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Foreign recruits mulled by German military raise mercenary army debate

In a bid to cope with shortage of recruits at home, German army reportedly floats an idea of opening its ranks to foreigners. Critics of the head-hunting proposal say the move might turn Bundeswehr into a “mercenary army.”

The German army may put up a call for foreigners to fill in understaffed military positions, according to a report by Augsburger Allgemeine. The Defense Ministry will reportedly attract foreign recruits into the Bundeswehr by offering a prospect of obtaining German citizenship.

The rationale behind the unconventional proposal is that anyone who decided to risk his life for Germany deserves to be its citizen. When asked to comment on the report, a military spokesman told the paper that “The Bundeswehr will grow, therefore we need qualified personnel. To this end, we try every available option.”

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The newspaper said it was the Bavarian Christian Social Union party (CSU), the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkels CDU, which put forward the proposal. Florian Hahn, the partys defense policy speaker, however, clarified the issue, saying they were referring to EU nationals who may be invited to enlist in the Bundeswehr. “Within the scope of European free movement, modern models could apply here,” he told the newspaper.

Critics of the proposal argue it undermines the very idea of a citizens loyalty to his country. If foreigners were given right to getting into Bundeswehr ranks, even with a prospect of becoming German citizens, it would then become “a kind of mercenary army,” argued Karl-Heinz Brunner, a defense policy speaker with the Social Democrats. Any recruit must first become a German citizen before joining the army, he said: “Anyone who obtains the German passport as part of the integration procedure is cordially invited [to enlist].”

At the height of the Cold War the Bundeswehr comprised some 670,000 personnel, both military and civilians. Currently, there are 87,000 civilian personnel and 177,000 military staff employed by the military. A cap of 185,000 troops imposed back in 2011 will be broken after the Defense Ministry announced in 2016 a “long overdue” decision to recruit 14,300 additional soldiers over the next seven years.

Only a few European countries allow foreigners to serve in the military. Frances famed Foreign Legion is open for nationals of every state, while Spanish armed forces normally recruit citizens of its former colonies, except for Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

Aside from the Gurkha regiment comprised of the Nepalese men, the British army recruited Commonwealth nationals who permanently resided in the UK for five consecutive years before joining. In Russia, citizens of former Soviet republics who served a three-year contract in the armed forces become eligible for a fast-track citizenship procedure.

There was only one foreigner in the Bundeswehr as of 2016 – a Romanian military surgeon, Augsburger wrote. In a separate comment for the newspaper, the Defense Ministry said “[the idea of] allowing EU citizens to serve in the Bundeswehr is not new.” Europeans with “specific sought-after qualifications” can be considered for civilian service.

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