Germany and other NATO countries have clashed publicly with President Trump, who has accused them of spending too little on their own defense, and the German Army is suffering from poorly maintained equipment. According to news reports, the Bundeswehr had to scrape together everything from tanks to body armor to be able to participate in this year’s NATO maneuvers in Norway.
“It boils down to the question, what is the Bundeswehr?” said Sönke Neitzel, a military historian at the University of Potsdam. “Is it a fighting force or a corporation?”
Although there are already several German divisions that include brigades from other countries, the plans being considered would put non-German Europeans in German uniforms for the first time since World War II.
After the Cold War, the demand for soldiers grew smaller as Germany intentionally shrank its military, while reunification with East Germany made the population pool larger. The minimum span of a soldier’s service dropped to six months from 18. In 2011, the country ended conscription.
The military has changed significantly since the Cold War. It focuses far more on cyberwarfare and special forces, the number of women in uniform has increased and as Germany has grown more ethnically diverse so has the army.
But attracting professionally trained personnel has been a problem.
That is a problem in the private sector, too, in a country where the economy is growing but the working-age population is not. Karl Brenke, who studies the work force for the German Institute for Economic Research, says it has been very common for German employers to hire foreigners, especially people from the eastern countries of the European Union.
“Over half the workers hired in the recent economic expansion come from abroad,” he said.