Austria and Germany Need to Rethink Their National Security Strategies

    Franz-Stefan Gady

    Security, Europe

    German army soldiers drive their battle tank Leopard 2 after NATO enchanced Forward Presence Battle Group Lithuania exercise in Pabrade military training field, Lithuania

    While there may be a collective sense in Vienna and Berlin that security has worsened in Europe and the world, Russia is not seen as a major security threat.

    I used to take the train every morning from my village, Lebring St. Margarethen, to the state capital of Styria, Graz, to attend high school in the late 1990s. Every weekday, for three years, a mustachioed major of the Austrian Army, wearing a green beret and carrying a dark brown leather briefcase, would board the train in neighboring Wildon.

    One winter morning in 1997, I found myself in the same cabin with the major, a middle-age lawyer and two secretaries in their fifties sporting bleached perm haircuts. At some point, the four adults began chatting about the Austrian Army and debated whether Austria should maintain armed forces.

    The major, uncomfortably put on the spot as the only military representative present, described in vivid detail, how the Austrian military during the so-called Slovenian Independence War in June–July of 1991, moved thousands of troops to the Austro-Slovenian border to prevent the fighting between Slovenian militia and the regular Yugoslav Army from spilling into Austria. (There had been multiple border violations and heavy fighting near a number of border crossings). The major at the time was part of the staff at corps headquarters in Graz, which was tasked with coordinating the military operation.

    He proudly stated that the swift action of the Austrian military prevented an expansion of the conflict into Austrian territory. While the lawyer vacillated during the ensuing discussion, the two ladies, not impressed with the major’s elucidations, cut him short and one curtly stated: “Let me tell you something major, the Army should just be disbanded! End of story!” (“I sog ihnen jetzt wos Herr Major: Des Heer ghert obgschofft! Fertig!”). The major shook his head with a gentle smile and stopped speaking. The conversation was over.

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