For centuries, inter-state war has been standard practice in international relations. In the second half of the twentieth century the possibility of a nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union was the major security concern in the world. Yet, with the end of the Cold War, the security threats states are faced with have changed radically. The risk of a major nuclear war has virtually disappeared. “Global nuclear warfare is no longer the primary international security concern.” Today, war as a means to settle international disputes has largely been eliminated. The developed countries have established a security regime that safeguards peaceful relations among them. “[…] war among the leading great powers – the most developed states of the United States, West Europe, and Japan – will not occur in the future, and indeed is no longer a source of concern for them.”
However, the world is by no means safer than it has been in the past. New risks like international terrorism, organised crime, the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to rogue states or criminal organisations, political or religious extremism, diseases like HIV/Aids, environmental disasters, poverty and inequality, etc. present new challenges to states and societies. Traditional security institutions like the military are not necessarily capable of dealing with these new risks, but must redefine their role and need to be reformed.
Different countries have different approaches to the reform of their military, perhaps most significant is the difference between the USA and Germany. While the US military reform is concentrated around technology and strategies, Germany goes beyond the purely operational level, recognises that the new security challenges cannot be dealt with by simply modernising weapons systems and instead seeks to reform the institutional framework of the military.
In order to compare the efforts made by these two countries, this essay will firstly identify their positions and outline the military reforms planned and already undertaken. In a second step, possible reasons for the divergent strategies shall be established. Here, it is particularly important to consider the perception of the military in the two counties and to look at the political roles the USA and Germany play in the international community. Finally, it is worthwhile to examine if any of the two approaches is more appropriate to deal with the security risks of the twenty-first century.
The immediate military threat to Germany has become negligible. Even so, new risks pose a danger to our security, even if they originate quite a distance away. […] So the tasks the Bundeswehr has to perform have become more diverse and subtle at the same time. No crisis can be managed permanently by military forces alone. Conflict prevention and crisis management are primarily political challenges.
At the time of its creation, the German Bundeswehr was intended as a defence army that could protect the German state and its citizens against an attack by one of the Warsaw Pact armies. Here, Germany’s special geographic position, the fact that its shared a direct boarder with a member of the communist bloc and even had to secure a front city – West Berlin – was of crucial importance. Yet today, “for the first time in its history, Germany is surrounded on all sides solely by allies and integration partners and faces no threat to its territory from neighbours.” The changed security situation calls into question the structure, size and purpose of the Bundeswehr. Therefore, the German Federal Government assigned an independent commission, chaired by former President Richard von Weizsäcker, to examine
the risks and interests of the Federal Republic of Germany in the field of security and [to issue] recommendations on how Germany’s armed forces can in the future perform their duties within the framework of an inclusive security and defence policy.
What resulted, were recommendations that would fundamentally transform the structure and purpose of the Bundeswehr.
In a nutshell, the commission found that “the Bundeswehr has no future in its current structure” and that the most likely tasks it will have to perform in the future are “within the context of crisis prevention and crisis management”, rather than the defence of German territory. The troops will thus primarily be deployed abroad. Germany will certainly not have to fulfil these tasks alone but rather in ever-closer co-operation with its allies, within the EU, NATO, OSCE and the UN. Therefore, the commission recommends that the Bundeswehr should be decreased in size and that more modern equipment needs to be acquired, while avoiding duplication of resources within Europe.
 Kumar Rupesinghe, Civil Wars, Civil Peace: An Introduction to Conflict Resolution, Pluto Press, London, 1998, p. 2
 Robert Jervis, “Theories of War in an Era of Leading-Power Peace”, in: American Political Science Review, Vol. 96, No. 1, March 2002, p. 1
 Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, German Security Policy: Risks and Opportunities, <http://eng.bmvg.de/sicherheit/grundlagen/index.php>, (21 October 2003)
 Richard von Weizsäcker (ed.), Gemeinsame Sicherheit und Zukunft der Bundeswehr: Bericht der Kommission an die Bundesregierung, Berlin/Bonn, May 2000, p. 13
 ibid., p. 15
 ibid., p. 47
 The recommendation is to decrease the number of soldiers from the current 338.000 to only 240.000, while at the same time increasing the number of operational forces from today’s 60.000 troops to 140.000.
 Weizsäcker, op.cit., p.38