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Citizens in Uniform

When the Federal Republic was founded in 1949, and during the ensuing years, public discussion of the re-creation of a German armed force was unavoidably shaped by the memories of wartime disaster and the terrible legacy of German militarism. For many Germans, even the thought of rearming the country was distasteful. Those citizens favoring the formation of new armed forces were convinced that these forces would have to represent a near-complete break with German military history. The consensus was that the military would require a constitutional basis for its existence, with the Bundeswehr unequivocally controlled by civilian authorities.

The planners of the new Bundeswehr wanted to be sure that no images of the armed forces (Reichswehr) of the Weimar Republic or Hitler's Wehrmacht would be associated with it. The twin concepts of "citizens in uniform" and Innere Führung (inner leadership) were introduced to ensure that there could be no resurgence of German militarism. Behind the emphasis on citizens in uniform was the concept that military personnel were of the people and worked for the people, not part of a military elite that would precipitate a "state within a state" phenomenon. In the new Bundeswehr, the constitutional rights of service members are guaranteed, even though those rights might be restricted at times because of the special nature of military duties.

Military personnel do not give up their political status as citizens when they don a uniform. They continue to be members of the community from which they entered the service, as well as of the West German political community as a whole. They can run for office on local councils and for seats in the parliaments of the Länder and the Bundestag. Regulars and volunteers are permitted to join a military or civil service union and have the right of free expression, although by law they have the obligation to exercise discipline and restraint in expressing their views publicly.

The concept of Innere Führung imposes the responsibility upon all military personnel to defend their country according to the dictates of conscience rather than out of blind loyalty. For the NCOs, officers, and generals who formed the nucleus of the new forces in 1956, most of whom were veterans of the Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe of World War II, adherence to the new principles meant unlearning principles that had guided them in their earlier service. Officers and NCOs received training to help them respect and impart the principles of Innere Führung , including the role of the Bundeswehr in the state and society and the duties and rights of individual service personnel.

The West German military and the political leadership had difficulty agreeing on the measures needed to forge a new democratic spirit that would break with Germany's military past. Specific issues continued to be debated during the 1980s--whether some traditions could properly be carried over from the Wehrmacht, the place of military pageantry, public oath-taking by new soldiers, and attitudes toward the Wehrmacht's complicity in the crimes of the Nazi period and toward the officers implicated in the 1944 attempt on Hitler's life.

A strong antimilitarist element within the left wing of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands--SPD) repeatedly protested against military symbolism and public military ceremonies. In a wider sense, these protests reflected the reluctance among young people to devote time to military service and objections to a NATO strategy of defending Europe by using nuclear weapons in the heart of Germany.

An innovation to help ensure civilian oversight of the Bundeswehr was the establishment of the defense ombudsman (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Federal Armed Forces), who is appointed by the Bundestag. The ombudsman is responsible for overseeing the administration of the services while upholding the constitutional rights of individual service personnel. All Bundeswehr personnel have the right of direct petition to the ombudsman; several thousand exercise this right each year. The ombudsman and staff can also be called upon by the Bundestag or the Bundestag Defense Committee to investigate specific problems.

Personnel Policies

Serious shortages of eligible conscripts began to appear in the late 1980s. Because of the declining birth rate in the 1970s and the increasing number of conscientious objectors, the Bundeswehr struggled to meet its recruiting goals. However, the reduction of the Bundeswehr's active-duty soldiers to 370,000 by the end of 1994, as required by the 1990 Two-Plus-Four Treaty and CFE Treaty, meant that the annual requirement for conscripts could be decreased from 180,000 to 140,000. Also, the incorporation of East Germany into the Federal Republic added significantly to the pool of potential inductees. About 50,000 personnel in 1994 were career soldiers transferred from the NVA or draftees from the new Länder .

The Bundeswehr has been handicapped by a shortage of NCOs, a problem that is expected to become more critical as the army increases its dependence on career cadres to staff reserve battalions subject to mobilization. A soldier must meet high entry qualifications, undergo extensive training, and complete years of service before reaching the rank of sergeant, which entitles him to make the military a career and remain in the service until retirement. Reliance on experienced NCOs is a distinctive feature of the Bundeswehr, where the ratio of officers to enlisted personnel is the lowest in Europe. An infantry company may have a captain and one lieutenant, but most platoon leaders and the company executive officer are usually master sergeants. However, NCOs of the former NVA are generally confined to specialist categories, without experience or training as unit leaders.

Data as of August 1995

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