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Why is Germany beefing up its military?


In the face of new challenges, Germany is recommitting itself to the Nato alliance. But what will playing a more central military role mean to a country that has often been accused of reluctance about its armed forces?

It was an unseasonably mild morning as the Sun rose slowly over the training range at Pabrade in Lithuania. This is effectively Nato’s eastern front. Belarus is just a few kilometres away, with Russia beyond.

Lurking just outside the perimeter wire loom several Leopard battle tanks of a German armoured battalion.

So what are the Germans doing here and what is the significance of this deployment for Berlin and for the Atlantic alliance as a whole?

Germany commands the Nato multinational battle group in Lithuania, intended to reassure a small ally in the face of a more assertive and aggressive Russia.

Other countries command similar formations in the two other Baltic states – Estonia and Latvia – and in Poland, the whole mission being known in Nato-speak as an “enhanced forward presence”.

The Nato field headquarters at Pabrade, Lithuania.

Here in Lithuania, Germany is the so-called framework nation, providing the headquarters and a significant proportion of the troops. Other smaller Nato countries also provide troops for the German-led force.

Currently there are contributions from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Norway and the Netherlands. The whole German battle group then forms part of a larger Lithuanian brigade.

What is Nato?

  • Nato stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
  • It is a political and military alliance of 29 countries, including the UK and the United States
  • It was formed in 1949
  • It aims to promote democratic values and for members to “consult and cooperate on defence and security-related issues”
  • If necessary, it allows for the alliance to undertake collective military action
  • This deployment has both a practical and symbolic significance for Germany.

Germany’s Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen says the country must increase its military involvement in Nato.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told me: “The Lithuanian people can rely on the German forces to protect them, to reassure them, to train with them.”

Lithuanians should feel absolutely certain, she said, that “if 1 sq cm of Nato territory is attacked, we will all stand together to defend it”.

That is the goal of the “enhanced forward presence” strategy in a nutshell. But Germany was not always so eager to put itself forward in military matters. Revulsion at the horrors of Germany’s Nazi past fostered a deep mistrust of militarism and the military.

But, to a large extent, attitudes have been changing. The German military was engaged in Nato’s Kosovo operation and played a significant role in Afghanistan. But it was Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its wider military intervention in eastern Ukraine that really began to shift German opinion.

Ms Leyen summed up the change like this: “Nowadays, having a large political relevance, being a certain economic power, we cannot shy away anymore. We have to say, because of our history, we have to get involved.”

Germany volunteered to be one of the framework nations for the enhanced forward presence plan. It commands one of the deployed battle groups, along with the UK, Canada, and the US.

But this is only a prelude to a larger Nato role. On 25 October, Nato’s major exercise Trident Juncture 18 kicks off in Norway.

This, the alliance’s biggest exercise since 2002, will be an opportunity for German forces in particular to show their capabilities before they assume the command of the Alliance’s Very High-Readiness Joint Task Force in 2019. For that year, German forces will be at the tip of Nato’s spear.

Trident Junction 18 in numbers

  • more than 40,000 participants
  • 31 nations (all 29 Nato members, Finland and Sweden)
  • 130 aircraft
  • 70 naval vessels
  • more than 10,000 vehicles
  • 1.8 million meals, 4.6 million bottles of water, 660 tonnes of laundry

But does Germany have the military means at its disposal to fulfil the new roles it is taking on?

Over recent years, the German press has paraded a litany of stories about the inadequacies of Germany’s armed forces: submarines and aircraft that were not operational, shortages of personnel and spare parts and so on.

In the wake of the Cold War, Germany’s armed forces were essentially hollowed out and maintained at well below full strength.

With the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House this became not just a military problem but a diplomatic one too. He pressed all Nato allies to spend more. They ultimately agreed a defence spending goal for each country, that some 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) – the value of all the goods and services it produces – should go on defence.

German spending was well below this figure and, given its economic strength, it came in for particular criticism from Washington.

Ms Leyen has battled to increase German defence spending, with some success. More money is going to the armed forces but there are still political differences within the ruling coalition as to exactly how much is needed.

Though Germany has adopted the new spending target, it is not going to get there any time soon. Even if Ms Leyen’s plans are realised, Germany will be spending only about 1.5 % of GDP on defence by 2024.

