The Bundeswehr (German for "Federal Defence Force"; ) is the name of the unified armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany and their civil administration and procurement authorities. German states are not allowed to maintain armed forces of their own as constitutional law prescribes that matters of defense fall into the sole responsibility of the federal government.
The Bundeswehr is divided into the military part (armed forces or Streitkräfte) and the civil part with the armed forces administration (Wehrverwaltung), the federal bureau of procurement (Bundesamt für Wehrtechnik und Beschaffung) and the federal bureau for information management and information technology of the Bundeswehr (Bundesamt für Informationsmanagement und Informationstechnik der Bundeswehr, sometimes abbreviated as IT-AmtBw). The military part of the federal defense force consists of Army (Heer), Navy (Marine), Air Force (Luftwaffe), Joint Support Service (Streitkräftebasis), and Central Medical Services (Zentraler Sanitätsdienst) branches.
The Bundeswehr has 200,500 professional soldiers, 55,000 18-25 year-old conscripts who serve for at least nine months under current rules , and 2,500 active reservists at any given time. The number of civilian employees is to be reduced to 75,000 during the coming years. Roughly 300,000 reservists are available to the Armed Forces and participate in defense exercises as well as abroad deployments.
Women have served in the medical service since 1975. In 2000, in a lawsuit brought up by Tanja Kreil, the European Court of Justice issued a ruling allowing women to serve in more roles than previously allowed. Since 2001 they can serve in all functions of service without restriction, but they are not subject to conscription. There are presently around 14,500 women on active duty and a number of female reservists who take part in all duties including peacekeeping missions and other operations. Two female medical officers have been promoted to a General rank so far.
Germany had been without its own armed forces since the Wehrmacht was dissolved following World War II. Some smaller forces continued to exist as Border guard or naval minesweeping units, but not as a national defence force. The responsibility for the security of Germany as a whole rested with the four Allied Powers: the U.S., the UK, France and the Soviet Union. Germany was completely demilitarised and any plans for a German military were forbidden by Allied regulations.
There was a discussion between the United States, the United Kingdom and France over the issue of a revived German military. In particular, France was reluctant to allow Germany to rearm in light of recent history. However, after the project for a European Defence Community failed in the French National Assembly in 1954, France agreed to West German accession to NATO and rearmament. With growing tensions between the Soviet Union and the West especially after the Korean War, this policy was to be revised. While the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was already secretly rearming, the seeds of a new West German force started in 1950 when former high-ranking German officers were tasked by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to discuss the options for West German rearmament. The results of a meeting in the monastery of Himmerod formed the conceptual base to build the new armed forces in West Germany. The "Amt Blank" (Bureau Blank, named after its director Theodor Blank), the predecessor of the later Federal Ministry of Defence, was formed the same year to prepare the establishment of the future forces. Hasso von Manteuffel, a former general of the Wehrmacht and liberal politician, submitted the name Bundeswehr for the new forces. This name was later confirmed by the German Bundestag.
The Bundeswehr was officially established on the 200th birthday of Scharnhorst on 12 November 1955. After an amendment of the Basic Law in 1955, West Germany became a member of NATO. In 1956, conscription for all men between the ages of 18 and 45 was introduced, later augmented by a civil alternative with longer duration (see Conscription in Germany). In parallel, East Germany formed its own military force, the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA) which was eventually dissolved with the reunification of Germany in 1990.
During the Cold War the Bundeswehr was the backbone of NATO's conventional defense in Central Europe. It had a strength of 495,000 military and 170,000 civilian personnel. The Army consisted of three corps with 12 divisions, most of them heavily armed with tanks and APCs. The Air Force owned significant numbers of tactical combat aircraft and took part in NATO's integrated air defence (NATINAD). The Navy was tasked and equipped to defend the Baltic Approaches, to provide escort reinforcement and resupply shipping in the North Sea and to contain the Soviet Baltic Fleet.
After 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, with a portion of its personnel and material being absorbed into the Bundeswehr.
About 50,000 Volksarmee personnel were integrated into the Bundeswehr on 2 October 1990. This figure was rapidly reduced as conscripts and short-term volunteers completed their service. A number of senior officers (but no generals or admirals) received limited contracts for up to two years to continue daily operations. Personnel remaining in the Bundeswehr were awarded new contracts and new Bundeswehr ranks, dependent on their individual qualification and experience. Many received and accepted a lower rank than previously held in the Volksarmee. These were seen as demotions by critics.
In general, the unification process of the two militaries—under the slogan "Armee der Einheit" (or "Army of Unity")—has been seen publicly as a major success and an example for other parts of the society.
With the reduction, a large amount of the military hardware of the Bundeswehr, as well as of the Volksarmee, had to be disposed of. Most of the armored vehicles and fighter jet aircraft were dismantled under international disarmament procedures. Many ships were scrapped or sold, often to the Baltic states or Indonesia (the latter received 39 former Volksmarine vessels of various types).
