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Creation of the Bundeswehr

In the summer of 1955, ten years after the Nazi surrender and the end of World War II, the West German Bundestag (lower house of parliament) voted to authorize the recruitment of volunteers for the initial formation of the Bundeswehr (Federal Armed Forces). Later in the year, a cadre of about 100 officers and NCOs were sworn in at a ceremony in Bonn. Most of the initial volunteers were veterans of the World War II Wehrmacht who had been serving in the Federal Border Force (Bundesgrenzschutz--BGS) since the inception of that lightly armed organization in 195l (see Federal Police Agencies, this ch.).

Training facilities and equipment were made available by the United States Army, and 1,500 volunteers reported for the first training cycle, which began in January 1956. The Bundestag soon promulgated compulsory military service. By the end of the year, the force numbered about 65,000, including 10,000 volunteers from the BGS, almost all of whom were war veterans. The reappearance of a German armed force, which would have been inconceivable a decade earlier, had become a reality as a direct result of the Cold War.

The London and Paris agreements of 1954 restored sovereignty to the Federal Republic and opened the way for German membership in NATO. The four Allies retained occupation powers in Berlin. Allied troops remained in West Germany for purposes of NATO defense pursuant to status-of-forces agreements. With the exception of French troops, Allied and German forces were under NATO's joint defense command.

In East Germany, the national legislature passed a bill establishing the armed forces and the Ministry of Defense in January 1956. The swift creation of an East German armed forces, the National People's Army (Nationale Volksarmee--NVA), more than 120,000 personnel practicing Prussian-style drill, was a dramatic gesture of nationalism impossible for the world to ignore. Thus, the 1950s saw both Germanys embark upon the reestablishment of their military forces, albeit ones firmly restrained within the mutually antagonistic Cold War alliances.

Strategic Concerns and Military Missions

Until the late 1980s, the Federal Republic was confronted by a single preponderant threat arising from the forward deployment of armored and highly maneuverable Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces. The threat to NATO and to Germany abated after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the phased withdrawal during the first half of the 1990s of Soviet (and, later, Russian) units from the former East Germany and from other Warsaw Pact nations.

Instead of having to prepare for the contingency of direct attack from the east, a united Germany faces more diffuse and intangible security problems. Under the new conditions, Germany's concerns focus on the possibility of armed conflicts arising in any one of three regions. The first is in the former Soviet Union, where fifteen former Soviet republics, several of them with powerful conventional forces and even nuclear capabilities, are undergoing a difficult transition to independent nationhood. Second, in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of communist rule and the problems of the fragile democratic systems that followed have also created the potential for dangerous upheaval. Historical animosities previously suppressed under an authoritarian regime have already brought civil war to the former Yugoslavia. Ethnic or religious violence could easily break out elsewhere in the region, producing destabilizing conditions, including the arrival of waves of refugees. Finally, German military planners also foresee possible conflict in the volatile area extending from the southern rim of the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. In this region, the emergence of fundamentalist or radical regimes poses a potential threat to NATO member states such as Turkey, which could lead to a call for German force deployments.

The primary mission of the German armed forces remains the protection of German territory in conjunction with other NATO armies. This task would fall to NATO's main defense forces, which, under guidelines adopted in 1991, will constitute the bulk of NATO forces in Central Europe. The main defense forces will consist of four multinational corps, only partially mobilized in peacetime. Two corps will be under German command, and German divisions will also be assigned to the remaining corps commands. NATO's Rapid Reaction Force will be available to assume regional crisis management and to take limited action in either Central Europe or elsewhere in the NATO area. The force will also provide protection during the buildup of the main defense forces. Germany's contribution to the Rapid Reaction Force will include its operationally ready combat brigades. The air component of the Rapid Reaction Force will include twenty aircraft squadrons under the command of a German officer.

In addition to maintaining NATO-committed combat units, the evolving Bundeswehr will retain support forces to provide military infrastructure and logistics, training units and schools, medical services, and non-NATO air defense. It will be required to have contingents ready to conduct peacetime missions of disaster relief, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance. German commanders also must plan for possible deployments in support of out-of-area NATO or UN operations (see International Military Missions, this ch.; The Out-of-Area Debate, ch. 8).

Data as of August 1995

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