On Austria's military strategic situation

Bruno Günter Hofbauer

In 2021, Europe, the EU and thus the Republic of Austria, will be facing strategic decisions. From a military strategic point of view, the developments and upheavals of the last 30 years in Central Europe show a very high dynamic. The sometimes radical changes in Europe after the end of the Cold War had a serious impact on Austria's national defense and brought with it several fundamental changes in the military-strategic orientation. The end of this transitional period has not yet been reached; to assess future developments. With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the disappearance of its military capabilities from Central Europe and the fall of the Iron Curtain, the situation for Austria also changed very quickly and drastically. The federal army's basic orientation to territorial defense and the holding strategy against possible marching surgeries, which until then was valid, gave way to the new threat at the state borders of Austria, which was triggered by the initially incalculable risks of political upheaval in the immediate neighbouring states. Although the reorganization of Czechoslovakia and the separation of the state structure there into the republics of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as the reorientation in Hungary, could be managed without bloodshed, there were violent clashes at the Austrian-Yugoslav state border from June 1991. This was followed by the first deployment of the Austrian Federal Army (ÖBH) to the military national defense. Although the Federal Government authorised the Federal Minister for National Defense to deploy the Federal Army at the state border, the corresponding consequences were not drawn. To the surprise of many observers and participants, neither the federal government declared the neutrality case in 1991 nor did the militia, which was intended in principle for use in such a case, be called up. This deployment to the military national defense was contested with the present parts and also for an operation for military national defense not sufficiently trained basic servicemen. The aftermath of this decision and the further handling of the militia can be felt until the 21st century. Thus, the lack of equipment could not be made available even after the reduction of the mobilization framework and later the suspension of the troop training obligation of the militia soldiers drastically affected the fighting power of the associations of the ÖBH. Developments in the early 1990s were given a new dynamism by the Balkan crises and the participation of the ÖBH in the international operations there. The crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina is of particular importance here. Austria was suddenly an important country for the march of NATO-led international peacekeepers. In 1995, Austria joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and began a new chapter of cooperation with NATO. From January 1996, the first Austrian contingent (AUSLOG/IFOR) was deployed under NATO command under IFOR. A presence of the Austrian troops in the Balkans had begun, which continues to this day. The handling of Austria's neutrality had begun to change fundamentally. In addition, it will have to be clarified what role Austria, and thus also the Federal Army, will play in a developing common defence of the EU. Opting out of this common European approach would probably amount to a "strategic declaration of bankruptcy" by the Republic towards the EU. However, if the need to defend the republic against a conventional adversary is recognized, the ÖBH must be redesigned from the ground up. An orientation to the basic ideas of the space defense - taking into account the then prevailing threat forms - or even the confrontation with joining the alliance would then probably be opportune. The necessary steps must be taken to enable the necessary and threat-appropriate contribution of the Austrian armed forces at the security, foreign and economic policy level.