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Is Germany Allowed to Have a Military?

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After World War II, Germany’s armed forces were disbanded and put under the Allied Powers’ control. Is that sanction still imposed on the German military? Is Germany allowed to have a military?

After World War II

The German armed forces during World War II were known as the Wehrmacht (or We March). They consisted of the army (Heer), the navy (Kriegsmarine), and the airforce (Luftwaffe).

The Wehrmacht did not contain the dreaded SS (which was completely broken up and many members severely prosecuted). Still, the German armed forces had been an instrument of Nazism and injustice and therefore had to be broken up.

German military Wehrmacht uniform. Helmet, hand grenade and belt pouch for cartridges. Black and white shot

The Allied Control Council (ACC), which consisted of France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States, ordered all members of the Wehrmacht to be demobilized. It wanted to prevent Germany from becoming a threat again and rooting out Nazism entirely.

While many (particularly Soviets) demanded Germany never wage war or militarily defend itself again, this idea did not last long, as Germany was right in the middle of the Cold War.

For this purpose, the Bundeswehr had to be created in West Germany and the East Germany Army in the German Democratic Republic. Today, after reunification, the Bundeswehr is the armed forces of Germany and a contributing member of NATO.

German military forces were allowed to maintain certain capabilities. There are strict limitations on what they are allowed to do today, outlined in Article 26 of the Grundgesetz (German Constitution). The Bundeswehr is technically a defense force that cannot be used for purposes other than defense.

The Bundeswehr is also not allowed to be used for internal security tasks. This means it cannot be used to suppress protests or riots. The Bundeswehr is also not allowed to be used for intelligence-gathering purposes, and the Bundeswehr is also not allowed to have nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

Historically, Germany was restricted in terms of the number of men, armored vehicles, and aircraft it could field, but this did not last long, thanks to the Cold War.

See related articles: Why was Germany Blamed for WWI?

The Cold War

Because of the Cold War, West Germany became a member of NATO in 1955. NATO is an alliance of countries that have pledged to defend one another in case of an attack by the Soviet Union or its allies (or anyone else).

One NATO country is considered an attack on all NATO countries. The invocation of Article 5 in the NATO charter means one nation has been attacked and calls on all members to help. The US invoked it only once following the 9/11 Attacks.

In 1990, Germany was reunified and became a member of NATO as a whole nation, including forces from the East German military. This gave the Bundeswehr a unique mixture of NATO standards and Warsaw Pact weapons, equipment, and tactics.

Reunification

West and East Germans at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989
Lear 21 at English Wikipedia / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of East Germany and West Germany, the country had to update its military policies because of reunification. It was allowed to acquire war equipment again and introduced the Bundeswehr, an all-volunteer force.

The Treaty on the Final Settlement concerning Germany in 1990 also stated that “united Germany will not acquire any nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.”

However, after the signing of the Treaty on the Final Settlement concerning Germany in 1990, Germany was allowed to possess a greater number of conventional weapons, including tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, and submarines.

NATO

Flag of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
See page for author / Wikimedia Commons

Germany is a NATO member, which means that it must follow NATO’s policies. One of these policies is spending 2% of GDP on defense.

This policy was introduced in 2014 and states that member countries should spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Germany spends about 1.53% of its GDP on defense, below the NATO target. That said, the Bundeswehr is not to be sniffed at.

The Bundeswehr

The Bundeswehr is an all-volunteer force with around 178,000 active members and around 280,000 reserve members. It was introduced in 1995 after Germany’s reunification.

Bundeswehr German military advance towards the enemy positions

The Bundeswehr’s main tasks are to protect Germany’s territory, contribute to international peace and security missions, including NATO missions, and support civilian authorities in times of crisis.

The Bundeswehr has around 300 main battle tanks, 2,500 armored fighting vehicles, 380 aircraft (including combat, intelligence, and logistic aircraft, both fixed and rotary wing), and 65 navy vessels.

The Bundeswehr’s function is limited to the absolute defense in the German Constitution (Art. 87a). Its only active duty before 1990 was the Katastropheneinsatz, or disaster deployment.

It aided Germany and other countries after natural disasters at home and abroad throughout the 1980s. After 1990, global conditions became more uncertain and chaotic, so the German military began to be reconfigured.

As of today, it is still being reoriented in response to Russian aggression. In 2015, Germany announced a significant increase in defense spending due to growing NATO-Russian tensions in Europe.

In May 2015, the German government approved an increase in military expenditure of 6.2% over the following five years to allow the Ministry of Defense to fully modernize the army.

Plans also called for significantly increasing Germany’s tank fleet to a potential number of 328, procuring more Boxer armored personnel carriers to increase the fleet size to 350, and investing in new submarines.

In 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Bundeswehr took an active role in NATO’s response and has even started sending weapons and equipment to aid Ukraine in its defense.

Following the Federal Constitutional Court ruling in 1994, the term “defense” includes border protection in Germany, crisis reaction, and conflict prevention. The phrase “guarding the security of Germany anywhere in the world” is used synonymously.

Present time

Presently, Germany has one of the largest economies in the world. However, it still lacks the numbers compared to other countries, such as the United States and Russia, regarding military strength.

The Bundeswehr is a larger force by European standards but is not able to defend the entire country by itself should the entire bulk of Russian forces decide to “Zerg Rush” the country.

two German soldiers salute each other

Germany has also had to rely on other countries for its national defense. Historically, allied NATO nations (notably the UK and the US) have had troops stationed in Germany to counter Russian aggression.

In terms of nuclear weapons, Germany has a policy called a negative security assurance, which states that the country will not use or threaten to use nuclear arms against any other nation or even host them.

It also encourages all countries to follow this policy. As a sign of good faith in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Germany destroyed its entire chemical weapons stockpile in 2001.

Germany is allowed to establish armed forces solely for defense. Still, it is limited to the German Army, German Soldiers, German Navy, and German Air Force but no biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. By modern standards, the weapons, equipment, training, and leadership of the German Armed Forces are top-tier.

FAQ

What is “The Treaty on the Final Settlement concerning Germany”?

The treaty allowed Germany to unify peacefully and legally as an independent sovereign state without any foreign influence and allowed the Allied troops to withdraw from Germany.

What is the Bundeswehr?

It is the present-day German Army that was founded in 1955.

What is the size of the Bundeswehr?

The number of troops has fluctuated since 1955 but currently sits at 261,700 regular and reserve service members and 100,000 civilian support staff.

Why did Germany establish armed forces?

Because 90% of countries do, a military is necessary for national defense, and it seemed like a pretty good idea to have one with the USSR eyeing up Europe and licking its lips.

Does Germany have any nuclear weapons?

No, Germany does not have any nuclear weapons. It also has a policy called negative security assurance, which states that the country will not use or threaten to use nuclear arms against any other nation. It also forbids chemical or biological weapons.

Are German troops allowed to be stationed in other countries?

Yes, Germany has historically stationed troops in Afghanistan as part of ISAF and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. These troops were mainly special forces, medics, staff officers, intelligence, signals, and transport specialists.

What is NATO?

NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is a military alliance in which 28 European states and 2 North American countries cooperate to ensure European peace.

Does Germany have military restrictions?

Yes, Germany can establish armed forces solely for defense, but they are limited to the German Army, German Soldiers, German Navy, and German Air Force. Germany is also not allowed to have biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.

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