Germany considers scrapping the draft
Deployments in Afghanistan have tested the Army's limits and bolstered arguments to scrap the draft and build a smaller, more professional volunteer force.
The young man playing with kids at the Main Krokodile preschool here isn't your typical caregiver. He's among the tens of thousands of Germans who fulfill their military service by working with children, the elderly, or the disabled. The head of the school, Berndt Niedergesäss, is all for it: "The children love dealing with men," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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When Germany rebuilt its armed forces after World War II, it let conscientious objectors perform civic duties. Now, those civilians outnumber regular recruits, 91,000 to 68,000, and are an essential part of the social service landscape.
But Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has now called for ending conscription. The plan, if approved, would pose a challenge for groups like Mr. Niedergesäss's school. It would also, however, be a milestone in the Bundeswehr's transformation from an army designed to protect peace to one sending its sons and daughters into global conflicts.
Ending the draft is part of what many observers say is a bold modernization plan for the armed forces. Aimed at making the Army "smaller and finer," and better equipped for a broader spectrum of missions, the plan also envisions cutting ranks by one-third, to 163,000 soldiers, and closing many of the country's 403 bases.
While the government's need to save €80 billion ($102 billion) between 2011 and 2014 was an impetus, it was the Army's presence in Afghanistan that precipitated the change. "The experience the Bundeswehr gained in Afghanistan and other missions abroad have showed us that the way our armed forces is operating isn't effective," says Jana Puglierin, a defense expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. ''We don't need an army of conscripts, an army of the masses to protect our homeland from Soviet attack anymore. We need an army of experts who are trained in counterinsurgency, which is highly flexible and can be sent anywhere."
Many countries have replaced draft
Most of the 28 NATO countries – except for Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus – have replaced the draft with smaller professional armies. But the idea of conscripts is an integral part of German identity, for reasons having to do with Germany's troubled relationship with war.
In 1955, still reeling from the Wehrmacht's role in Nazi atrocities, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer appointed Germany's first 100 volunteer soldiers. It was to be an army rooted in the new Basic Law, or Constitution, with checks and balances, controlled by the Bundestag, or parliament. Recruits would be "citizens in uniform" charged with defending national borders during the cold war.
A decision by the constitutional court in 1994 allowing the military to go into conflicts abroad again started the push for transformation. Germany sent troops to Bosnia and, having overcome the reticence it experienced during the Gulf War, Germany supported NATO's bombing of Serb forces in 1999. But the NATO Afghanistan mission is what truly tested the Army's limits.