Germany at the Pivot

Nov. 1, 1989

On one critical issue after an­other—arms control, East-West trade, modernization of NATO nuclear weapons, policy to­ward eastern Europe—West Ger­many is now exerting a major and perhaps decisive influence.

The nation of 61,000,000 seems increasingly ready to place itself at odds with key allies on the basic security issue of how to respond to Soviet power. Bonn consistently outpaces both the US and Britain in supporting Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and in calling for West­ern military concessions.

Bonn’s actions reflect a desire for a larger role in eastern Europe, a region where the Kremlin faces vast problems and where German influ­ence has long been a sensitive issue. Even talk of a reunified Germany is back in style.

The Federal Republic, in short, is moving toward a leading role on fun­damental issues going to the heart of East-West rivalries. US leadership in NATO, reform in eastern Europe, and the future of the German nation are sure to be affected.

What is kindling the new asser­tiveness in West Germany’s international approach are West German economic and military power within NATO and the German perception that a historic opportunity exists to ease national problems.

The rise of a powerhouse econo­my in the Federal Republic, far from concentrating German attention on internal affairs, has fed German readiness to play a more prominent international role.

After World War II, Germany lay destroyed, and the lines of occupa­tion became the frontiers of a divid­ed Europe. From this prostrate con­dition, the West German state has risen to become a worldwide indus­trial giant and the dominant eco­nomic force on the Continent.

Its Gross National Product now exceeds $1 trillion and continues to expand. West Germany, once a re­cipient of US aid, now provides its own assistance to some allies.

Within NATO’s military assis­tance program, West Germany has been supporting moves by Greece, Turkey, and Portugal to modernize their forces. Included are funds for Hellenic Army and Air Force pro­grams, Turkish aircraft, and Por­tuguese Type-209 submarines.

West Germany’s military achieve­ment has been less spectacular but equally critical to its emergence as a power in European affairs. Today, the highly professional German force of 485,000 active servicemen and 800,000 reservists is viewed as a key to NATO conventional defense on the Continent.

This is true despite restrictions imposed on West German military power. Under provisions of the Paris agreements of 1954, which cleared the way for West German rearma­ment, all forces except a Territorial Army are under direct command of NATO’s Supreme Allied Command­er, Europe. German law bans pro­duction of nuclear, biological, or chemical arms.

German Force Lineup

The West German Air Force, 109,000 strong, comprises ten wings of fighter/ground-attack aircraft, two wings of air defense fighters, and two wings of reconnaissance aircraft. The Luftwaffe possesses excellent personnel.

In addition, much of its equip­ment is viewed as first-rate. In­cluded in the German inventory are 165 relatively new Tornado fighter/ ground-attack aircraft, 160 F-4 Phantom interceptor and fighter/ ground-attack aircraft, sixty RF-4 Phantom reconnaissance aircraft, and 175 older and soon-to-be-­replaced AlphaJet fighter/ground-­attack planes. The swingwing Tor­nado is the backbone of the German fighter/bomber force.

On land, West Germany boasts the largest standing army in western Europe, one numerically larger than US Army forces in Europe and with more main battle tanks.

West Germany’s Army, or Bun­deswehr, today has 345,000 troops, 170,000 of them conscripts serving active-duty terms of eighteen months. Of the total, about 266,000 are as­signed to the Field Army committed to NATO defense, 49,000 to the Ter­ritorial Army, and the balance to various support units and headquar­ters. In addition, there are 710,000 Army reservists.

The Bundeswehr, until recently, was organized into twelve divisions: ten mechanized, one airborne, and one mountain. Long-term prob­lems, however, have forced the ser­vice to reorganize. This reorganiza­tion, carried out under a plan known as “Force Structure 2000,” calls for a force of ten mechanized and two airmobile divisions, plus another thirteen brigades of the airmobile, lift infantry, and mechanized infan­try type. The new setup will require fewer active-duty troops.

At the heart of the Bundeswehr is its large force of some 5,100 main battle tanks. Of these, 1,800 are of the Leopard II type. The older Leopard I numbers some 2,400. There are also 900 or so older US-made M48 tanks.

While Germany’s tank force is dwarfed by Soviet armor holdings, it is nevertheless larger than that used by the German Army to over­whelm France in 1940 and invade Russia in 1941.

