Today in History
Travel to Germany
Facts About Germany
Thirty Years' War
German Chocolate Cake
How To in Germany
National Security in Germany
The Federal armed forces (Bundeswehr) of the Federal Republic of Germany
(FRG, or West Germany) came into being in 1955. Assigned a solely defensive
role, the Bundeswehr at its creation constituted the largest component
of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ground forces in Central
Europe. Throughout the Cold War, the fighter aircraft and air defense
missiles of the Bundeswehr's formidable air force came under NATO command,
and the small, well-equipped West German navy was committed to NATO missions
in the Baltic and North seas. NATO carefully delineated the Bundeswehr's
missions; in effect, West German security objectives were identical with
those of the Alliance.
By mid-1995, however, the Bundeswehr, numbering approximately 368,000
troops, had been through a radical restructuring and downsizing brought
about by the sudden end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Warsaw
Pact and the Soviet empire. After Germany was united in October 1990 by
the accession of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany)
to the Federal Republic, the Bundeswehr absorbed some of the personnel
and equipment of the East German armed forces, the National People's Army
(Nationale Volksarmee--NVA), in a unique merger of two formerly hostile
militaries that had been unimaginable even one year earlier.
Prior to unification, the armed forces of East and West Germany were
considered among the shock troops of their respective alliances. The leaders
of NATO and the Warsaw Pact-- the United States and the Soviet Union,
respectively--each maintained powerful forces based in the two Germanys,
the presumed battleground. In terms of tactics, force organization and
structure, and equipment, superpower influence on each German military
was pervasive. On the Soviet side, with more than 400,000 troops, the
Group of Soviet Forces in Germany (GSFG) was far larger than the NVA itself
and was the Warsaw Pact's most potent military force outside the Soviet
Union. The United States was clearly the most important member of NATO,
but only a small portion of its total military forces were stationed in
West Germany or in Europe. Unification changed the Bundeswehr's situation
dramatically and in the process added about 30 percent more territory
and hundreds of kilometers of Baltic Sea coastline to the task of preserving
the territorial integrity of the enlarged country.
Paving the way for unification and restoration of full sovereignty, an
agreement with Moscow in July 1990 committed Germany to reducing its armed
forces to a level of 370,000 by December 1994 in return for the complete
withdrawal of all troops of the former Soviet Union in eastern Germany
by the end of that year. Initial Soviet objections to unified Germany's
membership in NATO were dropped when Germany agreed to finance the relocation
and housing of the departing troops. Under the 1990 Conventional Forces
in Europe Treaty (CFE Treaty), Germany also undertook to make massive
cuts in its weapons inventory. But even after these reductions, the Federal
Republic would still possess the largest European forces in NATO.
Since World War II, the prospect of an independent German military had
been a source of anxiety both within West Germany and among its former
foes and neighbors. In addition, German irredentist claims had led to
war in the past. So it was only after Germany publicly and officially
recognized the validity of its existing borders that Poland, Czechoslovakia,
and the Soviet Union consented to the idea of German unification.
Traditional German militarism has been tempered in the Bundeswehr, which
remains a part of society rather than a society unto itself. The officer
corps has not become an elite, as it had previously. Every member of the
armed forces retains individual rights as a citizen and enjoys liberties
unavailable to United States troops, such as the right to join a union
or run for public office while in the service. In the Bundeswehr, sexual
orientation has not been a contentious issue. Female citizens of the Federal
Republic interested in a military career are, however, restricted to service
in the medical and musical corps.
Although a powerful peace movement uniting environmentalists, students,
trade unionists, and religious leaders articulated pacifist and antimilitarist
positions with some success in the postwar period, the armed forces continues
to be staffed largely by conscription. About 40 percent of the troops
are draftees; the remainder are regulars or extended-service volunteers.
In 1972 the term of service was reduced from eighteen months to fifteen
months; in 1990 it was further reduced to twelve months; beginning in
1996, it will fall to ten months. Thousands of young men have been exempted
or had their service deferred for educational, health, or hardship reasons.
