Military Readiness

Reassessing German Pacifism

German recruits waiting in line with luggage soldiers source Imago 42291068
German recruits ready to serve.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The post-Cold War generation could well determine whether Germany takes a more active role in foreign and security policy in the future.

  • Facts


    • Policymakers in Germany are increasingly calling on Germany to take a more active role in foreign affairs, including in foreign military conflicts.
    • Germany’s military, the Bundeswehr, has begun a recruitment drive in recent years, setting a target of 60,000 applicants per year.
    • Germany ended conscription and moved to a fully voluntary military in 2011.
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Sebastian Vagt struggles to link current conflicts in the world to Germany’s history. The young students he speaks to each day can’t really relate to the past anymore – not to Germany as a divided nation, and certainly not to its Nazi era.

“Better to reach them on an emotional level,” said Mr. Vagt, one of 94 youth officers in the German military, the Bundeswehr, who are invited into high schools to discuss matters of national and international security.

Instead of drawing parallels to the Cold War, Mr. Vagt said he invokes the current refugees of war in Ukraine and the Mideast. He tells students to imagine themselves fleeing a country – Iraq or Syria for example. “This is more effective,” he said.

Getting young Germans in their teens, 20s and 30s to relate to the current situation is a challenge.

Ask their parents and you get a different story: The conflict in eastern Ukraine awakens bad memories for the generation that grew up with the Cold War at their front door, a country split in two and a wall that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989.

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