German and Lithuanian soldiers participate in Engineer Thunder in 2017. Germany recently announced it wants to beef up its military with foreign citizens.

German and Lithuanian soldiers participate in Engineer Thunder in 2017. Germany recently announced it wants to beef up its military with foreign citizens. (Jane Schmidt/ Bundeswehr)

STUTTGART, Germany — The German military, plagued by a shortage of recruits, is considering accepting foreign citizens to help fill out the ranks, the country’s top soldier said Thursday.

“In times of skilled labor shortage, we have to look in all directions,” Gen. Eberhard Zorn, Germany’s chief of defense, told the country’s Funke Media Group.

Zorn said the military is particularly interested in recruiting foreign nationals to fill jobs such as doctors and information technology specialists. However, a much broader enlistment campaign could be under way.

Der Spiegel, a prominent German magazine, reported Thursday that internal government documents reveal that Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen wants to bolster the force by tapping into the country’s large population of Poles, Romanians and Italians.

In Germany, there are about 255,000 Poles, 185,000 Italians and 155,000 Romanians between the age of 18 and 40.

Attracting a portion of that group could generate about 50,000 possible new applicants, Der Spiegel reported, citing the government documents.

Other world militaries recruit or accept foreign applicants under certain criteria, including the United States and Australia. U.S. nationals have also served in foreign militaries such as the French Foreign Legion.

The German plan would only allow residents of European Union countries to join the German ranks. Recruits also would need to be fluent in German. The push comes more than seven years after Germany did away with compulsory military service, which ended in 2011. Since then, Germany has struggled to build out its all-volunteer force, which now stands at roughly 180,000 troops.

A robust economy and a general historical reluctance to enlist in the military are among the obstacles to boosting recruitment. Unlike the U.S., where military service ranks as one of the most respected professions, many Germans are ambivalent about their own military. The mixed feelings are deeply ingrained and stem from the country’s militaristic past and crushing defeat in World War II.

Still, Germany has sought to establish a more substantial role on the world stage during the past several years and has gradually increased its military spending. Leaders in Berlin have called for a more assertive foreign policy and emphasized the need for Germany to get more involved in global security debates.

Von der Leyen also has sought to reverse a post-Cold War slide in defense spending, troop numbers and overall military readiness. But the country still falls short of a NATO defense spending benchmark that calls for all allies to dedicate 2 percent of gross domestic product to military matters. Germany’s persistent shortcomings have been a source of tension with U.S. President Donald Trump, who frequently blasts Germany as a security free-rider. Twitter: @john_vandiver

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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