A Sight on European Defence

As I already mentioned in my previous post, German Defence Forces, the Bundeswehr, has been created based on democratic principles, of which the conscription, the innere Führung and the home defence. The best way to secure the fundaments of this system was a strict control by the parliament, as mentioned in the constitution, the “Grundgesetz” and confirmed by the constitutional court in 1994.

During the Cold war, the Bundeswehr has built its reputation on the outstanding tactical level, exhaustive training and the quality of its equipment. By the way, the officers who created this new army were all former members of the Wehrmacht, therefore quite skilled. But that is not today’s issue.

Germany being at the border of Warsaw Pact and therefore on the front line against Soviet armoured divisions, this country needed to solve a complex equation, consisting in getting a large number of soldiers while avoiding any risk of creating an ideological army.

Logically Germany chose the model of a conscription army for which they developed the concept of citizen in uniform. From the mid 50s until the mid 90s, this model has shown particularly valuable, as the only perspective of German soldiers was to defend the fatherland and democracy against the Soviets. During the same 40 years, British and French Army had been committed in several operations, or even wars, like in Suez, the decolonization, the Falklands, Africa, Lebanon, Cyprus, etc. Those conflicts maintained in France and the UK an expeditionary know how, within the ministry of Defence and of course at the head of state level, while Germany was looking at the Iron Curtain.

In order to make sure that this powerful army could not be diverted from its role of bulwark of democracy, the fathers of Bundeswehr established several firewalls, one of them being the parliamentary control described in my previous post, the second one being the Innere Führung.

Currently the conscription is no more needed to defend the German borders. As well the conscripts cannot be committed in operations abroad if they do not volunteer for it. In the 91, just after the reunification 211.000 young men were called to duty. Now, out of an 80 million people nation, only 68.000 are called for duration of 6 months.

One can see very easily that the current organization of conscription involves every year a small minority of Germans and is not able to give them a meaning to their duty: their only role is to support the professional army that nobody wants to declare publically as the real working body of Bundeswehr.

In fact the real meaning of German official conscription army is no more a military one. Its only role is a political one: to show to the German people that their army remain the army of citizens in uniform of the 50s, when Germany was setting up a democratic system. This obsession of democracy is not to underestimate and that is why some of the projects for the new Bundeswehr still desperately include a conscription army with 20.000 conscripts. Just to keep the symbol alive.

Such a decision, if more feasible to the eyes and understanding of the German citizens, who are profoundly pacifists, would blur, internally as well as externally the image of Bundeswehr.

The citizens would have the impression that their beloved and traditional Bundeswehr is still alive, although it has really turned into a professional army,

The defence organization being still built around conscription, the different laws and regulations would not be adapted to fit with a more flexible and responsive army,

The partners of Germany would not accept jeopardize their responsiveness capacities by mutualising some assets with a country presenting shy and legally constrained defence forces because of conscription.

Consequently, the German equation to reform Bundeswehr is really complicated and quite not easy to solve.

Author :


  1. Well said. But I think that the new global role of Germany has to be considered, when thinking about traditions. As far as I know, the call of duty or “Wehrpflicht” is a remaining of the second World War. Germany was no longer allowed to obtain a professional army, at least not in high numbers.
    But these times have changed, the last generation of “Bundeswehr” soldiers, meant for those traditional purposes ended in the nineties. New role, new rules. A stretch between the future and the past.
    But I think it would be better for Germany keeping things like that, a bigger army would have bigger expenses. More soldiers, more “missions”, with that psychological breakdowns would only increase. I think the military engagement of Germany (in Germanys interests!) is quite big enough. The only thing the world thin about is “terror” and I don´t wish german soldiers to expiriencing a conflict in (let´s say) Iran. The previous golfwars the U.S.A. had and all the illnesess on their soldiers are enough.
    My suggestion, accept the new role, but keep the head down. This world is breaking constantly, so or so… 🙂

  2. Thanks for your comment. The Wehrpflicht is effectively a remnant of WW2. However, the funny thing is that Wehrmacht was a complete conscription army, created on the the basis of the Reichswehr, of only 100.000 man. THe Reichswehr had been conceived to be beefed up very easily when needed thanks the high training level of its members.
    Regarding the missions of the different European Armed forces, we can see that only a very few percentage is overstretched, the other ones having a very comfortable life.
    Anyway as our defence forces are always more interwoven, for sure the conditions of their commitment will have to be discussed at political level, so that they harmonize their ways of operating. Anyway I trust our political leaders, as they perfectly know the level of acceptance by the population of operations.

  3. Ich finde es schadet gar nichts, die Wehrpflicht abzuschaffen. Die Jungs, die nach Afghanistan gehen, sollen durchaus nur Berufssoldaten sein. Wo unser Land von NATO Staaten umgeben ist, hat sich die Wehrpflicht überlebt. Die finanziellen Einsparungen sind die eine Sache, die Wehrgerchtigkeit eine andere Sache. Also weg damit.

    Siegfried Anton Paul

Comments are closed.