A growing number of young men (60,000 of 200,000 called) are granted conscientious
objector status. These men perform alternative service (Ersatzdienst)
in hospitals or homes for senior citizens or for people with disabilities.
Those aspiring to become officers or noncommissioned officers (NCOs) are
required to enter as conscripts before volunteering for longer enlistments.
Only the most qualified are permitted to undergo the rigorous preparation
for a full career in the armed services.
Because the West German armed forces had been so subordinated to NATO--an
alliance in search of a new identity and mission in the 1990s--the Bundeswehr
of united Germany has experienced difficulty in defining its missions
and justifying the need for a large and costly military establishment.
Until July 1994, Germany's constitution, the Basic Law, had been interpreted
as prohibiting the deployment of German forces outside the NATO area in
United Nations (UN) or other inter-national peacemaking and peacekeeping
operations. Consequently, despite pressure from some allies, no German
troops were included in the UN coalition that fought Iraq in the 1991
Persian Gulf War. Instead, Germany made financial contributions to the
action, and some German units were deployed to Turkey as a defensive measure.
German soldiers joined humanitarian operations in the former Yugoslavia
and in Somalia, but the opposition Social Democratic Party of Germany
(Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands--SPD) strenuously opposed involvement
that could bring German forces into combat. In July 1994, the Federal
Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land, ruled that the Bundeswehr
could participate in international military operations if each deployment
received approval in the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany's parliament.
In unified Germany, the maintenance of internal security is for the most
part the responsibility of the individual police forces of the sixteen
states, controlled by the individual ministries of interior of the Lšnder
. This decentralized system has its roots in the post-1871 German Empire.
The Western Allies after World War II insisted on a return to the Land
system because of abuses by Hitler's highly centralized police forces
during the Nazi era (1933-45). To an increasing extent, Land
police activities are coordinated and supported by the federal Ministry
of Interior, which has its own criminal police agency and domestic intelligence
services. The paramilitary border police is available as a uniformed federal
backup force in the event of major disorders.
In the early 1990s, controversy and scandal erupted over the opening
of the records of the former East German State Security Service (Staatssicherheitsdienst--Stasi).
Former dissidents and political figures were discredited by revelations
of dealings with the Stasi, whose repressive influence had permeated most
aspects of life in the former GDR. As a result, police forces of the five
new Laender underwent restructuring and retraining to bring them
up to the level of competency of Western police forces.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the danger of violence by terrorist groups
has been a chronic problem for the police. After unification in 1990,
the principal threat to public order shifted from left-wing extremists
to right-wing and neo-Nazi groups that targeted the growing numbers of
asylum-seekers, as well as the millions of foreign workers, many of whom
had been employed in Germany for decades. Federal authorities responded
to criticism that law enforcement agencies and courts were lax in dealing
with right-wing violence by strengthening federal-Land cooperation
and acting more aggressively to curb extremist incidents.
In the 1990s, Germany's security forces are experiencing their share
of the confusion and disarray brought about by the hastily executed process
of unification. For nearly half a century, two radically different societies
had evolved in the two Germanys. In the east, under Soviet occupation,
an aggressive campaign of early indoctrination and militarization was
introduced. Overlapping premilitary and paramilitary organizations perpetuated
antagonism toward NATO, West Germany, the United States, and the free-market
system. Initiative was stifled, and obedience was demanded. When the communist
system collapsed, the superstructure upon which it relied (armed forces,
police, and border guards) was discredited. Meanwhile, in the West, support
for NATO and the United States troop presence fell as the threat diminished,
and growing numbers of German youth opted for alternative service.
- Early Military
Emergence as a Military Power
- Germany in Two
- Air Force
- Military Justice
- Uniforms, Ranks and
- Foreign Military
- Internal Security
- Police Agencies
and Terrorist Activity
- Geography (lands and
- Society (population, religion,
marriage, urbanization, social structure, immigration)
- Education (elementary,
junior, senior, vocational, higher)
- Economy (the Economic
Miracle, financial system, Bundesbank, business culture)
- Politics (government,
the Chancellor, the President, parties, Bundestag)
- Mass Media (newspapers,
radio and TV)
- Armed Forces (army,
navy, air forces, police)