Short of volunteers after it abolished the draft, Germany is thinking of filling the ranks with non-Germans from other European Union countries.
But other EU nations, especially the poorer Eastern European members, worry that prosperous Germany will poach their best military talent.
Eberhard Zorn, inspector general of the Bundeswehr (German military), recently admitted to German media that recruiting non-German citizens was an option.
The Bundeswehr "must look in all directions and seek suitable trainees," of which recruiting EU citizens is just one possible option, Zorn said. “We are talking here, for example, about doctors or IT specialists.”
Germany abolished conscription in 2011, and as with many armies, the volunteer force consists of German citizens. But one German lawmaker suggested that recruiting non-citizens would be consistent because the Bundeswehr includes "many soldiers with migratory backgrounds or dual-nationality citizens."
German media reports that Berlin has already consulted with other EU governments about recruiting their citizens. Some have been reticent, “especially in eastern Europe, and notably Bulgaria, over the prospect of its educated young being enticed into migrating to Germany.”
The German Army has 182,000 uniformed soldiers, of which 12 percent are female. “Already living in Germany are 530,000 citizens of EU member states within the 18-to-30-year age bracket, who would represent a recruitment pool,” noted the Deutsche Welle newspaper.
The Bundeswehr has already resorted to recruiting more minors than ever before. “In an answer to an official information request from the Left party, the Defense Ministry said that some 2,128 under-18s had been recruited as volunteers into the military in 2017, including 448 young women,” according to Deutsche Welle. “Ninety of the 2,128 recruits were still underage at the end of their six-month trial period. That represented a continuing increase, with the number of underage recruits more than tripling since 2011, when the Bundeswehr recruited 689 underage people, and when Germany ended conscription.”
The government has turned to YouTube videos to convince underage soldiers to join. The German government maintains that it is meeting international guidelines for recruiting minor-soldiers, who are barred from serving in combat while they are under 18.
Though recruiting non-citizens has aroused fears that Germany is creating a mercenary army, it is not uncommon for nations to recruit non-citizens into their armies. The most notable example is Britain, which draws in citizens of other Commonwealth nations such as Australia. The Israel Defense Forces also allows non-citizens, such as Americans, to serve in its ranks. The U.S. military also allows non-citizens to serve, which is seen as a path to earning citizenship. However, under the Trump administration, the Pentagon has been accused of discharging immigrants who had been promised citizenship for enlisting.
Indeed, Germany has a tradition of recruiting foreigners, though it’s a tradition that many Germans would as soon forget. Prussian emperor Frederick the Great’s eighteenth-century armies contained recruits from across Europe. And during World War II, the SS recruited “Aryan” volunteers from Denmark, Norway and other conquered nations, who were dispatched to the Eastern Front to battle the Russians.
Recruitment is just one of a litany of woes that have plagued the German military. Reconstituted after World War II, the West German military was one of the strongest in NATO (for that matter, the East German army had a reputation for being one of the most efficient in the Warsaw Pact). That Bundeswehr has almost faded into memory now, as today’s German military struggles with jet fighters, submarines and machine guns that don’t work.
Image: Creative Commons.