Military Conscription to End in Germany     Print Email

(September 29)  After years of discussion and debate, Germany is moving to end military conscription—re-introduced in 1956, in an effort to break with the militaristic past and create a “citizen in uniform.” Earlier this week, German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel announced agreement of the governing conservative parties to abolish the draft in accordance with a proposal by German defense minister, Karl-Theodore zu Guttenberg.

Germany is one of only six Western European countries that maintain a draft.  Others are Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Switzerland.

Since 1956, the duration of German required service has decreased (presently it is six months) and career soldiers now constitute the majority of the army. Currently, out of the total 250,000 soldiers, approximately 72,000 are conscripts. Along with abolishing conscription, Guttenberg has proposed minimizing the current armed forces to 165,000 personnel, estimating $1.5 billion in annual savings.

Although the move has not been coordinated with NATO, the US is likely to approve since a professional armed service is widely regarded to be more competent that corps of draftees.  Conscripts are not, in any event, sent on foreign military missions.

Ending the draft is expected to draw popular support amongst Germany’s male youth (women have always been exempt from conscription). As it is now, conscripts can opt out of service in exchange for volunteer work. In 2010, of the 450,000 eligible conscripts, 378,000 ended-up doing community service. Ending the draft will also result in ending the volunteer requirement. This could be a problem for Germany’s cradle-to-grave welfare organizations, which for decades have been supported by conscripts opting for community service,

The final plan must be approved by the Bundestag, the German Parliament. Merkel has proposed the law remain in the constitution and simply be inactive.


By Jennifer Pietras