After more than 50 years of conscription, Germany's Bundeswehr is on the brink of turning into an all-volunteer army. Leading government officials have signalled their approval of the reform plans.
The Bundeswehr will be "smaller but more efficient"
The executive committee of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU) appears prepared to support Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's plans to reform the German army, the Bundeswehr. The proposals could see the Bundeswehr turned into a volunteer army, after 50 years of conscription.
Under the defense minister's proposals, Germany would suspend conscription, but retain it in the constitution. The army would then only accept some 7,500 volunteers for between 12 to 23 months. Young men would retain the status of conscripts, but they would not be drafted.
Guttenberg said that despite the plans, the CDU would remain the "party of the Bundeswehr and of security," adding that the move was not a shift away from the party’s traditional, conservative values.
CDU Secretary General Hermann Groehe said the party's executive committee had not taken a decision yet, but had shown a "great openness" for Guttenberg's plans.
The Chancellor's coalition partner in the government, the Free Democrats, welcomed the CDU committee's decision at a meeting late on Monday.
A revolutionary reform
Previously opposed to the minister's reform plans, the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to the CDU, has also signalled its agreement. A difference of opinion remains, however, as CSU leader Horst Seehofer demands that conscription should be completely abolished, not just discontinued.
In addition, Guttenberg wants to slash troop levels from about 245,000 today to about 164,000 troops in the future. The result would be what he has termed a "smaller but better army, more effectively equipped for operations."
Conscription could be history in less than a year
The armed forces are controlled by parliament
The reform is needed to meet savings the government wants to impose on the military over the next four years.
Guttenberg made a renewed appeal for his reform plans in the Würzburger Tagespost newspaper Monday edition.
Conscription has a grand tradition, he said. "But it has shriveled and is now only a shadow of its former self."
Twenty years ago, West Germans served 18 months in the army or in social services if they were conscientious objectors. Today, the length of military service has dropped to six months and only about 16 percent of those of military age actually serve.
Should party members at the CDU and CSU annual conventions later this year go along with the proposals, conscription in the German Bundeswehr could be discontinued as early as July 2011.
Author: Dagmar Breitenbach (dpa,AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner