Germany decides to suspend conscription

After a very controversial debate (see for example CO-Update No 58, August 2010), the main party in the governing coalition, the Christian Democrats, agreed to a reform of the German Armed Forces on Sunday, 26 September. This includes the suspension of conscription, and - as a consequence - also of substitute service. Only very recently, military service had been reduced from nine to six months - a change which only took effect on 1 July 2010 (see CO-Update No 55, April 2010).

It is as of yet unclear when this new change will come into force. Based on the report by the General Inspecteur of the Bundeswehr on the structural reform of the Armed Forces, the suspension of conscription might come as soon as 1 July 2011. According to a report by the New York Times, the Defense Ministry will work out over the coming months the details and timetable for suspending conscription, which was first introduced in the 1950s. The decision of the leadership of the Christian Democrats seems to be based on model 4 of the report, according to which the German military will be composed of 156,000 professional soldiers and 7,500 serving a voluntary military service of 23 months. However, the parties see this is the "minimum strength of the German Bundeswehr", and figures more in the region of 180,000 soldiers in total might also be possible.

But even if conscription will be suspended, there will be no change to the German constitution, which in its article 12a states: "Men who have attained the age of eighteen may be required to serve in the Armed Forces, in the Federal Border Police, or in a civil defence organisation." Consequently, registration of young men for conscription will continue (the data is automatically passed from the local authorities to the military), but there won't be any medical examination of potential conscripts.

As a consequence of the suspension of conscription, substitute service for conscientious objectors will also need to be suspended. In 2009, more than 90,000 young men served in a substitute service, mostly in health care and social services. Presently, there is no agreement about how to reorganise these services.

Presently, the different German states organise voluntary services for young people - the Voluntary Social Year and the Voluntary Ecological Year. The Federal Minister for Family, Kristina Schröder, is now proposing a new voluntary civilian service on federal level, to partly replace the loss of the substitute service. Social service charities are split on the issue. While the German Red Cross seems to be in favour of a voluntary civilian service, Caritas opposes it, and favours the expansion of the existing Voluntary Social Year.

Sources: Spiegel Online: Sozialdienstleister fürchten das Zivi-Loch, 1 October 2010; Focus: Wehrpflicht wird vorerst ausgesetzt, 27 September 2010; Süddeutsche Zeitung: Union im Schulterschluss: Wehrpflicht aussetzen, 27 September 2010; The New York Times: Germany to End Conscription, 27 September 2010; Abendzeitung: Was wird aus dem Zivildienst?, 27 September 2010; Abendzeitung: Länder fürchten um ihre Freiwilligendienste, 24 September 2010; Spiegel Online: Guttenberg will Musterung ausmustern, 14 September 2010; Bericht des Generalinspekteurs der Bundeswehr zum Prüfungsauftrag aus der Kabinettsklausur vom 7. Juni 2010, 31 August 2010; Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, 1949 (with changes until April 2010).