Shifting defense priorities have resulted in only one third of German men having to serve nine months in the military, a process Germany's Federal Administrative Court ruled is neither arbitrary nor prejudiced.
Conscripts undergo basic training but do not serve abroad
The federal court in Leipzig Wednesday overturned a Cologne regional court's ruling that called the German army's conscription system unjust. Currently, only about 58,000 of the 120,000 eligible draftees are called to serve. Conscripts do not take part in foreign military operations and usually perform administrative work.
The judges said the draft system allowed the state to adjust to real defense requirements and draft only those who are needed at any given time. All women and certain groups of men are already exempt from conscription. According to defense law, no one will be drafted if he’s over 24 years old, married or a father.
The court's decision has revived the long-running debate about scrapping the conscription system and creating a professional army.
Conscripts keep costs down
Germany's Defense Minister Peter Struck
Defense Minister Peter Struck (photo), of the ruling Social Democratic Party, praised the draft system as a way of keeping the army's costs down. A professional army would cost between €3.5 billion ($3.9 billion) and €7 billion more annually than keeping conscripts, according to Reinhold Robbe, the SPD's parliamentary defense committee speaker.
Two opposition parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), joined the SPD in supporting the conscript-based army.
"I'm very much in favor of the draft, the draft links the soldiers to society it gives our army the ability to choose among good young people," said CDU defense spokesman Friedbert Pflüger. "I believe that being here in the center of Europe we have to keep a strong standing force."
However, the other half of German lawmakers, junior ruling coalition member, the Greens, and the neo-liberal Free Democratic Party, would like to see the conscript army done away with.
Army's role has changed
The role of the Bundeswehr has changed significantly since the end of the Cold War
Opponents to the draft emphasize that a professional army is better suited to meet the requirements of an army whose tasks have dramatically changed in recent years.
Following the collapse of Communism and the disappearance of Cold War enemies, the Bundeswehr has been in a process of restructuring on a scale never seen before.
Reductions in troop strength, sidelining national defense tasks and closure of military bases in Germany are all part of the Bundeswehr's focus shifting to preparing specialist army units for future peace-enforcing or peace-keeping missions abroad.
"The defense of the country is no longer the main task of the defense forces in Germany," said Jörg van Essen, the FDP defense spokesman. "We have crisis prevention abroad and you can't bring conscripts to foreign countries."
Parliamentary debate will continue
Defense Minister Struck has promised to have an independent panel of experts compare the benefits and drawbacks of draft-based and professional army systems.
But some parliamentary leaders have already made up their minds and want to enact a law that would do away with the conscription system by the end of this year.
"It is finally time to reach a decision instead of apprehensively waiting for the next verdict," Green Member of European Parliament Angelika Beer told daily Berliner Zeitung on Thursday. "We do not need policies that just hang on to old dogmas."