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Europe

German Press Review: The Incredibly Shrinking Army

Dailies here on Wednesday weigh in on German Defense Minister Peter Struck’s planned sweeping cuts to armament projects and military personnel in a bid to prepare the armed forces for future security challenges.

The Express in Cologne wrote that the first step has been taken: the Bundeswehr is to become a compact package. Fewer bases, fewer weapons -- and soon also fewer soldiers. That is a logical consequence of two facts -- first, the old East-West enemy constellation no longer exists, and second, when the scheduled global intervention operations take place, only professionals who have received first-class training can be successful.

That’s also a view echoed by other dailies.

The Aachener Zeitung wrote that conscripts who have only been trained and drilled for a short period are unusable for missions "out of area." They would endanger both themselves and their comrades who have been given extensive training. And not so many soldiers are needed just for operations at home. So Struck may well fight for the continuance of compulsory military service, but he won’t be able to prevent its gradual phasing out.

According to the Mannheimer Morgen as consistently as Peter Struck is pushing the reform of the Bundeswehr, he is just as inconsistently shrinking from the final decisive step -- the scrapping of conscription. But the paper is convinced that an army of volunteers is bound to be set up -- either in this legislative period or the next.

The Offenbacher Post, meanwhile examined the side-effects of the abolition of compulsory military service. The paper wrote that the state has so far taken for granted the young men doing community service as an alternative to military duty. As soon as conscription is scrapped, whenever that might be, the paper continued, citizens and state must realize that jobs done for such a long time by these people, who of course cost next to nothing, will have to be taken over by society as a whole -- and that won’t be cheap.

The Fuldaer Zeitung commented on the major setback suffered by Italy’s Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday, when the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the immunity law that blocked his bribery trial was unconstitutional. The daily wrote that the Italian "sunny boy is gradually losing his shimmering mask." Even those who two years ago voted him into office, because they were expecting a shift for the country from him, are now in no doubt that there really has been a shift -- namely in the legal system. But unfortunately, the paper concluded, not for the benefit of the simple people but merely to the advantage of the power elite.