The German Defense Ministry has presented its long-awaited plan to reorganize its military bases, as it prepares to significantly shrink the size of the military. Thirty-one bases are soon to be closed.
Wednesday was a dark day for many German cities and municipalities. They fought to convince the German military, the Bundeswehr, to stay with them, but to no avail. The bad news came from the Defense Ministry in the early hours: 31 military bases will be completely shut down.
Among them some heavyweights: the renowned air force officers’ school in the Bavarian town of Fürstenfeldbruck and the fleet command of the navy in Glücksburg. Both bases are to have their functions transferred to other places.
Early Wednesday, the 1,800 soldiers in the southwestern town of Sigmaringen also found out that they’ll soon have to move – the base there, rich in tradition, will be closed. And businesses in the Danube city of about 16,000 are now fearing economic losses.
“Every closure and every reduction is painful,” said Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere. He said there were deeply-rooted traditions in the military, but that the reforms were unavoidable. “The Bundeswehr is not there for the base’s sake. It’s there to fulfill its mission efficiently and well.”
Smaller army, fewer bases
The Defense Ministry’s plan for its military bases follows an earlier decision to reduce personnel in the Bundeswehr, which is set to shrink to about 185,000.
The bases were built for many more soldiers, and the ministry says maintaining them would be too expensive. Since the end of compulsory military service in March, 55,000 posts have been axed, and 30,000 are soon to follow.
The Bundeswehr bases are spread out across the country so that the military is “present in the region,” as the military says. This will reportedly not change, as a concentration of the military in a few larger bases was never considered.
Rather, de Maiziere proceeded with the motto “reduction comes before closing.” Many bases will be shrunk but not closed. At 31, the number of closures indeed seems moderate. According to the minister’s calculations, the smallest bases not included, 264 will remain in operation.
New policy rolls out through 2017
Hardest hit by the closures is Schleswig-Holstein in the north, the state with the highest military concentration. Eight bases there are to be closed, and 10,000 service positions cut. Still, State Premier Peter Harry Carstensen said he doesn’t feel betrayed by the closures, since important military installations will remain in the state.
The western state of Saarland and Bavaria in the south will also feel the cuts, while posts in the former East Germany will remain relatively unaffected.
The Defense Ministry has said it will not yet allocate money made from any civilian use of the closed military bases, but it has stressed that it wants to help the affected soldiers and civilian contractors.
“The uncertainty has come to an end,” said the German Armed Forces Association, a soldiers’ interest group. It praised the publication of the new base plan, for which soldiers had long been waiting. But its chairman, Colonel Ulrich Kirsch, warned the government not to let the affected soldiers down. “All hardships have to be mitigated as best possible,” he said.
Reforms reach the top
Also to be reworked is the Bundeswehr’s leadership structure. First and foremost, the headquarters of the Defense Ministry will remain in Bonn, the former capital of West Germany. Current capital Berlin will continue to play second fiddle. All together, Bonn and Berlin are to have no more than 2,000 employees, a good 1,000 fewer than now.
The command of the various military branches will be relocated and merged with the responsible administrative bodies. The navy will soon be led from Rostock on the northeastern coast, the air force from Berlin and the army from Strausberg, in the eastern state of Brandenburg.