Antiquated army is a relic of the Cold War, Berlin told

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The Independent Online

Germany's antiquated armed forces must be cut by one-third and conscription all but abolished, the country's most thorough defence review since unification is expected to recommend today.

Germany's antiquated armed forces must be cut by one-third and conscription all but abolished, the country's most thorough defence review since unification is expected to recommend today.

The report will be handed to the government by the former president Richard von Weizsäcker but its scathing criticism and radical proposals have already been leaked. Its main conclusion is that the current Bundeswehr, relying largely on conscripts, is a relic of the Cold War and desperate for a complete overhaul. "The Bundeswehr in the year 2000 is off balance," the report states, according to a version leaked to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "It is too big, improperly organised and increasingly outdated."

Set up as the first line of defence against a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, the German armed forces are ill equipped for the more likely peace-keeping and humanitarian missions of today. The review, commissioned by the government a year ago, calls for numbers to be trimmed from the present 330,000 to 240,000, so that meagre resources can be better concentrated. The 130,000 conscripts in uniform today should be trimmed to a symbolic 30,000. Women should at last be allowed to volunteer for armed service.

Almost no one disputes that such a force would be more efficient than today's motley crew of reluctant soldiers, yet the proposals have already come under attack from both left and right. General outrage is assured, because the Weizsäcker commission is breaking taboos unquestioned for the past 50 years. It has been an axiom that a "citizen's army" made up of conscripts is a good thing while a professional force is not. Only the Greens and East Germany's post-communists want conscription abolished.

The suggestion to retain a token conscript force will therefore satisfy no one. It smacks of a typical German fudge.

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