Germany, with the support of Chancellor Angela Merkel, plans to increase troop numbers of the Bundeswehr to about 200,000 over the next seven years. The announcement on February 22 came with increasing German fears of greater pressure on its military, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. These new concerns compound Germany’s existing efforts in operations in the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Africa.
The current German military has approximately 180,000 enlisted personnel, but the increase of 20,000
troops will make the Bundeswehr slightly larger than the British
armed forces. The increase is partly in response to American Vice President Mike Pence’s recent visit to Germany, in which he called for increased military budgets for NATO members. Germany also seeks to reinforce the Baltic States, opening up a new theater of operations for the Bundeswehr. An advanced position towards the Russian border is deemed an Enhanced Forward Presence, which theoretically helps to not only deter Russian aggression, but to slow Russian advances in the event of an attack.
While the German Defense Ministry downgraded Russian relations from partner to a challenge, Russia is far from Germany’s only threat. Among an official list of threats, the government cites international terrorism, radical nationalism, the migrant crisis, and an increased risk of epidemics as reason for the heightened concerns and bolstered military.
The move reverses trends of a shrinking German military presence in the post-Soviet world. Since reunification in 1990, the lack of a significant threat from the Soviet Union has eased tensions and allowed German lawmakers to gradually reduce military spending. However due to increased Russian assertiveness in foreign affairs, combined with criticisms of European NATO member states’ contributions to the military alliance, Germany feels that the Bundeswehr has never been more relevant.