Germany Unveils Plan to Plug Yawning Shortage in Troop Numbers

(Bloomberg) -- Germany presented proposals to help address a shortage of armed-forces personnel that relies on recruits volunteering for service, part of a drive to expand the military triggered by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius had suggested attempting to plug the shortfall of regular troops of around 20,000 with a reintroduction of some form of conscription. Chancellor Olaf Scholz was among senior figures in the government to push back, saying its abolition in 2011 shouldn’t be reversed, even with an increased threat of Kremlin aggression.

“The threat situation is a completely different one compared with a few years ago,” Pistorius said Wednesday at a news conference in Berlin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed a massive increase in defense spending and is effectively operating a war economy, while verbal attacks on NATO members are increasing, Pistorius added.

“We must assume that Russia will be able from 2029 onwards to attack a NATO member or a neighbor,” he said.

The proposed model would oblige young men to fill out a questionnaire about their health and basic motivation — completing the form would be voluntary for young women. A number of respondents would then be asked to volunteer for a basic training of six months with an option to extend that by 17 months.

That would enable the armed forces, or Bundeswehr, to recruit an additional 5,000 troops per year, on top of the 10,000 volunteers currently, according to a paper distributed by the defense ministry.

The Bundeswehr has long suffered from a shortfall in personnel and last year shrank to about 180,000 regular troops despite sustained efforts to attract volunteers.

To fulfill its obligations as a member of NATO, Germany will need a total of about 460,000 personnel, the ministry estimates. Of those, around 200,000 would be active troops and the rest reserves.

Germany abolished compulsory military or civil service for men in 2011 under former Chancellor Angela Merkel, though German law still provides for possible conscription in the event of war or other conflict.

Immediately after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Scholz proclaimed a “turning point” in German military and security policy.

A key element was the establishment of a debt-financed €100 billion ($108 billion) fund for investment in the Bundeswehr to help reverse years of neglect.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.