German defence policy (reform?)

Michael Forster took on a hot topic in his log-running geopowers blog recently; the discrepancies in German defence policy.

Reading between the lines, I can only imagine how much effort it took to not attack the Secretary of Defence directly in the blog post.

There's not much good to say about our SecDef, or his qualification for the job. He even lacks power in his own party, a poor setting for the budget definition process.

Forster calls for a defence policy review (and between the lines for a new SecDef) and addresses the chancellor in this question. Her track record isn't exactly promising. We had too many ministers who got their positions due to party arithmetic, and few who got their job for their qualification. Merkel is an administrator, not an effective head of government. A lack of drive for improvements is a general trait of German conservatives since the 80's - they conserve and rarely launch real reforms. I doubt that she'll change course just because the results are terrible.

We need new brains in top offices, but we also need a good discussion. The financial problems of the Ministry of Defence are just a symptom of a very strange defence policy.

Our constitution says that our federal state raises military forces for defence, but much attention and many man-days were spent on nation building adventures since about '93.

We should have a discussion and come to a conclusion, and this discussion should be public. The defence policy needs broad public support or else it won't always be funded adequately.

- - - - -

We may arrive at a dual conventional/unconventional mission defence policy - and having done so could allot the necessary resources.

We may arrive at a conventional defence policy - and finally modernize and take care of the ridiculous state of affairs in our conscription system.

We may arrive at an unconventional mission focus in our policy (that would be no defence policy any more, of course).

Either way; we need reforms in our MoD, sweeping reforms:

(1) We need new (qualified) civilian decision makers. We need professional competence, not only party politics and networking competence. We need a better involvement of party and faction leadership in defence policy.

(2) The ministry needs to connect better with the Bundestag committee on defence. This is necessary to get better support of the parliament for our defence policy.

(3) We should screen generals and admirals. We have too many duds who choke the organization instead of moving it forward.

(4) We need to downsize the civilian defence employee staff. That should be simple; many employees are close to the retirement age anyway.

(5) We should review our outsourcing practices. Some outsourcing projects don't work acceptably.

(6) We need to overhaul our procurement system. Speed, cost-efficiency and conceptual clarity have gone missing.

(7) We need to re-organize the forces. The Heeresstruktur 2010 is an illness, not a proper structure.

(8) We need a solution for the conscription problem (I say let's deactivate it).

(9) We should prepare for a quick army enlargement (million man army in six months) in case of a security crisis in Europe. The peacetime army strength should be a secondary concern to its wartime strength if we don't dismiss conventional warfare entirely.

(10) We should overhaul the personnel system to stop (and reverse) the rank inflation and to set more ambitious qualification requirements for leadership positions.

(11) We need a reset of the quite inept press and public relations (recruitment) efforts.

(12) We should eliminate crazy rules. It's been Bundeswehr general knowledge for decades that the Bundeswehr would need to shred many rules if it was sent to war. That was acceptable during the Cold War, but now it's time to remove legal constraints in topics like environmental restrictions on vehicles used in war zones.

I'm not optimistic about this. A new government with the CDU as major coalition partner would probably address only two or three of these points effectively. That would likely drop to one point if SecDef Jung stays in office.

Oh, by the way; be assured that no party is going into next Sunday's elections with a program on defence policy that is anywhere near as ambitious as this list was.


  1. I think this is more a problem of mentality. The most important first step, I believe, is making the public actually care about security policy. So what you have as your eleventh point, I would move up to second. And add another one below it, one that emphasises a rigorous education programme for anyone from Abituriuent/student up to MdBs. Because unless you've fixed these problem, the other ones will just keep coming back.

  2. I do not see how points 8 and 9 can go together.

    If you do not want conscription you will never be able to raise a million able men in 6 month.

  3. Points 8 and 9 fit together. First of all, keep in mind that "deactivate" does not mean the same as "delete the law" - it could be reactivated in a day if you do it right. Six months is enough to train much personnel if you've got enough qualified personnel as trainers.

    There's also the possibility of building up a trained reserve using a voluntary system.
    An example idea is here: