Germany's military strategy
The NATO defense strategy during the Cold War must have been a real nightmare for some West-German officers. Even the former West-German chancellor Helmut Schmidt said in 2007 in an interview that he was shocked when he was informed about the NATO plans in 1969. Schmidt said that there was a belt of nuclear mines crossing West-Germany which would detonate in case of a Soviet invasion. West-Germany was seen as the future nuclear battlefield. The country formally known as “Germany” would have been turned into a giant ground zero in the center of Europe. The Germans in West and East Germany were in the nuclear death row of the Cold War.
The West-German army, the Bundeswehr, was part of those plans. The NATO strategy was: In case of a Soviet aggression, the Eastern Block armies will carry out their most powerful ground attack of the so called “Iron Curtain” in central Europe on Germany. It would be almost impossible to stop the Eastern armies before the Rhine River. West-Germany was supposed to be the “death trap” for the enemy?s armies, and for the German civilians. The Bundeswehr didn?t play a big strategic role in that horrible scenario, the West-German soldiers might have been killed or defeated by the overwhelming Eastern forces and by the Western nuclear response within days.
Germany in 1945: After the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht, the former Reich became split in Zones of Occupation by the allied powers. In the West US-American, British and French forces established their zones, in the center the Soviet occupation zone was established, East Germany was occupied by Poland and the Soviet Union. The Reich was destroyed; huge cities as Berlin, Hamburg, Konigsberg or Dresden became just ruins. Millions of German refugees became strayed; the former most powerful nation on continental Europe was disarmed and weakened down, thus creating a vacuum of power. The allied conference of Potsdam in the summer of 1945 made clear that there is now a new confrontation: The Western block under Anglo-American leadership against the Eastern communist block under Soviet leadership. In 1949 two German states were created: In the Western Zones of Occupation the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland), in Middle Germany the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). At the time when these states were founded they didn?t have any military force.
Germany remained completely demilitarized and any plans for a German military were clearly forbidden by Allied regulations. Only some naval mine-sweeping units continued to exist, but they remained unarmed and under Allied control and did not serve officially as a defense force. Even the Federal Border Protection Force (Bundesgrenzschutz), a mobile and lightly armed police force of 10,000 men, was formed only in 1951 - two years after the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. A first proposal to integrate West German troops with soldiers of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy in a so called “European Defense Community”, in reality a Western European Army , was proposed but never realized. It was especially France who opposed any plans to rearm West Germany for a long time. “German militarism” was blamed to have caused both World Wars. Germany should never become a continental super power again. And the best “medicine” against militarism seemed to be not to permit any military forces.
With growing tensions between the communist Soviet Union and the liberal capitalist West, especially after the Korean War (1950-1953), this policy was to be revised. While the German Democratic Republic was already secretly rearming, the plans of a new West German force started in 1950 when former high-ranking German officers of the Wehrmacht were tasked by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to discuss the options for rearmament. The so-called “Amt Blank”, the predecessor of the later Federal Ministry of Defense (Bundesverteidigungsministerium), was formed in 1950 in Bonn.
The West German “Bundeswehr” was officially established on the 200th birthday of the Prussian general Gerhard von Scharnhorst on November 12th, 1955. But the rearmament (“Wiederbewaffnung”) of West Germany was not easy at all. Huge protests raged against those plans. Not only traditional pacifists opposed to those plans, but also German neutralist politicians and intellectuals who campaigned for one united Germany were strongly against the rearmament. They saw in those plans the manifestation of the German partition.
And there was another dilemma: Since the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht, the allied powers put a lot of energy in the so called “denazificiation” of the Germans. The Wehrmacht was identified as one of the worst instruments of German militarism. The generals and officers of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS were seen as bloodthirsty warmongers and war criminals. But all of a sudden the West asked especially for the Wehrmacht personnel. The reason for that political U-turn is easy: The Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS were the only military forces with a certain experience in fighting the Soviet army during World War II. From the beginning, the new Bundeswehr suffered under an “identity conflict”. While the politics went on with stigmatizing the officers of the German World War II forces, the same officers had to build the new army.
During the Cold War the Bundeswehr was the front line of NATO's conventional defense in Central Europe. The West German army had strength of 495,000 soldiers. The Cold War Historian John Lewis Gaddis assesses the Bundeswehr in his book “The Cold War - a New History” as “perhaps world?s best army”. But the Bundeswehr did not take part in any combat operations during the Cold War times. The West German armed forces were during the whole Cold War an integrated part of the NATO military strategy.
