Foreign Fighters for Germany? Bundeswehr Scrambles to Fill Ranks as War Fears Mount

As Germany Expects a Conflict With Russian in the Near Future, it Revives the Idea of Foreign Military Recruits.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The German Minister of Defence, Boris Pistorius, said the country must be prepared for a potential battle with Russia. In an interview with the ZDF channel, the head of the ministry indicated that this prospect is putting pressure on Germany and other NATO members to reassess their military readiness.

It’s not about specific preparation for an attack, but it should be expected, Pistorius said.

According to the minister, German military forces are now stationed in Lithuania in preparation for the possibility of a conflict occurring there. It is expected that Lithuania’s defence brigade will be fully equipped by the year 2027. Pistorius said that allies of the bloc are actively making preparations for the likelihood that the alliance will be involved in battle with Russia within the next few years. On the other hand, the minister underlined that these are only speculations without any evidence.

Pistorius asserts that the impediment to preparations is a lack of personnel, materials, and armaments.

Regarding personnel, the Defence Ministry’s formal objective of increasing military personnel to 203,000 soldiers was set in 2018. This was scheduled to be accomplished by 2025, then by 2027, but the timetable was revised again at the beginning of 2023 and pushed back to 2031. However, whether the Defence Ministry’s personnel goals are still realistic is uncertain. The current count is slightly over 180,000.

The average age of Bundeswehr soldiers increased from 32.4 to 33.5 years between 2019 and 2022. While it increased by an average of 0.3 years per year, the entire German society aged only 0.1 years.

This poses a challenge, particularly considering the current state of recruitment difficulties. The number of candidates for enlistment decreased by 7% between January and May 2023, relative to the same period last year, according to data released in August. The contract termination rate further complicates this matter, which is not exclusive to Germany. Thirty per cent of recruits return to civilian life before completing their basic military training.

This dilemma may become more severe in the future years due to demographic factors reducing the recruitment pool. Boris Pistorius disclosed last year that the population of individuals aged 15 to 24 will decrease by 12% by 2050.

The Bundeswehr is contemplating implementing two strategies to achieve its personnel management goals. Reestablishing military service per the Swedish model would be the initial step. This would involve subjecting young Germans to an assessment committee, which would select individuals whose profiles resonated with the interests of the German military services for enlistment. The requirements of the military personnel would determine the quantity required. In April, Pistorius is expected to present his proposals.

Allowing the recruiting of individuals who are not citizens of Germany is the other solution that is being considered. It is not a new idea. The German Ministry of Defence presented it in 2011. According to the recommendation made then, the laws ought to be expanded so that individuals from the region, provided that they are capable and fit, can be absorbed into the forces, even if they do not have German nationality.

The Defence White Paper that Berlin published in 2016 addressed this concept, but it was presented in a different form. The White Paper considered enabling European Union nationals to join the Bundeswehr. With this, a “strong signal for a European policy” would be sent, as stated in the proposal. However, just like the first idea, this one did not go forward with any forward movement.

Nonetheless, it may happen soon. According to a report published in the Rheinische Post on January 22nd, Pistorius recently brought it back to the table. He noted that Germany would not be the first European army to recruit foreign nationals.

The approach offered by the German minister has widespread support, from the majority to a fraction of the opposition, particularly the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

In essence, while seeking suitable young people to serve in the Bundeswehr, the country must think in a far more European way, according to Agnès Strack-Zimmermann (Free Democratic Party, FDP), the president of the Bundestag’s Defence Committee. She also mentioned that troops who do not have German passports may be able to receive one more rapidly through their service in the Bundeswehr.

Johann Wadephul, Vice-President of the CDU parliamentary group for defence policy, is not entirely opposed to Pistorius’ suggestion. However, he is waiting to see the specifics. Specifically, if this choice is exclusively available to members of the EU and NATO, what about nationals of countries considered at risk in terms of security policy?


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