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UPDATE: General Staff Paper on state of defence
The General Staff’s paper on the current state of the Bundesheer was officially published on March 27. Pointing to a “discrepancy between the constitutional task, the budget, and the real situation”, the General Staff has presented alarming numbers on material and personnel reductions since 2004 in the Bundesheer as a consequence of the low defence budget – we’ve given an overview of these numbers in our previous post. Pointing to the mismatch between threats and capabilities, the paper calls for a steady increase of the defence budget to 1% of the GDP (currently 0.57 percent) to modernise infrastructure, weapons systems and technology.
Austria’s GDP amounted to €386.09 billion in 2018. Calls for a higher defence budget have been supported by the President and a minor opposition party; apart from the defence minister, the government, however, has remained silent on the issue to date. Compared to earlier calls for an increased budget, the paper lists more precisely how the money would be spent. It also cautions, however, that a budget of 2 percent of GDP is necessary to render the Bundesheer able to defend against a conventional attack.
Most of the main threats to Austria identified in the paper are non-conventional (and not always primarily military) in nature. The paper classifies threats according to their likelihood and their effect on Austria: most likely and most damaging would be a rapid climate change, a confrontation between Russia and Europe, a violation of neutrality, events of major damage, blackouts, cyber attacks, and a weak UN. Mass migration and “hybrid conflicts of interests” are considered very likely, but slightly less damaging; a systematic terror attack or a pandemic are seen as most damaging but less likely. The Bundesheer intends to be prepared for all these threats – provided that the budget is increased. Early recognition and a whole-of-government approach – the guiding principle, at least in theory, of Austrian defence – are key themes throughout the paper.
Minister of Defence on official visit to USA
For the first time since 2012, the Austrian minister of defence was invited for an official visit to the US. During his visit from April 9 to 12, Kunasek has met U.S. minister of defence Patrick M. Shanahan, agreed on training exchanges with the U.S. Marine Corps and visited the U.N. headquarters to discuss Austria’s role in peacekeeping.
2019 structural reform in effect
Effective April 1, the Bundesheer has assumed a new structure: the ill-fated LV 21.1 reform has been all but rolled back and the Air and Ground Forces Commands made way for a unified upper command, led by a three-star, in an effort to centralise command.
The extent of that change remains to be seen; rather than being a decisive change, the reform might be better understood as part of the general state of reform in which the Bundesheer finds itself, as incumbant defence ministers reverse and replace the reforms convened by their predecessor.
Government is evaluating conscription criteria
Reacting to decreasing numbers of conscripts, the coalition government is thinking aloud about relaxing conscription criteria, adding to the existing categories “fit” and “unfit” the third option “fit for limited service”. Kunasek has announced that an MoD task force is currently deliberating on this idea and will present its results by summer.
Header image: Austrian Armed Forces
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