Germany's military is in a pinch: As conscription comes to an end, it must find a way to fill its ranks. That's why the Ministry of Defense is considering allowing foreign nationals to become German soldiers.
Compulsory service for young German men ends this year
Germany's Ministry of Defense is considering allowing foreign nationals to join its military, after the government decided to abolish conscription.
German Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg has hammered out a 72-page proposal on how the Bundeswehr can attract volunteer, career soldiers to fill its ranks, amid worries that Germany will be unable to fulfill its duties to several European Union and NATO-led military missions abroad.
The Defense Ministry's proposal states that "regulations should be expanded so that [German] residents with the necessary skills, aptitude, and performance can be implemented into the military - even in the absence of German citizenship."
Recruits only from select countries
"We're focusing on the possibility of attracting citizens of EU member countries and other states, such as Switzerland, with whom we share special agreements to recognize vocational qualifications," Ministry Spokesman Steffen Moritz confirmed on Monday.
Defense Minister Guttenberg has pushed for a leaner, volunteer army
Moritz said that only foreign nationals already living in Germany would be considered for the military, adding that he did not expect them to come in droves.
Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has announced plans to cut Germany's 250,000-strong military to 185,000 in an effort to reduce spending and modernize.
Millions barred from service
Official statistics show that in 2009, there were 7.1 million foreigners living in Germany. Currently, only German citizens are allowed to serve in the German military, although there have been some exceptions in the past.
According to Moritz, "there have been only a few occasions in the past decades where a special clause was used to employ foreign residents in the national armed forces, when there was a need for specialists we just didn't have."
"The latest statistics available show there has not been a single such case over the past four years."
No decision has yet been made on the matter, Moritz said, adding that parliamentary approval and a constitutional amendment would still be needed if the military decided in favor of the measure.
According to German government spokesman Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel had not yet given any thought to the matter.
"We're looking at step one of many more to come in the decision process," Seibert said.
Germany's 2.8 million Turkish citizens would still not be eligible to serve
Meanwhile on Monday, the opposition Social Democrats and the Greens appeared ready to throw their weight behind Defense Minister Guttenberg's proposal.
Social Democrat Military Spokesman Hans-Peter Bartels told German daily Die Welt, however, that allowing people from countries with compulsory military service could lead to complications. In particular, having Turkish citizens serve Germany's new career army could cause spats with Turkey unless the two countries signed a special agreement.
Germany's largest foreign population consists of its nearly 3 million Turkish residents.
Green Defense Spokesperson Omid Nouripour told the newspaper, meanwhile, that he supported the proposal when it came to "people whose lives are centered in Germany."
However, he told Die Welt, soldiers should not be accepted from Iraq or other countries in military crisis, saying the Bundeswehr would then "turn into a mercenary army that would have nothing to do with the state monopoly on legitimate use of force."
Nouripour's point appeared moot, as accepting soldiers from such countries was not on the table to begin with, according to Moritz.
Reliance on short-term volunteers
The military draft for young German men effectively comes to an end in March, from which point on the army will rely on short-term contractual soldiers. The government expects 15,000 of all its troops to fall into this category in the future.
Daycare and better pension plans are designed to lure new soldiers
Meanwhile, the armed forces are worried that they may be unable to attract enough career soldiers to make up the remaining 170,000 personnel needed and are keen to tap into new potential.
Another way to attract recruits is to make the services more family friendly, with more child-care services.
In addition, sabbatical programs for service personnel as well as internships and university placements are planned. It would also be easier for soldiers moving to the private sector to take pension entitlements with them.
According to Guttenberg, the reforms will make the armed forces more efficient and better able to serve in overseas missions.
Author: Hardy Graupner / dl
Editor: Nicole Goebel