Austria Table of Contents
A noncommissioned officer armed with a 5.56mm Steyr
assault rifle, the Bundesheer's standard infantry weapon
Courtesy United States Department of Defense
Trainees in a tactical field exercise
Courtesy United States Department of Defense
The withdrawal of the Allied forces as a result of the State Treaty of 1955 dramatically affected the general strategic situation in Central Europe. The presence of two neutral countries--Switzerland and Austria--in effect split the defenses of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into northern and southern tiers. Links between NATO forces in southern Germany and northern Italy had to be routed through France. Moreover, if Warsaw Pact forces had chosen to violate Austrian neutrality by driving westward through the Danube Basin, they would have been able to outflank strong NATO defenses on the central front and avoid a contested Danube River crossing in Bavaria. A second line of potential Warsaw Pact attack ran along the southern flanks of the main Alpine range from the Hungarian Plain leading into northern Italy.
The early years of the Bundesheer were directed by military leaders whose experience reflected their service as mid-level officers in the German army, the Wehrmacht. The army's structure resembled that of European NATO powers but on a smaller scale. Its combat units were filled with permanent cadre and nine-month conscripts. It lacked sufficient manpower and air cover.
In 1956 the Bundesheer was called on to handle the first of two border crises. It was in that year that the Hungarian uprising was crushed by the Soviet Union, and 170,000 Hungarians fled into Austria. The second was in 1968 when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. Austria's experiences during the Hungarian and Czechoslovak crises helped clarify the nature of the potential threat to the nation's neutrality and led to a reorientation of defense policy and a revised definition of the military's mission.
After 1970, under the influence of a majority of the Socialist Party of Austria (Sozialistische Partei Österreichs-- SPÖ) in parliament, military service was deemphasized and conscription reduced to six months. However, with the system of refresher training for former conscripts, the basis for a large militia program was established, and there was more total manpower available. The example of Switzerland's reliance on mobilization units to uphold its neutrality provided a useful lesson. However, strict budgetary limits continued to delay the acquisition of modern supersonic combat aircraft until the late 1980s.
Until the early 1990s, Austria's security policy centered on a strategy of Abhaltestrategie (deterrence or dissuasion). Its aim was to convince a prospective invader that any possible advantages derived from an attack on or across Austria would easily be offset by a loss in time, personnel, and equipment. The Austrian version of deterrence flowed from the philosophy of Comprehensive National Defense, also embraced by such other European neutrals as Switzerland, Sweden, and Finland. This concept encompasses the psychological, civil, economic, and military defense of the homeland. Military defense is based on an area defense combat doctrine that uses Austria's geography--its mountains and forests--to the utmost. Austrian forces would use hit-and-run tactics to slow and wear down the aggressor, while avoiding pitched battles. Defense of preselected key zones and strong points along or near primary areas of approach would be used to channel the enemy's advance to make it more susceptible to both commando and limited armor counterattacks.
Austrian military planners concluded that the least likely threat scenario was one in which Austria would be involved in an all-out nuclear war, a role that in any event was beyond the capability of such a small country. Rather, the problem was how Austria could best use its limited military capacity to deal with the range of threats with which the country might realistically be faced. Three levels of threat were identified. The first was a localized political crisis near Austria's borders, such as the case of Czechoslovakia in 1968 or the Slovenian assertion of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. These situations could be faced by rapidly shifting armored and mechanized standing forces to the border area where trouble could break out. Austrian military leaders stressed that their purpose would be to avoid hostilities and to give credence to their determination to prevent, as one former army commander expressed, "wanton or negligent disregard of Austria's neutrality."
A second level of threat might arise in the case of hostilities between neighboring states. In such an event, Austria might have to deny right of passage, prevent Austrian territory from being used as a base or refuge, or defend the integrity of its air space. In this situation, reserves would have to be partially or fully deployed. In the other situation contemplated, defense against clear aggression threatening the state, the nation's entire military potential would be deployed.
In the third level of threat, it was assumed that the aggressor would consider Austrian territory useful only as a base of operations against a primary enemy. Thus, the purpose of an Austrian military buildup would be to compel a potential aggressor to conclude that the advantages of mounting an attack against Austria were out of proportion to the price that would have to be paid and the delay encountered.
To deal with these contingencies, Austria developed the area defense (Raumverteidigung) concept in the mid-1970s. Under this plan, all of Austrian territory was denoted as either a key zone (Schlüsselzone) or an area security zone. The key zones were those having prime value as military routes of advance, such as the Danube and Inn river valleys and the mountain passes of southern Austria. Austria's combat strength was to be concentrated in these key zones, where enemy forces could be funneled and then destroyed by armored and mechanized units. Main lines of communication were to be defended by static defenses consisting of fortified gun positions and prepared demolitions positioned around or near natural obstacles. Rearechelon units of the enemy were to be simultaneously harried by reserve light infantry forces. In the area security zones (Raumsicherungszonen), the objective would be to deny unchallenged use of the terrain by the use of prepared artillery positions, antitank obstacles, and guerrilla-type actions (Jagdkämpfe) on the enemy's flanks and rear, forcing the invader to deploy combat troops to protect service and support operations.
The breakup of the Warsaw Pact and the subsiding of East-West tensions in 1990 and 1991 necessitated a fundamental reappraisal of Austrian security policy. Austrian planners no longer expected a large-scale invasion requiring defense of the entire territory. Therefore, changes in the security policy were undertaken in 1993 with the New Army Structure (Heeresgliederung Neu). This policy, to be completed in 1995 in intended to meet local crises arising from internal instability in countries on Austria's borders that would precipitate large refugee flows and spillover violence. Contemplated structural changes emphasize the immediate availability of reaction forces that could deal with particular situations without the need for mobilization.
Commenting in 1992, Defense Minister Werner Fasslabend said that although the collapse of the Soviet empire had put an end to East-West confrontation, the dramatic changes had contributed to new risks in the form of local and ethnic conflicts. Although the danger of world conflagration had diminished, Austria was in one of the regions where instability had actually increased.
Austria's miliary leadership saw a continuing mission to defend the country's border to prevent the Yugoslav civil war from spilling into Austrian territory. The breakup of Czechoslovakia into two states in 1993 also raised threats of instability on the nation's northern flank. Control over refugees attempting to flee fighting or economic hardship could also necessitate intervention of the armed forces.
Data as of December 1993
Austria Table of Contents