Interview with German Defense Minister Army's Composition 'Still Reflects Spirit of Cold War'

In a SPIEGEL interview, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, 38, discusses his controversial proposal to end mandatory conscription, the future of Germany's army and the government's ongoing headaches with the arms industry.


SPIEGEL: Minister Guttenberg, how will the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, look in 10 years?

Guttenberg: Different.

SPIEGEL: Could you perhaps elaborate a bit?

Guttenberg: In 10 years we will have caught up on the backlog of necessary reforms. The army will be smaller and trained for the challenges of asymmetrical threats. It cannot be, with 252,000 soldiers, that we have already reached the limits of our abilities when only 8,000 soldiers are deployed at the same time. In 10 years we will be more professional, faster and more flexible. We will have the potential to deploy our soldiers around the world and still not neglect our own defense.

SPIEGEL: In 10 years, what portion of the military's activities will consist of national defense?

Guttenberg: Less. The necessity of defending our borders has already shrunk to a minimum. The Bundeswehr's structures, though, still reflect to an extent the spirit of the Cold War. There have been attempts to change this, calling the process "transformation," but so far this has brought too little progress. I've created a structural commission for this reason. That seems to me the more fitting word -- we need to change structures as well.

SPIEGEL: Why would you be able to achieve what none of your predecessors has managed in the past two decades?

Guttenberg: Because up to now, far too many people were able to use this argument: Let's see if we can free up some funds here or there, without taking any drastic measures or alarming anyone. Those days, unfortunately, are over. Now not only do we want to reform, we must reform. Simply put, there isn't enough money.

SPIEGEL: Some have accused you of precisely this -- determining security policy according to finances.

Guttenberg: The first thing here is to take a sober look and observe that the fundamental financial framework for our army is initially determined by the budget. Naturally, this framework must be taken into account in any structural considerations. Financial necessity should never be the reason for reforms. But at the same time, that necessity offers a singular opportunity to finally implement the things we believe are right -- because there is no alternative. In the past, we simply did not dare to take serious action. Sometimes it was out of consideration for local authorities, sometimes out of consideration for industry. But it is irrational to arrange everything this way.

SPIEGEL: We can imagine how this will turn out: National defense will be scaled down on all sides -- except in electoral districts belonging to members of the budget committee in the German parliament, the Bundestag, or in states with strong governors able to make their complaints heard with the chancellor.

Guttenberg: Definitely not, because many people are well aware of the path we need to take -- even if we certainly still have some convincing to do here or there.

SPIEGEL: Will Germany still have compulsory military service in 10 years?

Guttenberg: It will still exist in the constitution, but in practice it will be gone in 10 years. A highly professional, exceptionally equipped and flexible operational army hardly has the capacity to train recruits. The structural commission and my office, as well as party leaders and party groups in parliament, will take up the issue.

SPIEGEL: We have heard that the abolition of compulsory service is already a done deal in your office. What, then, is the point of the structural commission?

Guttenberg: My personal preferences may be evident, but we're conducting a debate that is open to various possibilities and a review up to autumn.

SPIEGEL: What caused this sudden change of heart? You were always a resolute champion of conscription.

Guttenberg: I was and I still am, as long as we can afford it. I've been struggling with myself for precisely this reason. Compulsory military service has been proven over the course of more than 50 years. Now, though, it is time to find realistic solutions. By no means should this give a fatalistic impression that (mandatory) conscription is being cut just to save a little money. First and foremost, if we decide to repeal it, it will be for structural reasons.

SPIEGEL: In that case, it wasn't especially clever to suggest doing away with conscription just before a meeting of Chancellor Merkel's cabinet to come up with a plan for austerity measures.

Guttenberg: I will have to live with that accusation, but I am not going to take it too personally. It is very clear that the structures of the Bundeswehr need to be changed. The implementation of these changes is simply being sped up by the current need to cut costs.


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