Germany's Defense Minister said Tuesday the country will begin a major restructuring of the military next year as it moves from a Cold War conscript army to one better positioned to face today's threats, while also cutting costs.
Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said a report from an expert commission handed over to him Tuesday would be evaluated along with other options, and that a decision on how to proceed should be made by the end of January.
The commission is recommending that the Defense Ministry cut its staff by half, reduce the number of troops by about a quarter and end conscription.
"All of the analyses underscore the importance of dramatic changes, and we cannot accomplish this with cosmetic measures alone," Guttenberg said.
An exact timeframe for the reforms has not yet been decided, but the expert commission _ headed by Frank-Juergen Weise, Germany's labor agency chief _ has suggested it will take five to seven years, while the Defense Ministry was predicting six to eight years, Guttenberg said.
The announcement comes a week after Britain announced it would cut 17,000 troops, a fleet of jets and an aging aircraft carrier to save money.
Spain is cutting its defense budget for the third consecutive year in 2011, making for a 13.3 percent reduction since 2009. Italy recently reduced its order for Eurofighter jets by 25 planes to save $2.57 billion.
And in Austria, Chancellor Werner Faymann is calling for a discussion about the future of the military, including whether to end conscription and shift to a professional army.
While the German transformation is partially to save money _ how much is not yet known because there will also be costs associated with the reforms _ they are more about Guttenberg's drive to create a force better able to face modern threats.
Despite having 250,000 troops, Germany can currently only support 7,000 at any one time being deployed.
"In other words, behind every deployed soldier there are 35 comrades and 15 civil employees providing support," the report said.
Weise's commission is recommending slashing the military to 180,000 troops, capping civilian posts at 50,000, and cutting ministry staff from 3,300 to 1,600 _ partially by consolidating Defense Ministry positions, which are currently split between Berlin and former West German capital of Bonn, in Berlin.
Guttenberg has already called for the end of conscription and a shift to a professional military of only 156,000. Earlier this year he succeeded in reducing the time conscripts serve.
"Most important is that we have the most functional, efficient and best positioned ministry possible," he said.
To that end, the expert commission envisions at least doubling the number of troops available for deployment to 14,000.
Germany's military horizons have expanded considerably since the nation was reunified in 1990.
In 1992, then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl broke the post-World War II taboo against sending troops abroad by deploying military medics to support a U.N. mission in Cambodia.
Today, the country has 7,070 troops abroad _ 4,840 in Afghanistan and 1,470 in Kosovo. Smaller contingents are deployed in Bosnia, in anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa and as part of UNIFIL, the international peacekeeping force, off the coast of Lebanon and elsewhere.