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Concern over military liaisons in federal ministries
At the beginning of May, news on military personnel in several federal ministries have sparked astonishment and criticism. Liaison officers have been placed in the offices of the chancellor and vice chancellor as well of the ministries of finance, infrastructure, the exterior, interior and education, respectively, though not necessarily on site and/or full-time). Originally introduced during Austria’s presidency of the Council of the European Union to enhance inter-departmental coordination, as has now become public, these officers are still in place and more are likely to be installed. This move, attributed to secretary-general Wolfgang Baumann, seems not to be unprecedented – apparently military liaisons have served before, temporarily in relation to specific events and there has always been one serving the federal president, the commander-in-chief of the Bundesheer. However, the fact that Baumann formerly has held leading positions in the Bundesheer’s intelligence agency and that the ministry of defence is in the hands of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) have made this issue a delicate one.
The defence ministry claims that this closer connection between ministries will serve quicker decision-making processes where two or more ministries are involved; additionally, it corresponds to the idea of ‘comprehensive national defence’ (umfassende Landesverteidigung), the guiding principle in Austrian defence, at least in theory. Liaisons have the potential to be a step towards the realisation of this concept that envisions national defence not only as a matter of the armed forces but the whole range of political, economic and societal institutions. The opposition parties meanwhile suspect ulterior motives behind the move, warning of ‘infiltration’ and spying. An expert on constitutional law, too, has warned that the aim of this new role might actually be to gain intel for the Bundesheer, and, no matter the motivation, has called into question the legality of this move.
New military high school sparks criticism
The Bundesheer’s plans to reopen a military high school with a focus on “security and leadership” have met criticism from the finance ministry and the opposition. Planned along the lines of a vocational business school with a capacity of 250 pupils and coming at a cost of EUR 30m for infrastructure alone, the school is budgeted considerably more generously than comparable institutions. The school is the successor of the now-defunct military secondary school, and like its predecessor, will be run as an (optional) boarding school on the grounds of the Theresian Military Academy, the Bundesheer’s main institution for training officers.
Austrian contingent with EUTM Mali to increase
Starting June 4, a total of 47 Bundesheer personnel will be deployed to Mali as part of the European Training Mission Mali (EUTM), and the mission be placed under Austrian command. Its objective is to train the Malian army for the fight against islamist and Tuareg insurgents, not to take an active combat role. Incoming commander Brigadier General Habersatter will oversee the Bundesheer’s fourth-largest mission abroad, after Kosovo/KFOR (>400), Bosnia (>300) and Libanon/UNIFIL (<200). With a total of 1.028 personnel deployed abroad, the Bundesheer keeps a traditionally large footprint overseas in relation to its size.
Joint exercise between Austrian and U.S. military police
Austrian and U.S. military police of the Austrian and US Armed Forces held a joint exercise in which a binational, company-sized element went through different training scenarios. The aim of the exercise held in English was to enhance interoperability and to work out communications protocols and procedures for international deployments.
Specialised officer training for Bundesheer cyber branch?
The Bundesheer’s cyber branch, recently relegated from an autonomous army command to a department of the army’s joint support service, might be bolstered with a special officer training track. Few details have been published so far, but the announcement comes at a time when the Bundesheer is struggling to attract top IT talent for a number of reasons, a wide gap between soldiers’ salaries and those typically paid in the industry being one of them. One vehicle to raise awareness and scout out talent is the annually held Cyber Security Challenge, a competition for young talent in the field.
UPDATE: Alleged Russian spy remains in pretrial detention
A retired Bundesheer colonel, alleged of spying for Russia starting in the 1990s, remains in custody after yet another extension of investigations.
Header image: Austrian Armed Forces
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