BERLIN Oct 26 Germany said on Wednesday it will
close 31 of its 328 military bases and shrink installations in
another 90 locations over the next five years as part of the
most sweeping cuts in the history its Bundeswehr army, navy and
"The reforms are painful but unavoidable," Defence Minister
Thomas de Maiziere told a media conference.
"The Bundeswehr isn't there to have bases in as many places
as possible but it's there to fulfill its mission well and as
cost-effectively as possible."
Closing one base named after the Wehrmacht officer who tried
to assassinate Hitler, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, was
especially painful, said de Maiziere.
Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were executed but he
became one of Germany's few undisputed 20th century heroes.
Some local communities hit hardest by the cutbacks staged
protests, notably in the northern state of Lower Saxony.
"For decades these towns and villages that are going to be
hit by these cutbacks were good hosts for the military," said
Gerd Landsberg, director of the association of German towns and
cities -- Deutsche Staedte und Gemeindebund. "The authorities
have to make sure these places don't turn into ghost towns."
Ulrich Kirsch, head of the Bundeswehrverband lobby group,
said the towns must be compensated. A total of 10 of Germany's
16 states will be affected -- all in the west.
As part of the government's austerity drive, increasingly
urgent as the euro zone debt crisis worsens, the German armed
forces had already announced it will slim down to 180,000 from
250,000. It also scrapped conscription this year.
"But even if I had another billion euros available, that
wouldn't make sense (to keep bases open) because the number of
soldiers will be reduced and it doesn't make sense to keep all
these bases open," de Maiziere said.
At the end of the Cold War there were 495,000 soldiers in
the Bundeswehr and 170,000 civilian personnel, and 175,000
soldiers in East Germany's Nationale Volksarmee (NVA).
Just last week it emerged that Germany would also slash
defence orders for Eurofighter jets, Puma tanks and Tiger combat
De Maiziere said that decisions to close or maintain a
military base were made almost entirely on merit and that only
in a limited number of cases would bases be kept open due to
local economic conditions.