Germany has decided to reduce the time of its mandatory military and civilian services. One expert says the practice continues to exist because it is a primary recruitment tool to find future career soldiers.
Conscription helps Germany find future career soldiers
With the Cold War over and modern warfare leaning more towards counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism operations, the threat of a full scale, conventional war between nation-states is unimaginable for many NATO countries. As a result, many of its members have dropped the practice of conscription, opting instead for armies of volunteers.
But Germany, one of NATO's largest members, continues the practice of conscription to this day. Able-bodied German males at the age of 19 are required to undertake nine months of military service. In the case of conscientious objectors, civilian community service can be done instead.
However, this nine-month period is about to get shorter. After weeks of debate between Germany's ruling coalition of the Christian Democratic Union and the liberal Free Democrats, an agreement was made to reduce compulsory military and civilian duty to six months.
Civilian in uniform
Henning Riecke, a trans-Atlantic security expert, says the idea of civic duty is one of the main reasons why the Bundeswehr has kept conscription active.
"It has been a constant function of the Bundeswehr to transport civilian values to the military," Riecke told Deutsche Welle. "It is a way to teach the younger generations what it means to be a civilian."
Many social and medical services depend on civilian work terms
Riecke added another main reason is that German social and medical services are reliant on civilian work terms. If compulsory military duty were to be abolished, then civilian duty would be too.
"There is a fear that we will lose a very important and cheap work force," said Riecke.
However, the fear of negative consequences for hospitals and other welfare organizations that rely on large numbers of civilian volunteers has been diluted by the new agreement, as it includes the option for people to decide whether or not to extend their work terms.
When compared to other countries with conscription, Germany's six month term of duty is extremely short. The South Korean Army, for example, requires 22 months of active duty. The Israeli Defense Forces call for service terms of three years for men and two years for women.
In the case of both South Korea and Israel, conscription can be seen as a safeguard for potential border and territorial conflicts. But German conscripts are never deployed abroad and are instead responsible for domestic tasks like logistics or base defense.
Conscripts are not deployed to dangerous locations
This frees up soldiers who have decided to pursue full-time military careers to handle more dangerous missions.
In fact, Riecke says conscription acts as the Bundeswehr's main recruitment tool to find those willing to work as career soldiers. Officers often keep an eye on recruits with skills and potential that the military is looking for, which makes conscription similar to an internship. However, Riecke says this is not necessarily a good thing.
"If the only reason for conscription is to recruit young people into the Bundeswehr, then one should drop it really," said Riecke. "There's a vast amount of young people who don't want to join the Bundeswehr forever and would rather go into professional training someplace else. But it might be a smart idea to at least have this internship for an interim period until an all-professional army becomes a reality."
So far, no details have been given about how the Bundeswehr's nine-month military training program would be reduced to six months.
Author: Matthew Kang
Editor: Nancy Isenson