It Was Easy to Miss…

but one of the most important decisions about the future of European security was announced Monday in Germany. Defense Minister Peter Struck has been on the airwaves and in the papers a great deal since the beginning of the year, talking about military reform. He’s been having a bit of a rough time of it. The Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung tartly noted that at the same time Struck was calling on the Bundeswehr to suit up for more demanding missions, he was announcing plans to cut the German armed forces? procurement over the next decade by considerably more than 20 billion euros. That’s more than a fistful, even by military standards. Predictably, there?s been a fuss, most loudly from armaments companies, saying that the planned cuts deny them the “planning security” that they had come to expect from the government. Second loudest has been the opposition, which has been doing its job by opposing the government’s plans.

But Struck’s pronouncements weren’t the important ones. The most important news about German defense, and thus European security, came from the Renate Schmidt, Minister for Families, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. No, really.

Although the full report won’t come out until tomorrow, Schmidt has said that Germany’s charities, hospitals and municipalities should be prepared for an end to their use of young men doing national civilian service. This service (Zivildienst) allows young men who object to military service to fulfill their legal obligations if they are drafted. The service provides a wide range of cheap labor in everything from retirement homes to disaster sites.

The announcement that the cabinet is preparing for the end of civilian national service means that it is setting the stage for an end to the draft as a whole. Once the civilian service goes away, compulsory military service will end, and sooner rather than later. The end could come through a court challenge – conscientious objectors, of which there are many in Germany, would not be treated equally by a law compelling only military service. There’s no way it would pass constitutional muster. (The Greens already believe that the draft touches so few people that it is already unconstitutional.) The end of the draft could also come through action from the cabinet, if Schroeder and company want to expend the political capital.

Angelika Beer, co-chair of the Greens and one of the party’s defense experts, draws the obvious conclusion: “Anyone who looks at the situation without preconceptions can see that the draft has not future.” (The quote is from the FAZ of January 13, but similar thoughts are here, in German only.)

Sooner, rather than later, Germany will have an all-volunteer, professional army that is designed for rapid global deployment, trained for peacekeeping, and intended for anti-terror and nation-building missions.

This is the shoe that’s been waiting to drop since the end of the Cold War. Germany will no longer tie its defense resources to territorial defense, weekend warriors, draftees with nine-month terms of service, and forces structured to stop the Sovs at the Fulda Gap.

In and of itself, this long-expected but oft-delayed change would have serious implications for the architecture of European security. Another process, and another political declaration increase its significance.

First, the process: American troops are moving out of Germany, slowly but surely. This has been true since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the drawdown is continuing. From the Pentagon’s point of view, the job in Germany is done, and bases in Germany are both more expensive and less effective than bases in other parts of Europe further east. At one level, this is still very good news: Germany is not a security problem, for itself, for Europe or for the world. That’s far and away the more important point. On the other hand, the loss of hundreds of thousands of points of contact between Germans and Americans means that the two countries are more foreign to each other than they were a decade and a half ago, especially at the working level in foreign and security affairs.

As a simple practical matter, security problems in Europe are in the Balkans, possibly in Belarus, in the Causcasus, and possibly in the Aegean. NATO and American bases in Poland, Hungary and Romania are closer to the problems. They’re also less expensive to operate, and they’re useful in integrating new alliance members. (Once upon a time, bases in Germany played this role, too.) This process is slow, but certain. Taszar may never reach the size of Ramstein; Constanta may never be as important as Gaeta, but their relative importance will grow.

Second, the declaration: Gerhard Schroeder’s assertion on the campaign trail in 2002 that the key decisions about German foreign policy would be taken in Berlin – not, by implication, in Brussels, in Paris or in Washington. That assertion ended any chance of German engagement in Iraq, and Schroeder’s approach was viewed positively at home and more broadly in Europe. But the declaration, as I recall it, was much more open-ended. It was positive in signalling further normalization of Germany’s foreign policy, but it clearly creates greater uncertainty both within the NATO alliance and the EU’s efforts at a common security and defense policy. A more assertive Germany turned down the White House first, but in the years to come it’s also likely to turn down the Elysee or Berlaymont.

It’s not often that a minister for family, senior citizens, women and youth reshapes European security. By telegraphing the arrival of a all-professional, all-volunteer German military, that’s exactly what Renate Schmidt has done.

3 thoughts on “It Was Easy to Miss…

  1. Very interesting.

    We’re feeling the shift east and south here in Romania already — lots of defense-related people trickling into down. Interesting times ahead. Certainly Romania needs the cash infusion (though the Romanian economy is doing relatively OK at the moment.)

    Still, it’s the end of an era in Germany; those bases have been there since the immediate postwar, nearly 60 years ago. As you say, a lot of German-American contact is now not going to happen.

    Doug M.

  2. I’m not sure you’re not overstating the importance of Renate Schmidt’s statement here. (Though it makes a much better story the way you tell it!) The slow withdrawl of US foces from Germany was a process that has been underway for years. Similarly, there has been a gradual but steady drift away from military service and torwards Zivildienst as an option among German young people for at least two decades now, which has accelerated as the gap in time served between the two options have closed. Schmidt’s just putting the writing up on the wall, this stuff has been obvious for a long time.

  3. Don’t underestimate the “weekend warriors”: the British volunteer reserves have been called on more than ever before (at least since Korea and Suez) recently. Moving to a professional army perhaps makes a volunteer citizen force even more important to retain a link between the military and the rest of the world, as well as helping to cover unglamourous but infantry-consuming tasks like long term peacekeeping and civil defence.