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Germany

German military cuts to 'put effective end to conscription'

The government is reported to be planning to slash military spending, putting an effective end to the institution of mandatory military service. If the proposals are adopted troop numbers will be cut dramatically.

Military recruits

The number of volunteers would fall to 7,500

Germany is on the verge of cutting its army by more than a third, effectively ending the post-war tradition of mandatory military service, according to a newspaper report published Friday.

Conscription would be eliminated in all but name under the plan drawn up by Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the German daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said.

Unnamed government sources said that Guttenberg is about to present a plan to reduce the size of the country's standing army from 250,000 to 165,000 - including some 7,500 volunteers - later this month.

"The plan is seen as having an excellent chance with the coalition's parliamentary groups," the newspaper wrote.

Soldiers take part in an exercise

The military face new challenges on lower budgets

The government aims to save some 8.3 billion euros ($10.7 billion) on defense by 2014 while at the same time adapting the military to meet new security threats.

A reduction in manpower would be accompanied by a "voluntary military service," effectively ending conscription but retaining its place in the German constitution.

'Quick, flexible and nimble'

Germany's military would benefit from the changes, said Ulrich Kirch, chairman of the armed service personnel lobby group Bundeswehr Association.

"The Bundeswehr must be quick, flexible and nimble and above all, more professional than now," Kirch told daily newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

Guttenberg is expected to present the plan this month

Conservatives within all three government parties - the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister-party the CSU and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) - have so far resisted moves to end conscription.

Conscription is regarded by some as a virtuous institution in postwar Germany, with the presence of 'citizens in uniform' serving as a bulwark against the military elite that seized control during the Nazi period.

Until the 1990s, German men were forced to serve in the army for one and a half years from the age of 18. But young men could claim moral objections to military service, and opt to do civilian national service instead.

Since then, mandatory military service - no longer practiced in most European countries - has been shortened several times, with the latest reduction to just six months.

Cuts to military spending are also being considered in Britain, which aims to trim 20 percent from its defense budget. Analysts have suggested that the number of British army personnel could fall from the current 102,000 to 85,000.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP/dpa/AP)
Editor: Ben Knight

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