Germany military advised to slim down and restructure

Germany military advised to slim down and restructure

German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Tuesday welcomed recommendations by a government-appointed commission of experts that the country restructure and reduce the size of its military, DPA reported.

The commission has advised the government to reduce the number of army, navy, air force and joint services corps personnel from 250,000 to 180,000, eliminate half of the 100,000 civilian jobs with the forces and abolish conscription.

If implemented, the changes would be the biggest since West Germany established its own armed forces in 1955, then wound back troop numbers and shifted to peacekeeping after the Cold War ended in 1989.

Guttenberg said Germany's military structure was not up to date and he called the proposed changes "excellent." He said it would take five to eight years to put all the changes into effect.

Germany currently has 7,000 defence personnel abroad, mainly with the army in Afghanistan or with naval patrol missions. Many of the rest are administrators or trainers, not combat personnel.

According to the commission, for every German in uniform abroad, there are currently 35 uniformed and 15 civilian staff at home. Once the military was restructured, the country would be able to put at least 14,000 personnel in the field abroad at any one time, the commission said.

Guttenberg, a conservative, has used his public popularity to assure centre-right Germans that defence cuts do not mean the country will be weaker. He appointed the commission six months ago, with Frank-Juergen Weise, head of the Federal Labour Office, as chair.

Nations such as France and Britain have abandoned conscription, but many Germans believe constant intakes of ordinary school leavers arriving for six-month stints of compulsory military training help prevent the spread of right-wing attitudes in the forces.

After 1955, Germany often worried that the blood-and-honour fanaticism which made Nazi German forces among the most feared in the world would take root again.

The panel said conscription was "not needed in the foreseeable future." Parties supporting Chancellor Angela Merkel are due to vote in the next few weeks whether to reverse their long-standing support for the draft.

The commission also said Germany should beef up the powers of its most senior military officer, the inspector-general of the armed forces, and call him supreme commander.

But the commission held back from recommending abolition of a few of the prestige units that are not available to fight, such as brass bands, the three-master sailing ship Gorch Fock and the ski and sled teams that win medals for Germany at winter Olympic Games.

It said those units were still needed to foster military identity.

The commission also recommended that the Defence Ministry be moved from the western city of Bonn to the capital Berlin. In addition, the ministry should be streamlined, from 17 to 7 departments, and its 3,090 desk jobs reduced by half, it said.

That recommendation faces massive opposition from the city of Bonn, which kept the defence ministry as a consolation prize in the 1990s when the federal German capital relocated from Bonn to Berlin. The minister was cautious about the proposal.

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