Vladimir Putin and his allies in eastern Ukraine must think all their birthdays have come at once: Ursula von der Leyen, the German defence minister, has announced that from now on the German army will be more family-friendly, with increased funding for crèches for soldiers’ children and postings limited to match school-term dates.
In the midst of US demands that the NATO members increase their military spending in the face of Russian territorial ambitions, America’s richest and most important ally on the Continent will spend more than £80m on flat screen televisions and minibars for barracks in order to make the army more attractive to recruits, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.
Germany gave up conscription in 2011, and now it is struggling to find recruits. Von der Leyen, the first woman to be defence minister, said she needs to compete with business for recruits: “In a society that is changing rapidly, so do the individuals’ expectations of work. We have to react very flexibly as an employer, otherwise we will soon face empty hallways and an empty parade ground.”
While the minister ramps up the child-centred spending, Germany still lags behind its allies in defence spending. NATO wants members to budget at least two per cent of GDP on defence, but Germany, despite being the richest country in Europe, spends just 1.3 per cent.
As the Telegraph explained: “The new measures will also contribute to the German military’s image with some of its allies as ‘soft.’ One British officer reportedly described the German army deployment in Afghanistan as ‘an aggressive camping organisation.'”
German army officers are not happy, either. General Harald Kujat, a retired former chief of staff of Germany’s armed forces, told the German magazine Focus that von der Leyen’s proposals were those “of a good housewife taking care of her children who has no idea of the military.”
Other critics said that her aim of making the army “one of the most attractive employers” is “totally unrealistic.” A senior serving officer speaking on condition of anonymity told Focus they were policies for “sissies and wimps.”