(CN) — To expand its army, Germany may need to look at permitting other European Union citizens into the ranks of the Bundeswehr, top military leaders say — primarily from a pool of about 500,000 citizens of other EU countries who live in Germany.
Eberhard Zorn, the army’s general inspector, said Germany needs to consider allowing foreign nationals living in Germany to be recruited into the Bundeswehr, the name of Germany’s armed forces. He made his comments in an interview with the Funke newspaper group.
Germany and other European nations are beefing up their armed forces in the face of growing threats, among them terrorist attacks following the Arab Spring in 2011, a refugee crisis due to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, unrest in Eastern Europe since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, and continuing Russian threats to Ukraine. The United States also is demanding more help from Europe to hold up the NATO alliance.
Europe has long been adverse to arming itself anew after World War II.
As Europe’s richest nation and largest power, Germany plays a crucial — and naturally controversial — role in the EU’s military efforts. Germany’s military presence is growing and it deploys troops in the Baltic states to deter Russia.
The post-World War II rebuilding of a German army has long been a source of contention and dread both within Germany and among its neighbors.
Poland, for one, reacted negatively to the news that Germany was looking at recruiting other EU citizens.
Jacek Czaputowicz, the Polish foreign minister, told reporters he was concerned that Poles will choose to join the German army rather than the Polish one because Germany can offer better pay. He advised Germany to consult with Poland before passing a law allowing foreigners to serve as soldiers in the Bundeswehr.
German media reported that the army was looking primarily at enlisting EU citizens who live in Germany. A classified report said the army was interested in the large pool of about a half million Poles, Romanians and Italians resident in Germany. The Bundeswehr now stands at about 182,000 personnel and plans call for that to increase to 203,000 by 2025.
Hans-Peter Bartel, the defense commissioner in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, called recruiting EU foreigners “a sort of normality,” according to ARD, a German broadcaster. The Funke newspaper group reported that the military has about 900 foreign residents of Germany in civilian tasks.
Officials said they were looking at foreigners to fill positions as technology specialists and medics.
Until seven years ago, Germany relied on conscription to fill its ranks. But that was scrapped. Germany is modernizing its forces, but officials say the Bundeswehr is unprepared and underfunded.
Germany spends about 1.2 percent of its gross domestic product on its military, which is far short of a NATO goal for each ally to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. Germany aims to increase its military spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024, according to a BBC report. Germany’s military budget for 2019 is about $49 billion. By comparison, the United States spends about $500 billion on its armed forces each year.
Germany’s armed forces were dismantled after the catastrophes of World War I and World War II. After World War I, the dismantling of the German army fed into Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s dangerous call for the rebuilding of German power, which was suffering under economically debilitating reparations imposed on it at the end of World War I.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)