Berlin, Germany—In an attempt to swell its ranks and reach its recruitment quotas, the German army will target minors.
The Bundeswehr is facing a manpower shortage. In 2011, Germany decided to shift its military from a conscript to an all-volunteer force. Although the process is gradual, the effects are already felt.
The latest figures reveal that from January to August 2017, the Bundeswehr recruited 10,105 men and women with a 23-months contract, a 15 per cent drop for the same period in 2016. The Bundeswehr, however, seems to fair better with two-year contracts since it recruited 33,400 new soldiers during the same period. Nevertheless, around 25 per cent of all recruits resigned during their six-month trial.
To address this issue, the German army recruited 2,128 underaged (below 18) in 2017, with 448 of them being women. In 2011 that number was just 689 recruits.
“Young people should not be used as cannon fodder in the Bundeswehr as soon as they come of age. As long as Germany recruits minors for military purposes, it cannot credibly criticize other countries. The German government is endangering its own efforts toward an international ban on the use of child soldiers,” said German MP Evrim Sommer.
Under German legislation, however, minors aren’t allowed to train with or use any firearms and can’t be deployed. The first restriction highlights yet another problem: how can future soldiers be effective when they join their units if they haven’t received any weapons training? In a bid to swell fraying ranks, the Bundeswehr appears to opt for the easy route. But complacency in training foretells disaster.
And this isn’t the first time that Bundeswehr’s recruiting schemes have raised concerns. In 2014, the United Nations criticised the German government for its recruiting of minors.
“Some advertising campaigns for the armed forces specifically target children, and representatives of the armed forces are sometimes present within the school context, speaking with pupils and organizing activities,” the U.N. report concluded.
Wolf-Christian Ramm, the spokesman for the children’s rights group Terre des Hommes International Federation, added that the Bundeswehr uses “videos on YouTube and ads that talk about all the fun of joining the military, and compare it to playing an adventure game. That’s a part of the problem too. That hides the fact that military service is dangerous and can be deadly.”
The German Defence Ministry responded that all minor recruits can revoke “their period of service at any time within the first six months without giving a reason.”
The debate that this revelation has sparked reveals the uncomfortable nature that Germany still has with anything in camouflage.
Although such activities are commonplace in the USA, where military service is encouraged from high school to college, in Europe the attitude is wholly different. Answering the warrior’s call is seen as a choice for a mature adult, rather than an adolescent. In Germany, moreover, there are economic implications behind this mindset: with a military that lacks not only public support but also the essential funds to operate, financially it makes more sense to funnel young men and women toward the behemoth that is the German economy.
Further compounding to Germany’s recruiting woes is its dwindling youth. In 2015, 749,000 18-year-olds were eligible for military service. In 2030 that number is expected to have shrunk to 605,000.
The Germans are so hard-put to recruit enough personnel that they also consider allowing EU nationals to join their ranks.
“The Bundeswehr is growing. For this, we need qualified personnel,” said a Defense Ministry representative.
But before such a move is decided, the question of citizenship must be decided. Many German officials of all political colours are worried that recruiting foreign EU nationals with no German citizenship might make the German Armed Forces look like a mercenary army. Still, however, the idea of offering citizenship is considered.
For the moment, the Bundeswehr remains hard pressed to reach and maintain its manpower goal of 170,000 soldiers.