Germany contemplates ending conscription

Germany's declining economic power is threatening one of the cornerstones of its democratic system: the conscript-based national army, which replaced the professionalism of the country's militaristic past.

A heated row within the government over proposed defence cuts has focused attention on Germany's inability to finance conscription beyond the year 2000. Yesterday, the Free Democrats, the junior partners in the governing coalition, called for a parliamentary debate, and announced they would hold a referendum among their members over the future of the Bundeswehr.

"If it came to cutting 10,000-20,000 men or more, then I could see that we would have to call conscription into question, at least in its current form," said Gunther Nolting, the Free Democrats' defence spokesman. "I could well imagine that we would have to consider introducing a militia system in Germany."

Mr Waigel, painted as a Scrooge prepared to sacrifice the democratic principles of the nation's defence on the altar of financial rectitude, has even been denounced by members of his own party. "If the total cuts of 12 billion [marks] demanded by the Finance Minister are what we really want politically, than we cannot maintain the draft," said Klaus Rose, a fellow Christian Socialist and chairman of parliament's defence committee.

The debate was sparked last week by a deliberately leaked letter written by Volker Ruhe, the Defence Minister, to his cabinet colleague Theo Waigel, who is in charge of the finance ministry. Mr Waigel's demand for a cut in the defence budget would undermine the draft and endanger Europe-wide arms procurement projects, Mr Ruhe wrote.

The latter include the four-nation Eurofighter aircraft in which Britain has a stake, the Franco-German spy satellite Helios, as well as a new combat helicopter and a transport helicopter to be built together with Germany's European partners.

Mr Ruhe's warning about European commitments was addressed to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who takes a personal interest in these projects. But raising the alarm over conscription was meant for the German public, the majority of whom continue to mistrust people who earn their living as soldiers.

"A professional army keeps itself busy - "its trade is war," was how the liberal daily Suddeutsche Zeitung articulated the angst of the man in the street in yesterday's editorial. At present, 140,000 out of the Bundeswehr's total strength of 340,000 are drafted.

Military service is not popular - half of last year's potential recruits declared themselves to be conscientious objectors and opted for community service instead. But the universal draft is seen as a guarantee of fair recruitment, reflecting a cross-section of society, and excluding the possibility of the armed forces ever again falling into the hands of professional soldiers with a mission of their own. The army's duty to summon every able-bodied male German citizen of conscription age is enshrined in the constitution.

The defence budget has been whittled down from 54bn marks at the time of German reunification in 1990 to DM47.1bn (pounds 20bn). Now Mr Waigel wants to cut it again to DM46bn next year and keep slashing costs until the year 2000, in order to bring the budget deficit down to a level that meet the Maastricht criteria and qualify Germany for European Monetary Union.

Chancellor Kohl, who has been watching his sparring ministers with growing irritation, yesterday repeated his commitment to a conscript force. But critics say there will soon not be enough money to finance the Bundeswehr at its current size, and cost-cutting will inevitably lead to a radical overhaul.

Earlier this year, France decided to ditch two centuries of military tradition in favour of a leaner, fitter and cheaper army, and Germany may well have to follow suit.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

School Office/ Finance Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Ilford: School Office/ Finance Assistant Long t...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album