While politicians across the country are swearing by the defense of European values ​​in Ukraine, there aren’t enough people ready to take up arms. Now Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has to concede that the Bundeswehr’s previous personnel planning is wasted.

Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) faces the next problem. And this time the situation is particularly delicate, because it’s not about material, but about people: According to research by “Wirtschaftskurier”, the ministry has to correct its personnel planning significantly downwards. The original target of 203,000 soldiers to be available by 2025 has to be corrected downwards.

It had been worked out under Lambrecht’s predecessor, Ursula von der Leyen, but the minister has since tacitly conceded it. “Our strategic goal is currently to grow to around 203,000 soldiers by 2031,” confirmed a spokeswoman for the ministry. With a view to the goal formulated so far, there is a “need for correction”.

In 2016, von der Leyen proclaimed the “personal trend reversal”. Previously, the Bundeswehr had reduced personnel for a quarter of a century. This was due to the apparent end of the East-West conflict and the integration of the National People’s Army into the Bundeswehr. In addition, conscription was suspended in 2011. This was followed by the conversion of the Bundeswehr into a volunteer army.

While half a million soldiers were still serving in Germany at the end of the 1980s, in the summer of 2016 there were still 166,500 regular and professional soldiers in the armed forces. This was the historic low in military personnel numbers. The white paper on security policy and the future of the Bundeswehr from 2016 was intended to initiate a move away from decades of downsizing in personnel policy.

Since then, the troupe should grow again, which initially succeeded. According to Bundeswehr internal figures, 182,000 soldiers were employed in 2019. Since then, however, recruitment has stalled. For November 2022, the Bundeswehr states a number of 183,000 employees. The goal of more than 200,000 emergency services in the year after next is therefore unrealistic.

The ministry is talking about a “great challenge”. The Bundeswehr is recruiting military and civilian personnel on the general training and labor market, says Lambrecht’s spokeswoman. “The Bundeswehr, like all other employers, is facing an increasingly difficult task,” she admits, referring to the demographic development. The result is “a shortage of staff affecting all areas of our society, especially among specialists. This development is already reflected in the applications for service in the Bundeswehr.”

In view of the war in Ukraine, however, this development is particularly sensitive. The Bundeswehr itself formulates in its personnel strategy that it wants to “react quickly and flexibly to changes in the security policy environment”. At a time when the threat situation has grown massively, this can actually only mean that more soldiers have to be recruited than planned. In fact, the opposite happens.

The difficulties in recruiting candidates for the Bundeswehr are also a warning sign for all those politicians who, in the face of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, are calling for a “defense of European values” on this front. Despite the war rhetoric, only a few young people seem willing to follow this idea.

Only last week did it become known that the number of conscientious objectors in Germany had quintupled to almost 1,000. Since the suspension of conscription, people who do not want to be drafted in case of defense can refuse military service as a precaution. The number of corresponding applications to the district military replacement offices has skyrocketed since the outbreak of the war.

*The contribution “Pannen-Lambrecht cannot find any soldiers and has to make an embarrassing retreat” is published by WirtschaftsKurier. Contact the person responsible here.