The role of the Bundeswehr is described in the German Basic Law (Art. 87a) as defensive only. Its only active role before 1990 was the Katastropheneinsatz (disaster control operation), where the Bundeswehr helped after natural disasters. After 1990, the international situation changed from East-West confrontation to one of general uncertainty and instability. Today, after a ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court in 1994 the term "defense" has been defined to not only include protection of the borders of Germany, but also crisis reaction and conflict prevention, or more broadly as guarding the security of Germany anywhere in the world. According to the definition given by former Defence Minister Struck, it may be necessary to defend Germany even at the Hindu Kush. This requires the Bundeswehr to take part in operations outside of the borders of Germany, as part of NATO or the European Union and mandated by the UN.
With the growing number of missions abroad it was recognized that the Bundeswehr required a totally new command structure. A reform commission under the chairmanship of the former Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker presented its recommendations in spring 2000.
In October 2000 the Joint Support Service, the Streitkräftebasis, was established to concentrate logistics and other supporting functions such as military police, supply and communications under one command. Medical support was reorganized with the establishment of the Central Medical Services.
The combat forces of the Army are organized into five combat divisions and participate in multi-national command structures at the corps level. The Air Force maintains three divisions and the Navy is structured into two flotillas. The Central Medical Services and the Joint Support Service are each organized into four regional commands. All of these services also have general commands for training, procurement, and other general issues. The Joint Support Service and the Central Medical Services are both organized in four regional commands of identical structure.
The minister of defense or the chancellor is supported by the Chief of Defense (CHOD, Generalinspekteur) and the service chiefs (Inspekteure) and their respective staffs in his or her function as commander-in-chief. The CHOD and the service chiefs form the Military Command Council (Militärischer Führungsrat) with functions similar to those of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the United States. Subordinate to the CHOD is the Armed Forces Operational Command (Einsatzführungskommando). For smaller missions one of the service HQs (e.g. the Fleet Command) may exercise command and control of forces in missions abroad. The term parliamentary army is often used when German troops are committed to operations abroad, as Bundestag members must approve each and every deployment by a simple majority. This has led to some discontentment with Germany's allies about troop deployments e.g. in Afghanistan since parliamentary consent over such issues is relatively hard to achieve in Germany.
The Bundeswehr in general is still among the world's most technologically advanced and best-supplied militaries, as befits Germany's overall economic prosperity and infrastructure. Its budget is, however, steadily shrinking and among the lowest military budgets in NATO in terms of share of GDP.
Since the early 1990s the Bundeswehr has become more and more engaged in international operations in and around the former Yugoslavia, and also in other parts of the world like Cambodia or Somalia. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, German forces were employed in most related theaters except Iraq.
Currently (November 26, 2007) there are Bundeswehr forces in:
The actual number of troops serving in an abroad deployment complies with the requirements of the current security situation. In addition to the numbers above, forty soldiers are on permanent stand-by for medical evacuation operations around the world in assistance of ongoing German or coalition operations (STRATAIRMEDEVAC).
In support of Allied stabilization efforts in Iraq, the Bundeswehr is also training the new Iraqi forces in locations outside Iraq, such as the United Arab Emirates and Germany.
Since 1994, more than sixty soldiers have died in abroad deployments, about twenty through hostile activity.
Former German military organisations have been the old German state armies, the Reichswehr (1921-1935) and the Wehrmacht (1935-1945). The Bundeswehr, however, does not consider itself as their successor and does not follow the traditions of any former German military organisation. The official Bundeswehr traditions are based on three major lines:
As its symbol the Bundeswehr uses a form of the Iron Cross. The Iron Cross has a long history, having been awarded as a military wartime decoration for all ranks since 1813, and earlier associated with the Teutonic knights. The name Bundeswehr was proposed by the former Wehrmacht general and liberal politician Hasso von Manteuffel.
One of the most visible traditions is the Großer Zapfenstreich, a form of military tattoo that goes back to the landsknecht era. Another expression of the traditions in the German armed forces is the ceremonial vow (Gelöbnis) of recruits, during basic training. Annually on July 20, the date of the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler by Wehrmacht officers in 1944, recruits of the Wachbataillon vow at the Bendlerblock, where the officers had their headquarters. The wording of the ceremonial vow of conscripts is:
Professional soldiers and officers of the Bundeswehr have to swear an oath with the same wording, but beginning with "Ich schwöre, ..." ("I swear...").
According to the new threat scenario facing Germany and its allies, the Bundeswehr is currently reorganising itself. To realise growth in mobility and the enlargement of the air force's capabilities, the Bundeswehr is going to buy 60 Airbus A400M transporters as well as 180 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters and also several UAV models. For the ground forces it is currently developing a land soldier system and a new generation of transportation vehicles and light tanks, such as the Fennek, the Boxer MRAV, KMW Grizzly or the Puma (IFV). Further, the German Navy is going to receive five new Braunschweig class corvettes, the new F125 class frigates and two more Type 212 submarines.
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