Two Weeks in Austrian Defence | Oct 22

In Blog, English by Bernhard Völkl

TWIAD is your bi-weekly, English-language briefing on national security and defence affairs in the alpine republic. The most relevant news reports, press releases, articles and announcements are recapped and, where necessary, put into context for greater accessibility. Feel free to get in touch and leave us your feedback and thoughts, ask questions in the comments or join the #TWIAD raucity on Twitter!

Total recall: Starlinger reverts predecessor’s controversial nominations 

Defence Minister Starlinger has recalled three generals from posts they were hoisted to by his predecessor earlier this year. 

Their assignments – and promotions to two-stars – had been controversial from the beginning. Wolfgang Wagner was named Deputy Head of the Joint Forces Command, Gerhard Christiner its Chief of Staff, and Alexander Platzer head of the newly inaugurated Logistics Command. and Alexander Platzer head of the Joint Support Service. What is usually no more than a formality turned into an affair of alleged political favouritism when President van der Bellen refused to confirm then-Minister Kunasek’s nominations; hearings for the jobs were flagged for other controversies in a subsequent investigation, with the successful candidates failing to live up to requirements such as leadership experience or even physical fitness. 

Two of the officers affected revert back to the rank of Brigadier General as a consequence of the recall; Starlinger announced that, in the spirit of the current interim administration, he would leave further personnel decisions to the incoming government.

 

Systemic failure’ – investigative journalists’ take on the Bundesheer

A recent report published by Addendum, a plattform of investigative journalists, looks at systemic problems within the Bundesheer and argues that one of the reasons for its financial distress – apart from neglect by politics – can be found in the unusually high percentage of budget spent on personnel. With 66 percent according to the report (other sources place it at above 75%), Austria’s share of the defence budget spent on personnel is much higher than the EU average of 52 percent. Addendum traces this high share to the large number of tenured military officials on career tracks nigh identical to those of civil servants,Their privileged status, decades-long periods of service and  a rank system mostly based on tenure drives expenditure. .

The report also reiterates criticism on the neglect of the reserves system; with conscription cut from 8 to 6 months in 2006 and an end to large-scale exercises, the reserves have been starved of recruits and the resources to train them. 

Furthermore, the report highlights the key issue with defence matters: that there is no public debate or even awareness, and no political deliberation on what tasks the Bundesheer should be to be able to perform. Subsequently, no sober discussion on capabilities and budgetary matters can happen. With large procurements like the EF-2000 Typhoon having been mired with accusations of corruption and leaving a long trail of public enquiries, the public has grown weary of the subject of military funding. Currently, it is only irregular shrieks of crumbling barracks that make tabloid headlines; our take on the non-existing debate on Austrian defence can be found here.

Addendum’s report contains one of the few analyses on the state of the Austrian Armed Forces that is not provided by the MoD or Bundesheer itself. (This lack of information from independent sources is another key issues with the current calls for more money, which makes it hard for outsiders to judge the validity of military officials’ budget claims.) It adds systemic problems to the long list of issues that urgently need addressing (run-down barracks, outdated equipment, and the long-awaited decision on future aircraft for air traffic control rank most prominently on that list). 

After the Sept 29 general elections, Austria is currently waiting for its new government to be formed, with major factions having expressed a certain will to tackle defence. Addendum’s full article can be found here.

 

Header image: Carolco Pictures/TriStar Pictures, 1990

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About the Author

Bernhard Völkl

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Bernhard is a reserve officer in the Austrian Armed Forces and works in the technology industry.

About the Author
Chiara Libiseller

Chiara Libiseller

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Chiara Libiseller is a doctoral candidate and Teaching Assistant at the War Studies Department, King’s College London. Her research traces the evolution of contemporary military concepts to understand broader patterns and fashions in the ways Anglo-American scholars and military professionals study and understand war. Her broad interests include military strategy, military history as well as Austrian and European defence.