Thursday 27 April 2017

Germany to bolster army after Trump threats

Response: Angela Merkel
Response: Angela Merkel

Justin Huggler, Berlin

Germany is to increase the size of its armed forces amid growing concerns over the security of Europe.

Troop numbers in the Bundeswehr will be raised to almost 200,000 over the next seven years, under new plans announced yesterday.

The move comes days after Mike Pence, the US vice-president, called on Nato's European members to increase military spending.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly demanded Europe pay more towards the cost of its own defence.

The move also comes amid growing concern in European capitals over Mr Trump's commitment to Nato, after he described the alliance as "obsolete".

Under the plans, Germany will recruit 20,000 more troops by 2025, bringing its total service personnel to 198,000.

That is slightly more than the British armed forces' current strength of 196,410.

In a statement announcing the plans, Ursula von der Leyen, the defence minister, said: "The Bundeswehr has rarely been as necessary as it is now.

"Whether it is the fight against Isil terrorism, the stabilisation of Mali, continuing support of Afghanistan, operations against migrant smugglers in the Mediterranean or with our increased Nato presence in the Baltics."

The announcement came as Germany deployed tanks and hundreds of troops to Lithuania as part of a Nato force to deter Russian aggression.

During the Cold War, West Germany was considered the first line of defence against a Soviet invasion and at its height the Bundeswehr had 500,000 active service personnel. But in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, defence spending dropped sharply.

Germany ended conscription in 2011 and troop numbers fell to an all-time low of 166,500 in June last year.

Cold War historians described West Germany's army as "perhaps the best in the world". But in more recent years it has been better known for embarrassing equipment shortages that saw soldiers forced to use broomsticks instead of guns on Nato exercises, and use ordinary Mercedes vans to stand in for armoured personnel carriers.

The German air force was forced to ground half of its ageing Tornado fighters last year over maintenance issues, including six that are deployed on reconnaissance missions against Isil in Syria.

There are growing calls for Europe to do more to secure its own defence after Mr Trump described Nato as "obsolete" in an interview in January, and earlier this month Angela Merkel's government was forced to take the unusual step of denying that it is interested in becoming a nuclear power. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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