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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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