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Germany

Germany Announces Military Cuts

Military bases will be closed and troops will be cut back in an effort to save €26 billion. But the future of the country's compulsory military conscription remains uncertain.

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Defense Minister Peter Struck wants to make the armed forces more professional.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck said Tuesday that he will shut about 100 military bases and cut troop numbers in an effort to slash €26 billion in military spending plans and make the armed forces more professional.

"Tasks such as conflict prevention and crisis management," Struck said, "require fundamentally different armed forces. They must be rapidly available and robust enough to carry out international missions together with our partners.“

Struck made the announcement at a press conference, at which he also said that forces would be cut by about 35,000 troops in the coming years. An additional 10,000 civilian posts are also on the cutting board.

The cuts would bring the number of troops down from today's 285,000 to about 250,000. The Army would then be divided into so-called intervention, stabilization and support troops. In the future, 35,000 troops would be prepared for international missions, 70,000 for peace missions like those currently being undertaken in the Balkans and Afghanistan. An additional 137,500 troops would be designated for support and 10,000 others could be flexibly deployed where needed by the Bundeswehr's general inspecter.

The union representing Germany's Bundeswehr soldiers offered mixed reviews for the plan on Tuesday. "Although we are not very enthusiastic about the spending cuts," Bernard Gertz was quoted by Deutsche Welle, "we support the reforms in these times of increasingly stringent budget constraints. It is quite acceptable to concentrate on the Bundeswehr's future tasks and abolish structures and equipment which are now obsolete.“

Eurofighter contracts won't be canceled

Despite the cutbacks, Struck said Germany would not cancel its order for 180 Eurofighter aircraft to be built by defense contractors including EADS, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Alenia.

The future of the draft, however, remains in question. Struck said he remains committed to the draft. But that could change, depending on the outcome of the 2006 elections.

“The draft will run out, so will the community service,” said Angelika Beer, the co-head of the Green Party, in an interview with ARD public television. Around 90,000 young Germans are registered yearly for community service as an alternative to mandatory military service. Beer, whose party is part of the federal coaltion government with the Social Democrats, said she would like the draft to be phased out over the next three or four years.

Hospitals depend on young workforce

About 80 percent of those choosing community service end up working in hospitals or senior citizens’ homes, doing essential work such as driving ambulances, caring for the disabled and elderly and delivering meals.

Charitable organizations fear there would be severe consequences for the German healthcare system if this workforce were to disappear.

“We’ll have to consider if the services these young people are doing can be totally abolished,” Joachim Kendelbacher, from the Workers’ Welfare organization, told Deutsche Welle. “If these services are cut this definitely means a loss in quality.”

All armed forces to be trimmed

Struck said all divisions of the armed forces -- including naval, air and ground troops -- will have to shoulder their share of the cuts.

His plan drew immediate criticism from conservative opposition leaders. Christian Democrat defense issues spokesman Christian Schmidt said in interviews with German television that the basis for deciding on the military structure cannot be “how much we have in the bank.” Rather, he said, it should be “what we want to secure.”

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