Saturday, June 18, 2016

Germans to the front - oops, we don't have enough volunteers

It almost sounds as if the decades old slogan the German peace movement adopted from Carl Sandberg has become reality.

Sometimes they'll give a war and nobody will come.*

The new found German militarism of the new century has had a hard time getting traction but the skillfully managed perception of crises in Syria, Ukraine and terror attacks that can be used to reinforce the narrative are finally beginning to pay off, as shown, for example, by the fawning alarmist coverage of the 2016 Munich Security Conference.

To be fair, Germany's military saw a series of dramatic cutbacks after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union dissolved. The sweet term "peace dividend" has been used to describe this period of disarmament, but attributing the cuts solely to an outbreak of peace would be short sighted.

The German state needed additional money badly in order to finance the huge costs of absorbing East Germany. The defense budget was a convenient source of cash, although it paled in comparison with the tax known as Solidarity Surcharge to help finance the first Gulf War and the cost of reunification.

911 helped make a case for a stronger German military but the boost stalled when the country refused to fully join the Iraq War.

It took another decade of crises, of dropping the inconvenient draft, and patient reestablishment of a big eastern enemy for the tide to turn. The defense budget is finally on the way up, from around 35 billion Euros in 2017 to just under 40 billion by 2020.

While that's peanuts compared to the U.S. budget of 596 billion, which in turn is more than what China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the UK, France, India, and Japan combined are spending, it still represents a welcome uptick because Germany has been increasingly engaged in combat missions in foreign countries.

The switch to an all volunteer force has been much more important than is commonly acknowledged. While history is full of proof that you can run genocidal wars based on the draft, it is much harder to run a "Forever War" with a conscript force. Conscripts bring the war into the general population, evaders illustrate systemic injustice - Bush, Cheney, Trump continue to have to live down creative draft management decades after Vietnam.

Despite a steady barrage of pro military, pro war politics and propaganda, conscripts and whole societies still need to be lied to, cajoled, forced into war.

The education of Germany's young men in the spirit on non-aggression worked a little too well. A newspaper article describing conscripts as cannon fodder taped on a glass pane next to a bullet hole in the watchtower of a nuclear weapons storage facility made the blogster smile but would have thrown the Vietnam vet who appears in an earlier post into a fit. His motto was, after all: Troublemakers? Make them walk point.

Now, with a more easily managed, more easily silenced professional force and more money to come, there is just one minor issue to make Germans to the front as pervasive as some want it to become.

There are not enough volunteers for the German military!

So, the latest innovation, floated in the annual report on the country's defense, is to open the German military to EU citizens.

This break with the post WWII tradition of requiring German citizenship had a lot of support, especially when phrased as strengthening the idea of Europe, but also some opponents within the ranks of the military.

It should be noted that current law already allows foreigners to serve in the German military and that this provision is not restricted to EU citizens. The current provision is, however, limited to individually approved special cases.

The suggested change would simply remove the case by case approval for EU citizens.

* The German version is Stell dir vor, es ist Krieg und keiner geht hin

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