Germany's Defense Ministry has announced it will increase the number of professional soldiers by around 10 percent. It comes amid increasing pressure for Germany to reach its NATO-mandated defense spending target.
Since the end of the Cold War, Germany had been reducing its military scope and manpower. Recent years, however, have marked a major shift in its defense policy, as it pledged once again to expand the Bundeswehr.
"The Bundeswehr is under demand like never before," Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (a Christian Democrat) said on Tuesday, as she announced plans to increase the number of Germany's professional soldiers from 178,000 to 198,000 by the year 2024. "In light of these increasing responsibilities, the Bundeswehr must be allowed to grow accordingly."
As part of its enlargement plans, the Bundeswehr will also expand its non-combat civilian employees to over 61,000 in response to the growing threat of cyber and hacking attacks.
Bundeswehr soldiers are currently being deployed as part of international efforts against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) in Iraq and Syria, in Mali as part of the UN's MINUSMA mission and in the Baltic States as part of NATO's defense measures along the alliance's eastern flank with Russia. German capacity in the area of cyber defense has also been growing.
Since the end of the Cold War and German reunification, the Bundeswehr has seen sharp fall in the number of full-time professional soldiers. At the time of reunification, the German military boasted a manpower of some 585,000 soldiers. That number had sunk year-on-year up until 2016, when in May the Defense Ministry said it was expanding the number of professional by 7,000 and civilian employees by 4,400. An end to mandatory military service for school leavers, albeit with other options for those who did not want to spend their year in the Bundeswehr, had contributed markedly to the decline.
Responding to Washington's demands
Plans to expand and pour more government spending into the Bundeswehr have split Germany's parliament, as well as public opinion.
Washington has threatened to "moderate" its commitment to NATO if partners fail to meet the mandated defense spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product. Germany has voiced resistance to this, and falls well short of the target, partly owing to the limitations on the scope of Bundeswehr military engagements in place since the end of the Second World War.
At last week's Munich Security Conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that Germany would do its best to reach the defense spending target. That would require Germany to add an estimated 25 billion euros ($26.3 billion) to its defense budget.
Opposition lawmakers in the Bundestag have spoken out against the CDU's military expansion strategy. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, on Saturday called on NATO members to focus more on the root causes of conflict, such as poverty and climate, rather than focus mainly on defense spending.
On Tuesday, the Green Party's spokesperson for security policy, Agnieszka Brugger, warned that von der Leyen's plans could only be realized if the Bundeswehr "lowered its entry requirements."
"It [the military] needs people with the appropriate qualifications, a good intellectual capacity and a strong sense of responsibility, and should not just admit anybody so that in the end the minister can say her policy was a success," Brugger said.