The Bundeswehr is facing some sharp peacetime challenges, the greatest of which is a demographic downturn in West Germany. With the pool of draft-age men shrinking, Bonn is experiencing growing diffi­culties finding servicemen in suffi­cient numbers. The Army also has problems retaining second-term NCOs.

West Germany’s Territorial Army, organized into five divisions, is in­tended for rear-area duties such as home defense, base-area security, and reserve training. Also under the Territorial Army command are Ger­man battalions assigned to a joint Franco-German brigade, based at Boblingen, which falls outside NATO supervision.

Germany’s Navy, the Bundes­marine, has only 38,500 officers and sailors, including 6,800 naval avi­ators. Even so, efforts over the past two decades to increase German seapower have been largely suc­cessful. The fleet, deploying 150 ships in 1970, now operates some 180 vessels. The total includes twenty-four diesel submarines and eighteen surface combatants. Deliv­ery of the last of eight Bremen-class frigates will soon be complete. These 3,750-ton ships are armed with Harpoon antiship missiles and NATO Sea Sparrows.

Modest Modernization Plans

The services are due to benefit from modest modernization pro­grams. The most conspicuous, the multinational European Fighter Air­craft (EFA) program, will provide the Luftwaffe with a new primary combat aircraft in the late 1990s.

The EFA is to be a twin-engine, single-seat design with a delta wing and canard configuration, making it very agile, and with advanced avi­onics. Luftwaffe plans call for buy­ing 250 EFAs. Also on tap are sixty additional multipurpose Tornado fighters and up to 3,000 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles.

Though it has run into develop­ment problems, the new PAH-2 at­tack helicopter is expected to in­crease German Army capabilities substantially in the 1990s. This air­craft is being developed jointly with France at a cost to West Germany of $4.5 billion. The Bundeswehr will get 200 of the PAH-2s, which are slated to perform many of the same tasks that the US Army’s new LHX will perform.

Four ships of a new, all-German frigate class are about to be ordered at a cost of $1.5 billion. Twelve Type-206-class subs are being mod­ernized to operate in high-threat wa­ters. These will be equipped with the Krupp-Atlas SLW-83 combat in­formation system, built around an upgraded DBQS-21D sonar, and the DM2A3 antiship, antisubmarine tor­pedo. The Bundesmarine will pur­chase at least twelve new, long-range, maritime-patrol ASW air­craft, variants of the US Navy Long-Range Air ASW Capability Aircraft, the Lockheed P-7A.

Taking into consideration Ger­many’s economic power and formi­dable defense contributions, Bonn’s allies now are demonstrating what experts say is new attention to West German views on strategic affairs.

For example, analysts point to slow and cautious development of SACEUR’s Follow-On Forces At­tack concept for the conventional defense of western Europe. FOFA’s more aggressive features have been toned down to allay German politi­cal concerns.

Just as the realities of German na­tional power have kindled a new pur­posefulness in Bonn, long-standing German vulnerabilities and weak­nesses impart a new sense of urgen­cy on many issues.

Today, the most obvious and by far most significant manifestation of new German assertiveness con­cerns Bonn’s reaction to Kremlin initiatives under Gorbachev. “Gor­bymania,” present to some degree in all Western nations, is epidemic in the Federal Republic. While it is still possible in Washington, Lon­don, and Paris to regard the Soviet leader’s peace overtures skeptical­ly, many Germans have embraced his arms-control, disarmament, and trade ideas almost without reserva­tion.

Three Motivations

Three factors account for mount­ing West German insistence on striking an independent pose on this critical East-West issue.

The first is a military security problem like none other. Gen. Eberhard Eimler, when he was Chief of Staff of Germany’s Air Force, described the situation viv­idly:

“Two-thirds of all Soviet forces are stationed in Central Europe or in the western part of the USSR. There is no other part of the globe where so many military bases, troops, weapon systems, and nucle­ar warheads are concentrated as at this line dividing the two power blocs. The Federal Republic of Ger­many extends from south to north over 625 miles, . . . the longest com­mon border with the Warsaw Pact. The average width of the Federal Republic of Germany from east to west is not more than 135 miles, a distance any modern aircraft can cover in less than fifteen minutes. About eighty percent of our indus­tries are situated in a strip no more than 100 miles deep along the Iron Curtain.”

The West German public and major politicians alike are preoccupied with the need to reduce this threat to German security. Gorbachev is widely viewed as the best chance for peace and worthy of strong Western support.

Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher has maintained that the West must move swiftly to help Gorbachev in his avowed effort to change Soviet society. In June, West Germany and the Soviet Union pledged in an East-West doc­ument to strive for disarmament and intensify cooperation. Signed by Gorbachev and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the state­ment commits their nations to seek “a peaceful European order or a common European home.”

This preoccupation with the promise of peace held out by Gor­bachev accounts, in part, for luke­warm German support for moderni­zation of short-range nuclear mis­siles in Germany. In April, the two strongest supporters of the plan, the US and Britain, gave in to Bonn’s demands that NATO put off a deci­sion on deploying a new, longer-range version of the Lance missile. Many Germans view the step as needlessly provocative.

Then Bonn surprised Washington by calling for immediate negotia­tions on the missiles despite prior US and British calls for the Soviet Union to reduce its conventional superiority in advance of any new missile negotiations. The Allies pa­pered over their dispute at the May NATO summit in Brussels, agreeing to postpone the decision until 1991. While the argument has been pushed to the back burner until after German elections next year, it seems virtually certain to move to the forefront again.

On the question of military spending, West Germany once again is at odds with Washington. In the view of West Germans, the Sovi­et threat is fading fast and will con­tinue to dissipate unless Gorbachev is backed into a corner by a Western buildup. Some experts note a grow­ing German desire for what they call “burden-shedding,” rather than burden-sharing. That notion con­trasts with the US government view that Soviet power has not declined much, if at all.

The Factor of Trade

The second reason that West Ger­mans are more enthusiastic than others about pursuing détente with Gorbachev is economic.

In Germany, there is conviction that economic prospects are emerg­ing not only in Russia but also in east European markets. Germans are understandably loath to sacri­fice their potential economic stake in East-bloc trade.

West Germany, Russia’s top trad­ing partner in the West, exports bil­lions of dollars worth of goods to the Soviet Union each year; two-way trade fluctuates between $7.5 billion and $10 billion. Even so, exports to the Soviet Union account for only a small percentage of West Ger­many’s total exports. Gorbachev has claimed that Soviet-German trade is lower than it should be, and he is seeking to expand it.

On a visit to Germany last June, Gorbachev issued a strong appeal to German business leaders to step up investment and trade with the Sovi­et Union. To help the process along, he signed a new accord expanding guarantees to German firms operat­ing in Russia.

In the “satellite” nations of east­ern Europe, West Germany is even more anxious to encourage devel­oping political trends and to estab­lish itself as an economic force. For several years now, Bonn has been promoting investments and trade in the region. One goal was to raise hopes in eastern Europe and defuse potential political explosions. The lure of economic advantage, how­ever, is undeniable and growing more intense.

Western leaders encourage Bonn’s initiatives—up to a point. The concern is whether Germany, perceiving national opportunities in the East, could one day find that its interests conflict with those of NATO as a whole.

The Pull From the East

The third reason for West Ger­many’s unprecedentedly robust support for the Soviet leader is po­litical. Over the past two decades, Bonn’s policy of promoting better relations with Moscow and the East has enabled hundreds of thousands of Germans in the East to reach the West. West Berlin also has enjoyed relative tranquility.

Germans see in Gorbachev’s re­formist attitude a possibility to achieve progress on the central and most sensitive “German Question” —how to overcome the postwar di­vision of the German state into cap­italist West and Communist East.

Few expect early reunification of the two Germanies; slow develop­ment of greater cross-border ties is viewed as the maximum change al­lowable, given the concerns that a reunified Germany would arouse all across Europe.

Even so, long-term reunification has become the subject of the most widespread discussion in years. The Alliance’s most recent policy document, for example, restates its view that true peace “will require that the unnatural division of Eu­rope, and particularly of Germany, be overcome.”

In Germany recently, US Ambas­sador Vernon A. Walters declared that the flight of East Germans to the West in recent months indicates that the Germanies may be reunited in the not-too-distant future. Diplo­matic observers said it marked the first time a senior diplomat spoke of reunification as anything other than a theoretical, long-range possibility.

The sum of these factors is recog­nition, inside Germany and out, that Bonn is destined to play a key role in the unfolding of East-West affairs. At least for the next few years, the nation to watch is West Germany.

Vincent P Grimes is Managing Editor of National Defense Magazine. This is his first article for AIR FORCE Magazine.