German army 'struggling to fulfil duties'
BERLIN, Mar 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) Germany's conscript-based armed forces are struggling to meet growing international commitments within NATO because of a severe lack of funds, a parliamentary report concluded on Tuesday.
It said morale among German soldiers, who last year saw combat in Yugoslavia for the first time since World War Two, was at a worryingly low ebb due to uncertainty over a long-planned overhaul of the 320,000-strong forces.
"The armed forces are being strained to the limit of their human and materiel resources," parliamentary armed forces ombudsman Claire Marienfeld said in her annual report, citing an "ever growing investment backlog".
A spokesman for Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping, who last year won a small reprieve from further cuts amid speculation he had threatened to resign, said the report was accurate.
The lack of resources of Germany's Bundeswehr was exposed during NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia last year.
Scharping argues his forces cannot play an equal role with European partners because Berlin devotes a lower share of its budget to defence than any major NATO member.
At the same time, Germany is under pressure to participate more in regional NATO crisis missions and to contribute to the formation of a future European Union army.
Marienfeld, a member of the opposition Christian Democrats, said the almost 8,000 German troops serving in Kosovo, Bosnia and Macedonia already suffered from a lack of resources.
"There are long waiting times for replacement parts and personnel are not always adequately prepared for long tours of duty," she said. "Staffing levels are relatively thin."
A recent extension in mission lengths from four months to six "met with an overwhelmingly negative response from soldiers and their families", said Marienfeld, whose conclusions are based on complaints from soldiers and barracks visits.
Scharping has named a 21-member commission under former president Richard von Weizsaecker to come up with reform suggestions, though critics say this is too little, too late.
There have been calls to turn the Bundeswehr into a smaller, leaner all-professional army but Scharping, who backs the ideal of the "citizen in uniform" to act as a check against the growth of a powerful military class, has so far resisted such calls.
Ministerial negotiations on the 2001 budget start this week. Tthe defence ministry declined to say what its stance would be.
"Let's wait and see what the recommendations of the commission are," a spokesman said.
Marienfeld said far-right incidents involving soldiers had plunged last year from 200 cases to 92.
She pointed to the success of measures to increase political awareness after a scandal two years ago when soldiers were caught dealing in neo-Nazi paraphernalia in barracks and found to be involved in cases of far-right-motivated violence.