The minister of defense in Germany proposes ending the draft, a cold-war legacy but also an antidote to its past. The time for such a change seems right. But will it create a better Army, or just save the federal government some euros?
To the list of “normal” things that Germans now feel comfortable doing (waving flags, jubilantly singing the national anthem), this may soon be added: creating an all-volunteer, professional military.
Yes, after 54 years, the Germans are considering abandoning the draft.
When World War II ended, it didn’t look like there would ever be another German Army. But being on the front lines of the cold war against the Soviet empire, West Germany had to do something. Its answer was to institute conscription in 1956, a year after it joined NATO. That would create a military so broad in its ties to society that it could never again become a state-within-a-state.
Last week, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg proposed revamping the Bundeswehr, or armed forces. He wants to reduce its size (to about 163,000 soldiers from about 250,000), close military bases, and eliminate conscription. A big motivator is the need to cut the federal budget.
In practice, the draft is not much of a draft. The length of service has been whittled over time to a mere six months. More young men choose civil service than the military (you may opt for that for conscientious objector reasons). In 2009, 90,955 young men served in health facilities, while only 68,304 chose boot camp.