Nonetheless, the shift in Germany’s defence thinking is significant. It’s a measure of the twin shocks of Vladimir Putin’s assertiveness and Donald Trump’s apparent questioning of the utility of Nato and the whole liberal order of which it is a part.


Norway apologizes to war-time ‘German girls’

Norway has apologized to women and their descendants ostracized after World War Two for coupling or having children with occupying German soldiers. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Norwegian reprisals were “shameful.”

Solberg said the estimated 50,000 women labelled “German girls,” who had or were suspected of having intimate wartime relations with Nazi troops, ended up marked “for the rest of their lives.”

Seven decades later, most have since died. After Norway’s liberation in 1945, reprisals inflicted included job dismissals, detentions, expulsions and removal of nationality.

“For many, this was just teenage love, for some, the love of their lives,” said Solberg Wednesday, adding that their treatment breached the principle that no citizen should be punished outside the court system.

The prime minister delivered the government apology at an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the UN’s universal declaration of human rights.

Neutral Norway was occupied from April 1940 by more than 300,000 German soldiers.

SS chief Heinrich Himmler encouraged German troops to partner and breed with local women. It was part of Nazi Germany’s white supremacist agenda that also led to the establishment of a “Lebensborn” reproduction center in Norway in 1941.

In 2000, Norway formally apologized to the estimated 10,000 to 12,000 children who also suffered reprisals because they were the offspring of Norwegian mothers and German soldiers.

Many were placed in host families or special institutions and later battled for compensation.

German girls were treated shamefully, says Solberg.

Late but important

Reidar Gabler, the son of a Norwegian woman who was expelled in 1945 along with her German husband, told the Aftenposten newspaper that apology delivered by Solberg had come late but said it was” important for history.”

“The people directly affected are no longer with us… but this also touches their families and the children,” Gabler said.

Historian Guri Hjeltnes presented a study on Norway’s post-war treatment of various groups.

None of the 28 Norwegian men married to German women during the war were subsequently expelled or deprived of their nationality, she said.

“We cannot say women who had personal relations with German soldiers were helping the German war effort,” said Hjeltnes. “Their only crime was breaking the unwritten rules.”


German intelligence foiled 2016 Islamic State terror attack


Intelligence officials in Germany thwarted a 2016 attack that was planned by the “Islamic State” militant group. A couple who traveled to Syria was said to be trying to send teams of militants back to Germany.

Three teams of “Islamic State” (IS) terrorists were to have traveled to Germany in 2016 to prepare for and carry out a devastating attack — with the target possibly a music festival.

A man, Oguz G., and woman, Marcia M., who traveled to Syria in autumn 2015 to join IS were to have played a central role in the attack.

From IS’ then-de facto capital of Raqqa, Marcia M. — who was herself a convert to Islam — tried to recruit women in northern Germany to marry IS members so that they could be granted permission to enter Germany. However, one of the women who was contacted was an informant for Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), who alerted authorities.

Details of the case emerged after an investigation by the German broadcasters ARD and WDR, as well as the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Zeit newspapers. The case was confirmed by the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office.

“We learned of the attack plan, so we were able to able to initiate criminal proceedings in October 2016,” Public Prosecutor General Peter Frank told ARD. “For us, the facts in the case were very concrete and also credible.”

In Kurdish custody

The plans were foiled both as a result of the investigation and the purging of IS from areas that it once occupied. Zeit reported that the couple handed themselves in to Kurdish authorities in October 2017. Since then, they have been held in detention in northern Syria.

There, reporters interviewed Oguz G., who is reported to come from the German city of Hildesheim, in the northern state of Lower Saxony. He claimed to have become embroiled in the attack plan accidentally and to have tried to get out of the situation once he found out about it.

The plot is thought to have been initiated by a high-ranking IS official with the combat name Abu Mussab al Almani, possibly referring to Swiss Islamist militant Thomas C., who died in fighting in Syria.


