Thursday, December 16, 2010

Germany to scrap conscription in mid-2011

Germany to scrap conscription in mid-2011

In its biggest military reform in over 50 years, Germany plans to end conscription next summer and trim down from 250,000 troops to a volunteer force of 185,000.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet agreed Wednesday on the plan to save money and better meet post-Cold War threats. The changes are the most significant since the German army, or Bundeswehr, was founded in 1955, after the country was completely disarmed following its defeat in World War II.

The plan envisions shelving national conscription in July and replacing it by a volunteer term of service. In the case of a national defense emergency, an automatic reactivation of conscription would take place.

Both Germany's Lower House and Upper House of Parliament still need to vote on the new rules, but it is widely expected to pass. No date has yet been set for the vote.

Germany's military was set up after World War II to deal with the massive European land battles that were seen as a very real possibility during the Cold War. But since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the country has been becoming increasingly active in peacekeeping and other missions abroad.

Defense Minister Karl zu Guttenberg has been pressing for the changes, noting that Germany's quarter-million strong military can only support foreign deployments of around 7,000.

The transformation included cuts to the Defense Ministry's bloated bureaucracy and is expected to save Germany euro8.3 billion ($NZ14.8 billion) overall.

The most important change will be that young German men will no longer face obligatory military service, which currently lasts six months. Instead, the military will be made up of a professional core of 170,000 people, with an additional 15,000 able to serve as short-term volunteers for between 12 to 23 months.

Germany now has 6,670 troops abroad - 4,596 serving in Afghanistan and 1,375 in Kosovo. Smaller contingents are deployed in Bosnia, in anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa and as part of UNIFIL, the international peacekeeping force, off the coast of Lebanon and elsewhere.

Under the current system, people could opt out of mandatory military service and instead serve in the country's civil service - that will end under the new plan.

To fill the void at hospitals, kindergartens and nursing homes, the government is hoping that up to 35,000 young men and women will instead sign up annually for a one-year-long volunteer service.