Conscription in Germany may be on the way out

Soldiers of the German Bundeswehr march past conscripts on their first day of compulsory military service, Julius Leber barracks

From the Economist:  This month the German legislature passed a law shortening the tour of duty from nine months to six. That was the result of an awkward compromise between the partners in the ruling coalition. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sibling, the Christian Social Union (CSU), consider conscription a “cornerstone” of society. The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) thinks it a “massive intervention in young people’s freedom,” says Elke Hoff, an FDP deputy in the Bundestag. Cutting conscription back to six months may be a prelude to dispensing with it altogether. “There are so many disadvantages” to the truncated service “that you can’t keep it going long term,” says Hilmar Linnenkamp of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a think-tank in Berlin. …

The Bundeswehr is half the size it was at the end of the cold war and is the third-largest provider of troops to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan. But it has not changed enough. [German Defence Minister Karl-Theodorzu Guttenberg wants it to be “more professional, faster and more flexible” and able to “deploy our soldiers anywhere in the world,” he told Der Spiegel.

Conscription is an obstacle to this. Draftees cannot be deployed abroad. They cost the Bundeswehr some €400m a year; training and organising them ties up an estimated 10,000-20,000 professional soldiers who could otherwise be employed more usefully. Mr zu Guttenberg, although a member of the conscription-loving CSU, wants to end the draft, but he has yet to persuade fellow conservatives or say what will replace it. …

Mr zu Guttenberg’s ideas for conscription will be part of a reform package he is expected to propose in September. It is likely to include a reduction in the overall size of the Bundeswehr, possibly to as few as 150,000 troops (the “extreme model”, says the minister), and cutbacks in weapons purchases. The armed forces are overloaded with civilian personnel and top-heavy with officers. Mr zu Guttenberg has created a “structural commission” to suggest solutions.

His radicalism may be curbed. Every base he would close and programme he would trim has a lobby to defend it. A decision to end conscription might require approval by the party conventions of the CDU and CSU.  (photo: Getty)

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