The First Day on the Eastern Front. Germany Invades the Soviet Union, June 22, 1941

In the spirit of Martin Middlebrook’s classic First Day on the Somme, Craig Luther narrates the events of June 22, 1941, a day when German military might was at its peak and seemed as though it would easily conquer the Soviet Union, a day the common soldiers would remember for its tension and the frogs bellowing in the Polish marshlands. It was a day when the German blitzkrieg decimated Soviet command and control within hours and seemed like nothing would stop it from taking Moscow. Luther narrates June 22—one of the pivotal days of World War II—from high command down to the tanks and soldiers at the sharp end, covering strategy as well as tactics and the vivid personal stories of the men who crossed the border into the Soviet Union that fateful day, which is the Eastern Front in microcosm, representing the years of industrial-scale warfare that followed and the unremitting hostility of Germans and Soviets. In his endorsement of the book Victor Davis Hanson writes: “Craig Luther’s [new book] continues his invaluable explorations of he disastrous German invasion of the Soviet Union, by focusing on the first day of Operation Barbarossa . . . A rich scholarly resource that historians of the Eastern Front will find invaluable.”

The book will be released by Stackpole Books on 1 November 2018.


Barbarossa Unleashed. The German Blitzkrieg through Central Russia to the Gates of Moscow, June-December 1941

This book examines in unprecedented detail the advance of Germany’s Army Group Center through central Russia, toward Moscow, in the summer of 1941, followed by brief accounts of the Battle of Moscow and subsequent winter battles into early 1942. Based on hundreds of veterans accounts, archival documents, and exhaustive study of the pertinent primary and secondary literature, the book offers new insights into Operation Barbarossa, Adolf Hitler s attack on Soviet Russia in June 1941. While the book meticulously explores the experiences of the German soldier in Russia, in the cauldron battles along the Minsk-Smolensk-Moscow axis, it places their experiences squarely within the strategic and operational context of the Barbarossa campaign. Controversial subjects, such as the culpability of the German eastern armies in war crimes against the Russian people, are also examined in detail. This book is the most detailed account to date of virtually all aspects of the German soldiers experiences in Russia in 1941. Writes eastern front historian David Stahel in his review of the book: “The combination of ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ approaches makes Luther’s work a landmark study of Operation Barbarossa.” (War in History)

Based on great reviews, we recommend this book. You can find the book at these places for sale: 


Just One-Sixth of Germans want Own Monarchy Back

“Why on Earth don’t the Germans want people like us around?”

by The  – April 2016 

Across the English Channel, Britain’s royal family (themselves of German origin) are celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday on Thursday. But polls show Germans are content to enjoy monarchy at second hand.

Walking around the streets of Berlin on a few days in June last summer, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Germans are all raving monarchists.

Crowds thronged the streets as Queen Elizabeth II made her fifth official visit to the Federal Republic – exactly 50 years after her first in 1965.

A few lucky Germans had even won the chance to learn how to address Her Majesty from the British Ambassador himself.

According to the British Embassy, more than 16,500 articles about the Queen’s visit appeared in print and online media.

At The Local, we certainly weren’t immune to Queen-mania, tracking the monarch’s travels around Germany over the three days of her stay.

‘Waste of money’

But the latest figures from pollsters YouGov show that the outpouring of interest in Her Maj among the public and press doesn’t translate into support for a return of the monarchy here.

When they asked over 1,000 adult Germans if they would like the country to have its own royal family, just 16 percent – one-sixth – said yes.

The figure in Bavaria – usually reputed as the most tradition-loving part of Germany – was even lower at only 14 percent.

More than half of Germans – 55 percent – said that having a monarchy back would be a waste of money, while 53 percent said it would be an anachronism.

That will be disappointing news for Prince Philip Kiril of Prussia, who in 2013 told The Local that Germany “needs the moral guidance of a monarchy” in an exclusive interview.

“Looking up to a king or queen would be much better for Germany’s young people than to pop stars or football players,” he said at the time.

At arm’s length

All that doesn’t mean that there aren’t deep links between Germany and the British royals.

You might be surprised to learn that for more than 25 years the dressmaker behind all of the Queen’s dresses has been a German, Karl-Ludwig Rehse.

Going back further in time, the modern British royal family is well-known to be descended from the house of Hanover, whose head became King George the First in 1714 – mostly because he was the closest non-Catholic relative of the previous Queen, Anne.

George V changed the family name to Windsor from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1917 when during the First World War his blood links to Kaiser Wilhelm II became politically uncomfortable.

