End of German conscription would create need for volunteer troops | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 29.08.2010
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End of German conscription would create need for volunteer troops

The German defense minister has revealed more ideas for restructuring the military. In addition to ending conscription, he hopes the chance to try out a military career will make voluntary service more attractive.

German Bundeswehr troops

A trial run of a soldier's life could be a way to stoke interest in the Bundeswehr

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has announced plans to reduce the size of the German military by about a third of the current 250,000 troops, and to end Germany's mandatory military service. At the same time, however, he said he also wants to see an increase in the number of troops available for active duty, which is currently 7,000.

Outlining his plans to make military service more attractive, Guttenberg told the mass market Bild am Sonntag newspaper that despite ending conscription, a trial period for potential volunteer troops could be an option to avoid a shortage of service members.

"A trial period is conceivable," he told the newspaper. "After six months, a person could say, 'Being a soldier is not for me,' or the Bundeswehr could say, 'This young person isn't a good fit for us.'"

Any volunteers?

Guttenberg walks away from a plane in Afghanistan

Gutternberg dropped in on German troops in Afghanistan

In an interview with ARD television, German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported Guttenberg's ideas to reform the Bundeswehr, saying she'd like to see a "culture of volunteerism" and that signing up for the Bundeswehr should be made more attractive for young people.

Guttenberg estimates the German military would need between 7,500 and 15,000 short-term volunteer troops. Additionally, the defense ministry said he is looking into various means of compensation for volunteers who would serve between 12 months and 23 months. This could include a salary, pension or educational opportunities, he said.

The interview was published while Guttenberg was paying a surprise visit to German troops in the Baghlan province of Afghanistan.

It was the fifth time the defense minister has visited troops in the 10 months since he took office, but the first visit by a senior politician to German soldiers in a combat zone.

"It is so important that one judges the facts not only from one's desk, but also looks at the realities in the place where the fighting is taking place," Guttenberg said.

He emphasized his support for the troops' efforts, but wouldn't comment on a possible date for the withdrawal of German soldiers from Afghanistan.

Soldiers shooting on a training range

Ending conscription affects more than just the army, one politician said

Proud tradition

The idea of ending Germany's long-standing tradition of mandatory military service has not been without criticism. In a speech to the Marine Officer's School in Ploen, Peter Harry Carstensen, the state premier of Schleswig-Holstein, said he considered Germany's mandatory military service an integral part of society.

"This is not something we can sacrifice easily," he said.

But Guttenberg said only a small percentage of German men were actually called on to perform mandatory service.

"Today when it's possible for anyone can say, 'I don't want to serve so I'm not going,' then we have a de facto voluntary army already," he told the paper, adding that only 13 to 16 percent of men are drafted into temporary service.

Author: Matt Zuvela (dpa/apn)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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