After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the Bundeswehr was reduced to 370,000 military personnel in accordance with the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany between the two German governments and the Allies (2+4 Treaty). The former East German Nationale Volksarmee (NVA) was disbanded. About 50,000 Volksarmee personnel were integrated into the Bundeswehr on October 2nd, 1990. With the reduction, a large amount of the military hardware of the Bundeswehr, as well as of the Volksarmee was disposed. Most of the armored vehicles and fighter jet aircraft (Bundesluftwaffe - due to Reunification - was the only Air Force in the world that flew both Phantoms and MIGs) were dismantled under the international disarmament procedures.
The re-united Germany didn?t quit the NATO membership. The NATO “reformed” itself after the official end of the Cold War. The North Atlantic alliance began an expansion with newly autonomous Eastern European states. For the Bundeswehr, the mission changed: It was transformed more and more into a force for international missions. Hopes that Germany will become a sovereign nation with an independent security and defense plan – of course within a European defense concept – were bitterly disappointed. The “homeland defense” doesn?t play a role anymore since the end of the Cold War – in the official “defense guidelines” (Verteidigungspolitische Richtlinien, VPR) from 1992 the term “homeland defense” was not even mentioned anymore. On the first glance the military idea of the Federal Republic of Germany seemed to have turned 180 degrees: Until 1990 there was the permanent danger of having a nuclear war on German soil, after 1990 the German ministry of defense was talking about the world wide mission of the German military.
The recent VPR from May 18th, 2011 were named “Safeguarding National Interests – Assuming International Responsibility – Shaping Security Together”. These VPR include confessions such as: “As an active member of the international community, Germany pursues its interests and is actively striving for a better and safer world.”
And: “A direct territorial threat to Germany involving conventional military means remains an unlikely event. Over the past few years the strategic security environment has continued to change. Globalization has led to power shifts between states and groups of states as well as to the rise of new regional powers. Today, risks and threats are emerging above all from failing and failed states, acts of international terrorism, terrorist regimes and dictatorships, turmoil when these break up, criminal networks, climatic and natural disasters, from migration developments, from the scarcity of or shortages in the supply of natural resources and raw materials, from epidemics and pandemics, as well as from possible threats to critical infrastructure such as information technology.”
The German military mission is now completely detached from the German state. The official German understanding of the NATO membership turned from a defense alliance against a real existing threat into an abstract and conception alliance of transatlantic values and even to one of “Germany?s raisons d’etat”:
“The North Atlantic Alliance remains the centerpiece of our defense efforts. Alliance solidarity and making a reliable and credible contribution to the Alliance are part of Germany’s raison d’etat. (…) The commitment of the United States to the security of Europe, as it is most prominently and effectively reflected in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, remains a vital interest of Germany and its European allies. It is therefore our duty and our mission to preserve the unique quality of transatlantic relations, to strengthen our ties and our exchanges and to continue to develop the partnership with the United States by performing our tasks responsibly.”
The German Bundeswehr is today an international operation force, ready for action, “for a better world”. Of course the terms “security interest” and “national interests” are used until today, but also here the meaning changed:
“German security interests include:
- preventing, mitigating and managing crises and conflicts that endanger the security of Germany and its allies;
- advocating and implementing positions on foreign and security policy in an assertive and credible way;
- strengthening transatlantic and European security and partnership;
- advocating the universality of human rights and principles of democracy, promoting global respect for international law and reducing the gap between the rich and the poor regions of the world;
- facilitating free and unrestricted world trade as well as free access to the high seas and to natural resources.”
The aspect of “advocating the universality of human rights and principles of democracy” especially became more and more dominant in German debates about security interests. This vision is assisted by the German Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid: “It is in Germany’s own best interest to help make universal respect for human rights a reality. For enduring peaceful relations require stability, and there can be no long-term stability unless basic human rights are respected.”
Of course there is no explanation as to why the global enforcement of “human rights” should be German national security interest. But it became a type of magic mantra for German foreign politics, and the German Bundeswehr might become be more and more an armed force for those “human rights” missions. The end of the Cold War era changed the character of the Bundeswehr from a classical territorial army with a defensive character into an intervention force. Currently there are Bundeswehr forces in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan (ISAF), Kosovo (KFOR), in the Mediterranean Sea, at the Horn of Africa/Indian Ocean (Operation Atalanta), in Turkey (Operation Active Fence), Lebanon (UNIFIL), South Sudan (UNMISS), Sudan (UNAMID) and Mali.