President Donald Trump raised the criticism at a NATO summit in 2017 and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said those countries that do not meet the NATO target threaten the alliance's "unity."

amp/rt (AFP, dpa, epd, Reuters)

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