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Guttenberg Gets His Professional Army

The Trumpet (Link) - Brad Macdonald (January 13, 2011)

On January 3, Germany quietly and unceremoniously experienced what the German media hailed as a �historic moment� and the �end of an era.�

After 50 years as a conscription-based military, the Bundeswehr last week accepted its final batch of mandatory conscripts. In the future, the German military will accept only volunteers.

For the first time since World War II, Germany now has a professional military!

In many ways, scrapping the draft was a reasonable and logical decision, one that stands to benefit Germany and its allies. It will streamline the Bundeswehr into a more effective and efficient force, one capable of doing more both at home and in operations abroad. Moreover, it will save the government an estimated �8.3 billion a year.

But there is a dark side to this decision by Germany. To appreciate this angle, one must consider why military conscription was written into the German Constitution and why Germany remained, till now, one of the last nations to practice compulsory military service.

In the 1950s, as the pall cast by the Soviet Union over Western Europe grew ominously larger, it became apparent that West Germany would sooner or later need an independent military. For America and Britain, which had taken on the responsibility of safeguarding and rebuilding Western Europe�as well as ensuring that Germany would never again threaten world peace�the thought of Germany developing a military so soon after World War II was unsettling. More disturbing, however, was the thought of Communist tanks rolling into defenseless Bonn and establishing a beachhead from which the Kremlin could launch an offensive into the far reaches of Western Europe.

Faced with two ugly scenarios, America and Britain settled on the least unsettling and opted to sanction the creation of a West German military. Bonn would be allowed to construct a sovereign military, but on one condition: It must be a democratic institution, and absolutely not an army of volunteers. With that decided, the next question became, what safeguards can be put in place to prevent the Bundeswehr from ever becoming a professional force?

Instituted in 1956, military conscription became a key bulwark against the formation of a professional military!

Bonn could have its own military, but conscription would ensure it would be comprised of citizens in uniform. By filling the army with individuals from all walks of life, from various political and ideological backgrounds, the Bundeswehr would be immunized against ever becoming an institution comprised of like-minded, ideologically unified soldiers. Unlike a professional military, which is comprised primarily of volunteers cut from the same cloth, Germany�s postwar conscription military would be a cross-section of German society.

Conscription guaranteed that the Bundeswehr would remain transparent and balanced, and created within the army a natural system of checks and balances. Mandatory conscription ensured the Bundeswehr would be less likely to evolve into a state within a state, a morally homogeneous institution loyal only to itself, or worse still, to the whims and ambitions of German elites. As the New York Times wrote last year, the creation of a conscription army ensured the Bundeswehr remained �immune to the kind of elitist force that dominated state affairs during the years of the Weimar Republic��and eventually fell under the command of Adolf Hitler.

The mandatory draft �played an indispensable role in democratizing Germany,� Elizabeth Pond wrote recently. �It helped make penitence for the Holocaust a social norm in the post-Nazi era. It inculcated the priority of individual conscience over nationalist or military group-think. It re-socialized two generations of Germans, encouraging more open and tolerant attitudes.�

Against this backdrop, Germany�s abolishing of conscription suddenly becomes a lot more sobering!

Last year, as the issue of scrapping conscription was gaining traction, Stratfor wrote: �Especially in Germany, the question of political will is an important one for the significant step away from a conscription-based army� (Aug. 31, 2010). We�ve been told that Germany is scrapping conscription primarily to save money. Maybe that�s part of the reason. But as Stratfor said, the question that needs to be most considered is, what�s Germany�s political motive for ditching the draft?

No one can answer that question better than German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the most popular politician in Germany and the man primarily responsible for pushing through the reform of military conscription. When the last crop of recruits entered their barracks last week, Guttenberg spoke about the evolution of the German military, stating that �the new Bundeswehr will be smaller, more effective and will be orientated towards foreign deployment.�

His admission was interesting. At this time last year, when he stood alone in his quest to abolish conscription and enact a whole host of military reforms, Guttenberg�s primary selling point was that his planned reforms would save the German people money. Over and over again, he told the people that reforms were needed in order to slash military spending. Twelve months later, with conscription now abolished and most Germans firmly in agreement with his planned reforms, Guttenberg appears much less cautious when talking about how his reforms will transform the Bundeswehr into a �more effective� military force, one �oriented� more toward �foreign deployment.�

Perhaps there is more of a political motivation�and maybe even a grand strategy for Germany�underlying Guttenberg�s military reforms than he originally let on.

With soldiers in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Sudan, the German military is more active today than it has been at any time since the end of the Second World War. Guttenberg�s reforms will reduce the army from 240,000 to 170,000 soldiers; on the surface they appear to be an indication of a weakening German force. Ultimately, however, his plan will streamline and modernize the Bundeswehr into a capable, efficient and highly professional force.

�This is not a reform, but in reality a revolution, planned by the defense minister,� stated journalist Christian Thiel on German television last year (our translation). The defense minister is overhauling Germany�s military because he wants �to make the homeland defense an army of intervention,� warned Thiel. This man, and the handful of others alarmed by the ongoing transformation of Germany�s military, is right.

Under the leadership of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the Bundeswehr is evolving into exactly what British and American leaders after World War II fought so hard to prevent: a professional military subject to the influence of German elites! �