He is planning to cut the number of active-duty soldiers from 250,000 to 150,000 as part of a an effort to find €1bn (£840m) worth of cuts as part of the government’s €80 billion austerity programme. He is even contemplating an end to compulsory military service -- something normally seen as a fundamental principle for the CDU and CSU. Earlier in the week, the man tipped as a future chancellor, said that deep spending cuts were needed in his budget because of the federal government's dire fiscal situation. "A symbolic cutting of a few individual acquisitions will not be enough," the German defence minister said after a speech to soldiers in Hamburg. "If one looks at the current numbers there is an urgent need for a paradigm shift."
True, Germany’s military cannot be compared to the British army. One goes to war, the other shuns even the word “krieg”. The German president had to resign a week ago when he stated the obvious – that Germany’s safety and prosperity is related to its willingness to be a security provider, not a security free-rider. Nor was Germany’s spending on defence particularly high in the first place; its defence spending – 1.32 percent of GDP -- is the second lowest among the G8 countries.
But money spent has never been a good measure of Germany’s – or Europe’s – defence capabilities. Duplication within the continent’s defence industry (5 ground-to-air missile programmes, 3 combat aircraft programmes, 6 attack submarine programmes, and more than 20 armoured vehicle programmes) has led to a massive waste of resources and inflated prices - making companies vulnerable to takeovers from US rivals. Germany has for a long time spent its money on inefficient, stationary forces. Deficit-induced reform could do the German military well by focusing on usable capabilities, not nice-to-have programmes. And in this, there may be lessons to learn for the British defence secretary.