German defense minister stays in spotlight over conscription suspension | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 28.02.2011
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German defense minister stays in spotlight over conscription suspension

Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is under scrutiny once again, but not for the ongoing doctoral plagiarism affair in which he has become embroiled. This time it relates to the end of conscription.

Bundewehr recruits at a swearing in ceremony

The German armed forces may struggle for numbers

Germany's military on Tuesday is to inaugurate the first group of all-volunteer soldiers since it began to phase out conscription, with Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg set to face new scrutiny over the transition to an all-volunteer army.

Guttenberg has been facing the biggest setback of his political career after it was revealed that numerous passages in his doctoral thesis were taken from other sources without being properly cited.

His plan to "suspend" the draft - conscription is in the German constitution and officially remains unchanged by the reform - enjoys broad support across the German population. But in a politically weaker position, Guttenberg is likely to face tougher scrutiny on his ministry's implementation of the reform.

Recruitment efforts

Last January the last group of conscripts gave their ceremonial vow to serve Germany. From now on only volunteers will be called into the armed forces, the Bundeswehr, and the last set of conscripted soldiers will complete their six-month service on July 1, 2011.

However with the conclusion of conscription also comes the drying up of an important source of manpower for the armed forces, as around 40 percent of applicants for regular and longer-term service in the Bundeswehr come from the ranks of conscripts.

Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

The success of the reforms of the military could determine Guttenberg's fate

In the future, the armed forces will need to spark the interest of young men and women in serving their country without any of the potential candidates having any first-hand experience of life in the military.

The armed forces now wants to invest up to 5 million euros ($6.9 million) in the coming months in a recruitment drive on radio and TV and in newspapers, most notably the mass circulation daily Bild - a matter that has rankled some in Germany's opposition ranks.

The leader of the Greens in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, Jürgen Trittin, has spoken of a "dirty deal" with Bild, which is to receive around one-eighth of the advertising budget.

Funding shortfall?

But at the end of the day it is not important which media outlet profits from the advertising spree. Experts are more concerned about whether the armed forces will be able to recruit enough volunteers with the allocated budget.

The Bundeswehr will need around 50,000 recruits each year, according to current planning, to maintain sufficient personnel levels. But set against the model presented by the United States, the German armed forces would need to multiply its advertising budget nearly four-hundredfold from 4.8 million euros to 1.8 billion euros to achieve this.

Whether Germans will be baited into the armed forces by juicy financial incentives and advertising remains to be seen. But if anything can be learned from the country's European neighbors, it is that making wholesale changes in the armed forces is first and foremost an expensive exercise.

Author: Andreas Noll / dfm
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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