German tank crews have of late been practicing with Volkswagen minibuses because as many as three in four of their Puma tanks are in the repair shop — or rather, they’re waiting endlessly to be repaired, owing to Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Ordering backpacks, bullet-proof vests, helmets, visors and all sorts of other gear can take years in the German army. About 20,000 job openings can’t be filled because so few young people want to enlist. Officers complain that standards are being lowered, and that new recruits are “fatter, weaker and dumber.”
This is all according to Hans-Peter Bartels, an ombudsman appointed by parliament to audit the country’s armed forces. Among his devastating conclusions this week was this simple observation: Germany’s army would currently be unable to contribute adequately to the collective defense of NATO, the Western alliance, if any member were attacked.
Germany’s allies, from Poland in the east to the U.S. in the west, have long known and criticized this reality. President Donald Trump may be uniquely undiplomatic about it, but his predecessors going back at least to George W. Bush also harangued Berlin for the same reason. Germany, they’ve been saying, must stop free-riding, scrimping on its army and shirking its responsibilities in joint missions.
The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel always politely listened and nodded. In 2014, as Russia was invading Crimea, several senior German officials gave speeches calling for their country to take more international responsibility. Later that year, at a NATO summit in Wales, Merkel joined her fellow leaders in pledging to raise military spending to at least 2% of GDP within a decade.
Germany appears to have no intention of honoring that promise. (end of excerpt)
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