Germany considers reinstating mandatory military service as report warns armed forces are unprepared

Germany considers reinstating mandatory military service as report warns armed forces are unprepared

Germany is growing so concerned about the state of its armed forces, known as the Bundeswehr, that some politicians have been calling for mandatory military service to be reinstated there to address its shortcomings as the conflict in Ukraine enters its third year.

The German Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces, Eva Högl, described the sorry state of the country’s military, saying: “Unfortunately, I have to say that the Bundeswehr still has too little of everything. There is a lack of ammunition, spare parts, radio equipment, tanks, ships and aircraft. But, ladies and gentlemen, progress is being made.”

She added that their forces are dwindling and getting older: “On the subject of personnel, I have no good news and no good messages, because the Bundeswehr is aging and shrinking.”

One solution to this problem is compulsory military service. Germany has had a conscription system in place for male citizens since 1956, although it was put on pause in 2011. Now, it’s back on the table as they deal with a lack of staffing.

Högl said: “Yes, I am pleased that the debate on compulsory military service is picking up speed. The federal president is persistently calling for a ‘yes’ from society. The federal minister is looking at Scandinavia and is also in favor of compulsory military service based on the Swedish model, for example. And I think I am also known for thinking that this is a very good idea.”

A poll carried out last year found that just 61 percent of Germans were in favor of reintroducing compulsory military service, but the support was most pronounced among people aged 60 and older, who would not have to face the prospect of enlisting. Among those aged 18 to 39, just 39 percent said they supported reintroducing it for everyone, while 21 percent supported it only for men.

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Report details serious concerns about Germany’s military personnel, infrastructure and equipment

A 171-page report released by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces provided a deep dive into the many problems plaguing the Bundeswehr. It was based on visits to 90 military bases in Germany and abroad, as well as evidence and statements from nearly 4,000 troops. The main areas of concern are personnel, infrastructure, and equipment.

It explains how German troops are already at the limits of their capacity, with an 18 percent vacancy rate. It also says that they will struggle to reach their goal of raising their number of troops from the current 181,000 to 203,000 by 2031. At the end of 2023, they had 1,537 fewer soldiers than a year earlier.

When it comes to infrastructure, barracks are in a state of disrepair, with a lack of lockers for troops to store equipment, moldy showers, and clogged toilets among the complaints. In addition to affecting military readiness, the infrastructure issues are contributing to their personnel problem as most of their bases are not appealing places for people to live.

The military is also facing digital problems, such as a lack of Wi-Fi in training facilities and barracks. In the few facilities that do have Wi-Fi, soldiers are required to pay to use it.

Moreover, in a NATO exercise that took place last year, troops had to use unencrypted radios that date back to the 1980s that were unable to communicate with allies. The report also described how the armed forces still keep their medical records entirely on paper, which can delay treatment and lead to confusion.

Another problem is the budget; if Germany does not raise its defense budget by billions of euros by 2027, it will not be able to meet the NATO target of devoting 2 percent of GDP to defense.

It is not clear how adding more military personnel to the mix is going to solve all of these problems, but it is clear that Germany needs to do something to address its armed forces’ numerous shortcomings before it is too late.

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