November 3, 2006:
During the Cold War, the West German army was 400,000 strong, well equipped and trained to fight. But the Cold War ended in 1991. That changed everything, because with the Soviet Union gone, and the former Soviet allies in eastern Europe clamoring to join NATO, Germany no longer had any local enemies. The Cold War German army of Panzertruppen (mechanized troops) had lost its mission. Today, a reunited Germany has an army of peacekeepers. Well, only about 8,000 of them are involved in peacekeeping at any one time, out of 200,000 troops. Not only is the army smaller, but it has older equipment, and less of it. Not much purchasing in the last fifteen years, and much of that to support peacekeeping missions.
While the German army is smaller, it still depends on conscripts for about 40 percent of its troops. To make matters worse, most of the conscripts are in for only ten months (they can volunteer to spend more time in uniform, but few do.) So the conscripts spend most of their time in the army, being trained to do something useful. That ten month term of service also means that many units are in a perpetual state of low readiness, because so many of their troops are pretty green, and soon to be gone.
Even with all those problems, Germany still has some useful troops for peacekeeping, and special operations. Just not many of them. The generals would like to have an all volunteer force, but for a long time the politicians, and public opinion, were opposed to this. That is changing, and the government is trying to abolish conscription, cut the army to under 150,000, and end up with a more capable force. That would probably work, although Germany would have to spend more than it does now ($29 billion a year) on defense.