- With the collapse of Austria–Hungary at the end of World War I, the provisional government in Vienna released all officers and soldiers of the imperial army from their oaths of loyalty on 12 November 1918. A popular militia (Volkswehr) was quickly established. Assuming, however, that Anschluss with Germany was coming, officials modeled Austrian uniforms on German designs. The victorious powers negotiating the final peace treaties in Paris in 1919 quashed all such schemes; the Treaty of St. Germain permitted the much-reduced Austrian state a militia of 30,000 troops for internal duty only.In 1936, challenged domestically by political paramilitary groups such as the Heimwehr and Schutzbund and by potential Nazi takeover as well, the Austrian government of Kurt Schuschnigg reimposed the universal military service that the former Habsburg regime had required of all males after 1868. As Nazi invasion became imminent in 1938, Schuschnigg, who was also minister of defense, believed that his troops had no hope of winning. Repelled by the prospect of Germans killing fellow Germans, he ordered his army not to resist. The incorporation of the Austrian army into the German military structure followed immediately upon enactment of the so-called Law of Reunification, which amalgamated the First Republic and the Third Reich on 13 March 1938.All Austrian anti-fascist groups joined on 27 April 1945 to declare Austria, including its armed forces, independent of German control. But the occupying powers—France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States (U.S.)—discouraged the development of a serious military infrastructure. The new Austrian provisional government had no portfolio for defense.Though the Soviets deeply opposed the move, the French, the British, and the Americans allowed Austrian emergency battalions of 500 men in their respective zones in 1949. By 1952, these forces together numbered 5,000; their commanders were Austrian officers with previous service in Hitler’s armies. To hide this from the Soviets, one of the pension offices of the Austrian finance ministry managed these contingents.The end of the Allied occupation in 1955 created the need for a state army. By May 1955, however, only 6,500 men had volunteered. After a section for territorial defense within the office of federal chancellor was set up in July 1955, a law passed on 7 September reinstated conscription for virtually for all males. First-time active duty lasted nine months; once deactivated, trainees could be recalled twice. Their specified purpose was to defend Austria’s neutrality and constitutional arrangements—an obligation fixed in the constitution itself—to maintain internal order and assist in domestic emergencies such as landslides, floods, and other catastrophes. The first draft of 19-year-olds was in 1956; eight brigades were quickly deployed among all provinces of the country. By 1966, laws had established border patrols throughout all of Austria. The president of the republic is the highest commander of the army; the power to deploy and to administer these forces rests with the ministry of defense. The National Defense Council (Landesverteidigungsrat), made up of military officers and representatives of the sitting government and the federal parliament, has a key advisory role in defense questions.Austrian forces have served frequently under the auspices of the United Nations. Fully mobilized in 1993, the army stood at 200,000. It was considerably reduced after that; in 2006, its top strength was 55,000, including noncombatant personnel. Electing alternative civil service has been possible since 1974.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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