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Most Germans want compulsory military service return — poll

March 9, 2023

Compulsory military service was suspended in 2011. A recent survey suggests 61% of Germans want it reintroduced, with over a third saying it should apply to women as well as men.

German soldiers on Lepard tanks during the exercise 'Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2017' at the military training area in Grafenwoehr, near Eschenbach, southern Germany.
Calls for strengthening the German military have become loud since Russia's invasion of UkraineImage: CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP

The majority of Germans want to restore compulsory military service, which was scrapped in 2011, a survey revealed on Thursday, as war on the European continent between Russia and Ukraine drags on for over a year.

The survey was conducted by the Paris-based Ipsos MORI group, a multinational market research and consulting company. It polled 1,000 eligible voters aged between 18 and 75 nationwide. 

The poll revealed that 61% of the respondents were in favor of reintroducing compulsory service.

Furthermore, 43% believed that compulsory service should apply to all genders, while the remaining 18% said it should apply but only to men, as was the case under the now-defunct law. 

Earlier this year, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius fueled the debate when he said that, in his opinion, "it was a mistake to suspend compulsory military service."

How do the numbers play out among different ages and genders?

The polls showed that older people who would no longer face military service were much more likely to support the idea than younger people who still might. 

In the 60-75 age bracket, support was most pronouned, with 47% in favor for all and another 18% saying it should be reintroduced for men only. 

Among respondents aged 18-39, meanwhile, 39% supported reintroduction for all and another 21% supported it for men only. 

In no age group did more than one in three respondents voice a strong aversion to the idea, which might come as a surprise in a country known for a pacifist streak since its defeat in World War II.

Men were also more likely to say military service should apply to both sexes equally, at 49% of respondents, while 36% of women argued for this, with the idea therefore not achieving majority support among either group. 

Strictly speaking, Germany did not abolish its military service rules in 2011. It put them on ice indefinitely until a time of national emergency or an attack on Germany.

While the law was in place, there were alternatives to military service available for young men who did not want to spend a few months at a barracks, often involving work or some kind of work experience at a civic institution like a church or a school.

Calls for a stronger German military

The question of strengthening the German military has been a recurring one since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, creating what Western leaders in Europe and beyond described as a significant security threat.

Shortly after the invasion, the German government introduced a special one-off fund of €100 billion that is supposed to help upgrade the military over a several-year period.

In a number of speeches and statements since, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called Moscow's invasion of Ukraine a turning point (or Zeitenwende) in European history, underlining the importance of strengthening Germany's armed forces in the new situation.

Why Germany's military is in a bad state, and what's being done to fix it

rmt/msh (dpa, Ipsos)