Does the conscription military have advantages

armed forcesTen years after the suspension of conscription

"I am committed to military service. Conscription is an important link between society and the armed forces."

This commitment by Chancellor Angela Merkel did not last long. It was given at a Bundeswehr pledge ceremony on July 20, 2009. Barely a year and a half later, on November 22, 2010, Federal Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg announced the suspension of compulsory military service at a Bundeswehr conference in Dresden:

"In place of general conscription, there is a new voluntary military service that gives young women and men the opportunity to do voluntary service in the armed forces for a period of between 12 and 23 months."

This suspended the "legal obligation of male German citizens to perform military service in the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany", as it had existed since July 1956. From now on, calling up for military service is only possible in the event of a defense or tension.

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"Break in German military history"

The suspension of compulsory military service in 2011 marked a turning point in German military history. At the beginning of the 19th century, during the wars of liberation, its introduction was counted among the Prussian reforms, as it symbolized an upgrading of the previously declassified soldier status. From now on, doing your military service was regarded as "honorary service" and the army as the "school of the nation".

Sönke Neitzel teaches military history and the cultural history of violence at the Historical Institute of the University of Potsdam. His military history study "From the Empire to the Berlin Republic" has just been published under the title "German Warriors". He describes the development of conscription:

"In Germany, conscription has certainly been part of the signature of the military since 1813 and also to understand how society and the military belong together. In 1813 it was a completely modern new invention, adopted by France. And it is one of the few reform measures of the military reform continued throughout the 19th century until 1918. "

In the Wars of Unification between 1864 and 1871, conscription rose to become a model in Europe because of its efficiency as a Prussian model. The social democracy, which was opposed to the system at the time, also welcomed conscription. For the armed forces should not be provided by an aristocratic elite force, but by a people's army that is ready to go to war.

"The big exception is certainly the Weimar Republic. The victorious powers banned conscription, deliberately because they wanted a professional army and wanted to prevent the Germans from acquiring a large reservoir of trained soldiers."

The professional army of the Weimar Republic developed over the years into a state within a state (picture alliance / akg-images)

"Professional army was never up for discussion in 1955"

With the counterproductive result that the Reichswehr, as a professional army with over a hundred thousand men, rose to become a "state within the state" and largely developed into a right-wing extremist rallying movement against the young, ailing republic. Because of this historically relevant negative experience, when the Bundeswehr was founded, the tradition of conscription - before the Nazi dictatorship - was resumed. Military historian Neitzel:

"A professional army was never up for discussion in 1955. And it was always good form for all parties to emphasize the great social importance of conscription in this connection between society and the army go into the army. 'The citizen in uniform' has thus been one of the big buzzwords for the Bundeswehr. "

From November 12, 1955, the Bundeswehr was initially set up with 6,000 volunteers. The so-called "rearmament" had begun. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer provided the main political motive in the midst of the Cold War:

"Protection of our freedom and protection of our homeland and protection of Europe from the advancing Soviet Russia, which Europe wants."

"To be able to fight in order not to have to fight"

The first legal draft was on April 1, 1957 for conscripts born after June 30, 1937. The ambitious political goal was to set up a force of 12 divisions with 500,000 soldiers within three years. All special rights of soldiers as in the unfortunate times of German history were abolished. Instead, one of the unique selling points of the Bundeswehr is that it sees itself as a parliamentary army with a military commissioner appointed by the Bundestag.

The Bundeswehr sees itself as an army in the NATO alliance with the military mandate of securing peace through deterrence. "Being able to fight in order not to have to fight" is their prevention doctrine. In addition, it tries to visibly provide administrative assistance and thereby ties in with the tradition of rescuing and helping in exceptional situations - such as flood disasters, during the refugee crisis or especially in pandemic times.

