German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg announced on Monday that conscription in Germany will come to an end next summer. The measure is part of far-reaching military reforms intended to save hundreds of millions of euros.
When German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg first broached the idea of eliminating conscription last summer as part of the government's effort to cut spending, there was an immediate outcry. The draft, it was said, was an important link between German society and its military -- it was tradition. Many accused Guttenberg of not having adequately thought through his proposal.
Guttenberg, however, has never been one to back down in the face of controversy. And on Monday, speaking at a meeting of German military leadership in Dresden -- called by the Defense Ministry to discuss Guttenberg's Bundeswehr reform plans -- he announced that conscription would come to an end on July 1, 2011.
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Still, Guttenberg said that the Bundeswehr would not shrink to the degree that many had thought. Whereas a military report earlier this year suggested that Germany's armed forces may decrease to 163,500 soldiers, the defense minister on Monday said the Bundeswehr would maintain between 180,000 and 185,000 troops. Currently, there are some 240,000 soldiers in the Bundeswehr according to the Defense Ministry website.
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The decision to abandon conscription comes after years of falling recruit numbers. Whereas some 144,650 soldiers performed mandatory military service in 2000, the number in recent years has been less than half that. The length of conscription has been reduced as well, with soldiers drafted in the army today only having to spend six months in uniform. The military has complained that the cost of training and outfitting draftees for such a short period far outweighs the benefits. Partially as a consequence, the number of potential recruits rejected for health reasons has skyrocketed in recent years -- in 2009, fully 42.7 percent of draftees were turned away.
At the same time, the number of young Germans signing up for fixed periods of service -- the Bundeswehr employed 188,000 such soldiers in 2009 -- appears robust enough to meet Guttenberg's ultimate goal for the size of the German military. In addition, Berlin plans to introduce a kind of voluntary conscription, allowing those interested in serving the possibility to sign up for limited stints of between 12 and 23 months.
The drawbacks of the lack of national service of any kind aside, this does correspond to the gradual weakening of the German military, and of decreased strength relative to the still strong British and French--perhaps soon Anglo-French--militaries. Will the Bundeswehr become a military more suited to peacekeeping missions and the like than combat? Or is it that already?