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Germany has unveiled the most sweeping military reforms since the cold war, including the possible revival of national service, as part of efforts to better prepare its armed forces to defend Nato territory.

Speaking in Berlin on Thursday on the military alliance’s 75th anniversary, defence minister Boris Pistorius said he had signed an order to reorganise the German military from top to bottom.

“It is a landmark reform . . . Our goal is to restructure the Bundeswehr in such a way that it is best positioned in the event of defence, in the event of war,” said Pistorius. “Nobody should have the idea of attacking Nato territory — this is what we [want to] convey.”

The measures are part of a huge shift in Germany’s attitude towards its armed forces, reflecting what Chancellor Olaf Scholz said was a Zeitenwende or turning point in security policy after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

A single operational command will take charge of four new component forces, with cyber warfare raised to an equal footing alongside land, air and sea operations.

Military officials drawing up the plans have been given six months to implement them. A key demand from the ministry is that the Bundeswehr will be made ready for compulsory national service in Germany, Pistorius said, should a decision be taken to reintroduce it.

A defence ministry proposal on a model of national service for young adults will be put before German politicians in the coming weeks, he added.

Boris Pistorius and Carsten Breuer
Boris Pistorius, right, with Carsten Breuer of the Bundeswehr announcing German military reforms on Thursday © Michael Kappeler/dpa

A so-called Scandinavian model in which any military service would in effect be voluntary and gender neutral, as is the case in countries such as Sweden, is seen as a likely candidate.

Pistorius said the measures would re-establish the Bundeswehr “for a new, old challenge”.

Berlin’s new approach has driven a significant uptick in German defence spending, with Europe’s largest economy this year meeting Nato targets to spend 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence for the first time in decades.

Since taking control of the defence ministry in January 2023, Pistorius has emphasised that other cultural and structural changes are equally vital if Germany is to meet its Nato pledges and help deter Russian aggression.

Reform of the Bundeswehr’s structure has been a top priority. With a close eye on the way Russia has waged war in Ukraine, defence ministry officials and military brass have been plotting a radical overhaul during the past few months.

The Bundeswehr’s existing structure evolved piecemeal over three decades to broadly respond to “crisis management” operations in Germany and humanitarian situations abroad.

It has two operational commands, six military organisational areas and 27 separate planning and co-ordination agencies.

Although it is one of the largest military forces in Nato, with 182,000 serving men and women, its sprawling structure left it ill-positioned for the strategic challenges faced by Berlin and its Nato allies.

The reforms will enable the Bundeswehr to make “quick decisions”, Pistorius said, and give German ministers as well as Nato allies a clearer and more direct relationship with the military command.

Elevating cyber capabilities and unifying the military’s various existing components into four clear branches would also make it cheaper and more efficient to perform the urgently needed technical updates to fight a future war, he said, pointing to the Ukraine war as a learning tool.

“There is no war, and hardly any combat situation [we observe] in Ukraine, where digital command and control capability does not play a central role in ensuring that a battle can be [won],” he said.

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