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Who needs them?

It's true that Germany won't support the U.S. liberation of Iraq. Maybe their diplomatic position, though, has less to do with anti-Americanism and more to do with the fact that their military is in worse shape than Phil Donahue's career. They're filled with crappy old equipment which would have been useful two decades ago if the Soviets had invaded, but which is useless now.

But there are bottlenecks everywhere: a shortage of engineers to inspect helicopters in the field, for example, and of anesthesiologists necessary for field hospitals.

The country has few precision-guided weapons and only outdated battlefield command-and-control ability. It has plenty of soldiers, about 290,000, but 90,000 of those are conscripts who get minimal training. Most of the rest are aging professionals who have never served abroad.

Most important of all, Germany does not yet have a means to transport its troops far beyond its borders. It had to lease Ukrainian aircraft to fly its troops to Afghanistan for peacekeeping. It is developing a military transport plane with several other European nations, but the first of the new aircraft will not be delivered before 2009.

Germany is developing an air-launched cruise missile and has started buying laser-guided bombs. But it has made almost no progress in developing an airborne ground surveillance system to allow it to survey a battlefield or use precision-guided weapons effectively.

Why is the German military in such bad shape? Well, one reason, the well-known one, is that NATO countries have felt free, under the umbrella of American protection, to skimp on military spending. Another reason, though, is the typically European confusion about the role of the government: even the military is a social program:
"We need to spend a minimum of 30 percent on capital investment, otherwise the modernization won't take place at the necessary speed," said Gen. Klaus Naumann, a former chairman of NATO's military committee, complaining in particular that the military is top heavy with civilians.

Mr. Thum and his broken trucks are part of the problem. He is a civilian mechanic inherited from the East German Army when it merged with West Germany's a decade ago. At 55, he works just 220 days a year and cannot easily be fired because under German law, civilians who have worked for the armed forces for 15 years or more are in effect guaranteed lifetime employment.

Keeping Mr. Thum and many of the military's 130,000 other civilian employees busy is one reason the German military spends just $40 million a year on new vehicles but $1 billion on maintaining them. On average, its trucks are 25 years old.

As Mr. Thum says, "Our future is in these old vehicles."

General Naumann said, "If we could free 6 to 8 percent of the defense budget now spent on pay and benefits, we could really begin to modernize the armed forces in a way that would be able to close the capabilities gap between most Europeans and the Americans."

When the last defense minister, Rudolf Scharping, tried to do that a year ago, he met such stiff resistance from workers' unions that he promised that for the next 10 years the military would not lay off any civilians many of whom, a Defense Ministry spokesman noted, lack the skills to work in the private sector.

Hey: unskilled civilians! Exactly the sort of military asset any country needs by the bucketload. (On the other hand, the bright side for Germany is that France is still ready to surrender to them on a moment's notice.)

I'm sure the gap in capabilities (and commitment) between Germany (et al.) and the U.S. explains a large part of President Bush's disdain for so-called multilateralism. It's bad enough for Old Europe to tell the U.S. that we should wait for their approval before acting -- but since it turns out that there's nothing they could contribute even if they were willing to do so, their demands just seem insulting. What they're saying, essentially, is that the U.S. should wait for them because they bring superior wisdom and moral sense to the table. And George Bush doesn't believe that, and neither should we.

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Comments (1)

Richard:

Are you sure you should be concerned that Germany doesn't have a strong military? Given the history of the last century, maybe this is a much better alternative!

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