There was always anger about the military tradition that the Bundeswehr wanted to invoke. Because "the Wehrmacht was part of the Bundeswehr from the very beginning," said Sönke Neitzel, and even in the 21st century one has not yet completely got rid of it, as the right-wing extremist incidents in recent times have shown again. In 2018, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen then tried to clear the table:

"Of course there have been outstanding military personalities, exceptional military behavior at all times in our history, based on values ​​that we consider to be the foundation of our Basic Law today. And it is also this reference to values ​​that fundamentally excludes the inclusion of the Wehrmacht as an institution in our traditional canon . This standard of our values ​​also applies to the National People's Army and therefore excludes it as an institution that establishes tradition. "

Massive disarmament under the two-plus-four treaty

However, with the break in the epoch at the end of the Cold War, the role and agenda of the Bundeswehr changed. In the two-plus-four treaty after German unification, for example, massive disarmament was stipulated: the 600,000 soldiers that the Bundeswehr and the National People's Army of the former GDR had together in March 1991 were to be reduced to 250,000 men after the turn of the millennium. A target strength of 170,000 was aimed for. At the same time, a gradual reduction in military service was on the plan - from 1996 from twelve to ten months, in 2002 to nine, and in 2009 to six months. And the defense budget fell from 20 percent of the total budget - as it was during the Cold War - to ten percent.

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In the newly reunited Germany you only felt surrounded by friends. There was talk of a "peace dividend", that is, a drastic relief for the state budget. In addition, since 2001 women have found their way into the Bundeswehr with good career opportunities. The proportion of women in the troop is now over 12 percent.

"The area of ​​operation will be the whole world if the United Nations or NATO or the European Union ask us to participate in peacekeeping or peace enforcement measures."

This is how Peter Struck, defense minister in the red-green coalition from 2002 to 2005, defined the new role of the Bundeswehr as an army in global operations, be it in blue helmet missions or military in Somalia in 1993 or in Kosovo in 1999. With the sentence, the German Security will also be defended in the Hindu Kush, Struck then provided the legitimation formula for the current foreign deployment in Afghanistan, which began after 9/11 when the NATO alliance case was activated for the first time and Chancellor Schröder promised the USA "unlimited solidarity", if necessary to force the development of a central state in the context of an asymmetrical war in the fight against the Taliban.

Guttenberg's 'suspension instead of abolition' model

In the face of these new challenges, the structure of the Bundeswehr came more and more to the test. In early 2010, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg commissioned a "Deficit Analysis to Recognize Strengths and Weaknesses of the Current Bundeswehr Situation" after his appointment as Defense Minister. Also driven by an austerity appeal by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who called for a drastic cut in the defense budget. A structural commission was set up under the leadership of the head of the Federal Employment Agency, Frank-Jürgen Weise.

When Guttenberg came up with the proposal to "suspend" compulsory military service before an austerity conference in June 2010, Chancellor Angela Merkel was initially reserved. But the young CSU minister, sparkling with ambition and zeal for innovation, presented various models for the future structure of the armed forces to the governing coalition of the Union and FDP in August 2010. All were based on a future strength of 150,000 to 180,000 regular and professional soldiers.

"Today we no longer need disproportionately large numbers, but highly professional armed forces that can be deployed quickly and sustainably over long distances for difficult and difficult missions and scenarios and can also be relocated accordingly."

Guttenberg's favored model of "suspension instead of abolition" of conscription found an overwhelming majority, even within the initially skeptical Union. The Minister congratulated himself:

"I believe that this is a right and a wise decision with a view to scenarios that we certainly cannot quite foresee today."

Defense commissioner questions suspension decision

The necessity of compulsory military service was also questioned in circles of the Bundeswehr. As Klaus Olshausen reports. He was Lieutenant General of the Army and most recently in Brussels at NATO headquarters as Germany's military representative.

"Compulsory military service developed relatively strongly in the period after 1990 in the form of shortening the basic military service, through all possible measures. And through the reduction of the armed forces, questions of military justice in civil society were relatively quick, especially among some parties particularly present, so that one has to say, when I ended my active period, there were actually a lot of reasons or occasions to think about carrying out basic military service, whether on the one hand in relation to the available resources and what was in the shortened Mediating military service and then actively using it for the troops was definitely in question. "

On December 15, 2010, the black and yellow Federal Cabinet decided to change compulsory military service as of July 1, 2011. After that, from March 1, 2011, no one should be able to be involuntarily obliged.