But the family are known to still open their Christmas presents on the evening of December 24th in a German tradition kept alive in the family by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert.

Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip is himself a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, and is also part of both the Greek and Danish royal families.

Some Brits may fiercely deny it – but the royal family is one of the many strong links between the two countries.

And we’re sure that Germans will be just as sad as their cousins across the sea when it finally comes time to bid Her Majesty a respectful farewell.


Germans Debate Return of Military Conscription and Service for Men and Women

by DW

Germany’s ruling CDU party has launched a debate on reinstating military conscription and offering young men and women a chance to serve their country in other ways. A recent poll shows Germans are in favor of the idea.

As the German military struggles to fill its ranks, representatives of Angela Merkel’s CDU party started a nationwide discussion on the return of mandatory military service.

The general conscription was scrapped in 2011 after Berlin decided to professionalize its troops. Prior to this decision, all young males were obligated to either serve in the nation’s military, the Bundeswehr, or perform an alternative service for a limited period of time in civilian areas such as emergency management or medical care.

Currently, the Bundeswehr consists only of career soldiers and long-term contract troopers, although the army still offers an option of short-term paid military service to young volunteers.

In a surprising move on Friday, however, the CDU Secretary General Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer pledged to “very intensively” discuss military service and mandatory conscription, according to the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

Chance ‘to give something back’

Kramp-Karrenbauer said she had been touring the country and meeting CDU members to discuss ideas, which would be presented at the CDU’s party conference in December. The topic of mandatory service apparently resonated with the conservative party’s base, which fears the loss of social cohesion.

The politician told FAZ she did not expect a simple reinstating of the military draft, but remained vague on specifics. “There are many possible ways to serve,” she later said on Twitter.

Other ranking CDU members were quick to back Kramp-Karrenbauer’s initiative, but kept equally vague on the details. The party’s youth wing leader Paul Ziemak spoke of a “community year” which would see young students take part in some sort of a mandatory service program. The term itself is a throwback to the “social year” which had been offered as an alternative to serving in the Bundeswehr.

“We live in a wonderful, affluent country,” the 32-year-old told Bild am Sonntag. “A community year gives the opportunity to give something back and, at the same time, to strengthen the country’s unity.”

‘Horrendous waste of money’

CDU lawmaker Oswin Veith commented that youths could serve with the Bundeswehr, but also with first responders or medical institutions. “It should last for 12 months and apply to young men and women over the age of 18,” he said. Several other CDU politicians also stressed the program would apply to both men and women.

At the same time, CDU’s point man on defense in the German parliament, Henning Otte, responded with skepticism.

“Old-fashioned universal conscription is not going to help us with our current security challenges,” he said, adding that youths could serve in other areas, such as firefighting.

Some politicians from the SPD, the CDU’s junior partner in the grand coalition, said the idea was worth considering. Others, including the Parliamentary Commissioner for Defense, Hans-Peter Bartels, insisted that mandatory service would clash with Germany’s ban on forced labor.

“I think it is very unlikely to assign 700,000 young men and women every year to various mandatory assignments, as attractive as this idea may sound,” he said.

The business-friendly FDP called the proposal “absurd” and warned of the “horrendous waste of money” it could cause. Other opposition parties in the parliament; the Left and the Green party, also oppose the idea.

At the same time, right-wing AFD came out in favor of reviving conscription. Their position comes as no surprise, as the AFD had previously floated the scheme. On Twitter, AFD’s parliamentary group leader Alice Weidel said the suspension was “a grave mistake.”

Weidel added that the Bundeswehr needed to become “an attractive employer again” in order to be able to fulfill its defense duties.

Moving on AFD’s turf?

Some analysts have speculated that the CDU launched the initiative as a way to wring conservative votes from the populist AFD. According to a recent online poll, the prospect of reinstating the military conscription is very popular among AFD supporters, with 60.6 percent of them saying they were “strongly in favor” of the idea.

Germans in general also support the draft, according to poll published by the survey center Civey. The poll, based on responses by 5,046 people between early May and early August, shows 55.6 percent are in favor of the idea, as opposed to 39.6 percent against it.

After discussing the draft on their party conference in December, the CDU is expected to make it a part of their platform for 2020.