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Germany outlines plans for 'new' model of military service

June 12, 2024

Germany unveils a new military service model to strengthen the Bundeswehr amid rising security concerns from Russia. The plan focuses on volunteer recruitment with potential mandatory elements.

Recruits of the German Armed Forces at a vow ceremony
While it has tried to attract volunteers, Germany's Bundeswehr has increasingly struggled to do soImage: Andreas Friedrichs/IMAGO

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius formally proposed a form of military service on Wednesday, 13 years after Germany suspended conscription.

Russia's war in Ukraine has stirred up debate in Germany about how the Bundeswehr armed forces can reverse the trend of diminishing troop numbers.

What do the plans entail?

The latest proposals would not reinstate conscription as in the model that was effectively scrapped in 2011.

"We want a new model that relies primarily on voluntary participation, but also includes mandatory elements if necessary," a document about the proposals read.

Germany presents plan to boost military reserves

Young men would have to answer a mandatory questionnaire about their willingness and ability to serve. From this, the Bundeswehr would select the most suitable and motivated individuals after a medical examination.

"We want the best and the most motivated," Pistorius said as he produced a policy document on the changes.

Women would also be sent the questionnaire, although it would not be compulsory for them to complete it.

"The new model includes basic military service of six months with an option for additional voluntary military service of up to an additional 17 months," the document said.

German defense minister outlines conscription plan

What have German politicians said? 

Social Democrat (SPD) Johannes Arlt called the idea, "a very smart political initiative, because we need to use our time to strengthen our defense capabilities, to defend our country and also to contribute to our collective defense within the framework of NATO."
Arlt, however, pointed out the difficult structural challenges presented by the scrapping of conscription back in 2011, saying, "We don't have any overview of who's living in the country, who's capable of completing national emergency or military service."

He suggested the necessity of "reintroducing the enlistment system and strengthening our recruitment capabilities."

Arlt told DW it is crucial that the new plan give young Germans a real incentive to volunteer, "it is important that we take the values and the talents of young people into consideration and give them meaningful jobs during what could be the best year of their life."

Nils Gründer of the liberal FDP told DW his party is happy that the idea of conscription has been scrapped, adding the party prefers the idea of counting on volunteers.

Gründer said, "It is important that we strengthen the Bundeswehr. We in the FDP want to make sure that the Bundeswehr recruits at every school, every year — that young people know what kind of career opportunities the military can offer them."

Why is the change deemed necessary?

Despite new efforts to attract volunteers, Germany's military has increasingly struggled with numbers recently with its ranks last year shrinking to 181,500 soldiers.

According to current assessments, the German contribution to NATO's defense will require about 460,000 soldiers in the long term. Of these, about 200,000 are planned to be active with the rest being reserves.

Johannes Arlt spoke of the prospects of recruiting some 40,000 men and conscripting 10,000 per year for the first few years, adding that the number would ideally increase year on year. He noted, however: "the problem is we don't have enough capacity at our bases… we don't have the beds, we don't have the infrastructure."

Pistorius last week repeated his belief that some form of military service would be necessary after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine raised concerns about the future security of Europe.

He said Germany needs to strengthen its armed forces, the Bundeswehr, to operational readiness before the end of the decade.

Like Gründer, conservative politician Serap Güler of the opposition CDU told DW "We need this plan because war has come to Europe. We have to be ready for the worst-case scenario. But the way the Bundeswehr is set up right we, we definitely aren't."

Güler said she and her party would continue to advocate for a return to conscription, describing the current effort as half-hearted, adding, "we wish the defense minister had shown more courage in his approach."

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This article was written using material from the DPA news agency.

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.