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Eva Högl, the German Bundestag's defense commissioner since May 2020, was a member of the SPD at the time and was critical of the decision. She feared that with a professional or volunteer army, the Bundeswehr and civil society could drift apart and parallel societies could develop, as we have actually just seen in the so-called ammunition affair at the Special Forces Command, KSK for short. Which is why Högl wanted to put the suspension decision to the test again last year with a view to the tenth anniversary - but without success:

"I think that was rightly a difficult and controversial decision to suspend conscription. In the end it was a bit holterdipolter and without a real concept. And I think it's only right to review such important decisions again and ten years to reflect critically afterwards, was that the right decision or have to correct something. The debate has petered out. I definitely regret it. "

(imago / Wiegand Wagner) General conscription is not a panacea
The former defense commissioner Robbe (SPD) sees the cause of right-wing extremist incidents at the KSK in a "drifting apart of civil society and the armed forces".

"Constitutionally a serious encroachment on individual rights"

Meanwhile, Liberals and Alliance Greens had long been in favor of abolishing compulsory military service, according to MEP Claudia Roth during the time of the red-green coalition in 2004:

"The existing conscription is highly unjust. You can no longer speak of general conscription if around ten percent of the conscripts in a given year can only be drafted."

But not only personal and financial reasons spoke in favor of the suspension, but also the security-political circumstances after the break of the epoch and the fall of the Iron Curtain. With the decline of the old Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the most important reason for a conscription army in the sense of a mobilization army no longer existed. In addition, under constitutional law, conscription was considered a serious encroachment on the individual rights of a young person, which could only be justified in the event of an acute threat, such as during the Cold War.

Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) discussed general compulsory service in 2019 (picture alliance / dpa / Kay Nietfeld)

"A larger mix is ​​good for the Bundeswehr"

Today's debates, ten years after the suspension of compulsory military service, are overlaid by issues such as the introduction of compulsory military service instead of the old conscription and the right-wing extremist activities in the troops, which the former Defense Minister von der Leyen once described as a "posture problem" for the Bundeswehr. The Defense Commissioner Högl:

"We have a problem with right-wing extremism in society as a whole and consequently also in the Bundeswehr. And that is a very exciting question as to whether a conscription army is better protected from right-wing extremist tendencies and structures than a professional army. I am of the opinion that a greater mix From all parts of society the Bundeswehr is good, a wider range. But I also know that, of course, right-wing extremist tendencies have come into the Bundeswehr via conscripts during compulsory military service. "

The old conscription is a thing of the past. A return made no military sense, would not be financed and would be constitutionally problematic because, strictly speaking, the Bundeswehr is no longer about national defense. In addition, the obvious advantages of a more professional army in the digital age are praised in Bundeswehr circles. More commitment, intelligence and receptiveness than before through more training, equipment, political education and better pay.

The fitness factor is also playing an increasingly important role in foreign assignments. This means that the Bundeswehr is in harmony with its allies, because all NATO countries have now abolished conscription - with the exception of Estonia, Norway, Greece and Turkey, although better-trained soldiers are used in Turkish combat missions.

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Bad reputation as a "cucumber troop"

It is regrettable that, despite the recognizable advantages of a volunteer army, the Bundeswehr has acquired an unprecedented bad reputation in recent years: that of a deficiently equipped, malfunctioning and therefore widely ridiculed "cucumber troop". In addition, there are problems with 'recruiting': Are the Bundeswehr running out of people? Eva Högl:

"Yes, that worries us very much. This is of course due to the pandemic, but we had to record a 19 percent decline in new hires in 2020, which means every fifth post is vacant. And then, of course, they are missing."

Nevertheless, a troop strength of 203,000 soldiers is targeted by 2025, also in view of the worsening security policy situation in recent years. With the tacitly accepted attack by the Russian Federation on Georgia, the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of pro-Russian terrorist militias in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the old national and alliance defense, which in fact had already been given up in 2001, has returned.

Military conscription is not required

The question arises: Are we heading towards a threat that could make it necessary to reinstate compulsory military service? The former head of planning, Klaus Olshausen, names conditions for a return to conscription.

"It can only be thought of if one assumes, in terms of security policy, that with NATO, in NATO, we again need a force option that requires persistence and growth in the event of a possible military intervention by a third party, one would have to think about it. "

At the moment, however, conscription is not required militarily, as historian Sönke Neitzel emphasizes:

"Conscription armies have always been needed to set up mass armies, which perhaps weren't quite as well trained, but a large number of soldiers to wage great wars. And that is no longer an issue today."