A Sight on European Defence

For a while, expeditionary warfare has been a taboo in Bundeswehr. The setting up of Bundeswehr, some 55 years ago, strictly controlled by the Western allies, was intended to beef up the Atlantic Alliance forces against the gigantic Red Army. Bundeswehr, which founding fathers were designated among the former Wehrmacht generals, abandoned the souvenir of the expeditions all over Europe and beyond, in Africa, Palestine, and other regions of the world, while France and Great Britain armies were cultivating at the highest level the traditions issued from those times.

For almost 20 years, Germany has been working on itself, its new international tasks, issued from the redistribution of roles after reunification and its legitimate claim for more reconnaissance on the international scene. Having started in Somalia, Bundeswehr directed then to the Balkans, followed by Congo and Afghanistan. Currently Bundeswehr is present wherever, or almost, its allies require its presence.

However, until recently, Germans felt a strong reluctance to accept the military role of their country on the international scene, even among the military. Grown up in the idea of the Citizen in Uniform, their ideal was to fight at the borders, rejecting with energy the past adventures of their predecessors all over the world. Still in 1994, the German Minister of Defence had to declare that “the Eurocorps (army corps founded in 1992 by France and Germany) was not an Afrikakorps”, in order to make sure that Germans would not regard it as an expeditionary force. Then during a while, Germany cooperated to most of the operations, with some heavy debates and in some cases caveats making sure that Bundeswehr would not be involved in offensive actions.

Afghanistan has been the trigger for the renewal of Bundeswehr. Involved in this country to demonstrate its support to the USA, and to express its pacifistic approach of operations, slightly Germany slipped into the reality of expeditionary warfare, thus following its most offensive and aggressive partners.

The situation in Northern Afghanistan went progressively worse and the multiplication of attacks against German soldiers forced the government to accept the deployment of offensive assets in order to try and stop the death of their soldiers and also avoid the risk of an evacuation of the country where all the partners are present.

Now Germany has deployed over there mechanized infantry with its Marders, conceived for Central Europe, and even the brand new 155mm howitzer, the Panzerhaubitze 2000. Currently almost the complete range of offensive assets is deployed in Asia. The latest limitations is to be found in the tasks of Luftwaffe, strictly limited to transport or reconnaissance missions over Afghanistan.

The latest sign, which could give the German citizen the impression that Bundeswehr was still this army exclusively made for war at the borders (which means nowadays a useless army), the latest sign were those remains of the Cold War Bundeswehr, I mean the conscription, by which nowadays only a tiny minority of German youth was called for duty.

Now, finally German Minister has publicly expressed his wish to suspend conscription. If so, Germany will have very soon a professional army, completed by soldiers fulfilling a so-called “voluntary service”, which will be not more, not less than an enlistment for a shorter period of time. Another country has decided not to abandon conscription, but simply to suspend it: France. As well in France, this voluntary service exists. Suspension of conscription is not to be regarded as sign of hesitation, but only as a token to the fierce defenders of Nation in Arms, to make them accept the reform.

That means that German peculiarity, conscription, making of this great country the latest one doing as if danger were at its borders, will possibly very soon belong to the past. Furthermore, it means that German opinion and politicians are now ready to accept that their defence forces are no more designed to operate at their borders, but far beyond. As some words are still taboo, they will not use them. However, Bundeswehr has started its transformation towards an expeditionary force.

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