Germany’s military has been struggling through a long period of secular decline. But there’s concern that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could prompt the Germans to revive the draft, which the country scrapped back in 2011.
Conscription was introduced in Germany back in 1956, with all men over the age of 18 expected to serve at least one year in the army (although they could claim exemption for moral reasons). But the draft was scrapped to save money, as Germany’s military endured a long post-war decline.
But Moscow’s increasingly aggressive posture on the global stage has given the Germans reason to reverse this decline.
In recent days, German politicians have called for a revival of some form of mandatory military service, according to France24.
Wolfgang Hellmich, a politician for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), called for an “urgent” debate on the issue in an interview with the Rheinische Post newspaper on Tuesday.
Compulsory military service would help “promote public spirit,” he said, also calling for careers in the Bundeswehr to be made more attractive to young people.
The president of Germany’s association of reservists has called on the government to reintroduce a “general framework” for military service for both men and women. This could take the form of “one year in which young people who are of age and have completed their education do something for the state and the community”, he told the Rheinische Post newspaper.
Members of the CDU, the party of Angela Merkel that is now in the opposition after 16 years in power, have also expressed support for bringing back the draft. Members from the state of Lower Saxony have gone so far as to publish a paper calling for the reintroduction of military service.
Voices from the conservative CDU, now in opposition after 16 years in power under Angela Merkel, have also come out in favour of conscription.
In the state of Lower Saxony, CDU members have put together a paper calling for the reintroduction of military service as “a decisive signal for ensuring an effective military deterrence,” according to Die Welt newspaper.
CDU MP Carsten Linnemann told the Bild daily he was in favour of “a year of compulsory service for young men and women after completing their schooling”.
This could also take the form of a year of service in the social care sector or the emergency services, he said.
“This would strengthen the resilience of our society to crises” and promote skills that are necessary in “these persistently difficult times”, he said.
Opposition to the idea is most fierce among Germany’s Social Democrats.
Eva Hoegl, a Social Democrat and the Bundestag’s defence commissioner, has called the debate “a theoretical discussion that does not help in the current situation”.
And Florian Hahn of the CSU, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, said Germany needs “technology and weapons systems”, not just an increased head count.
Since the end of the Cold War, Germany has steadily reduced the size of its army from around 500K at the time of German reunification in 1990 to just 200K today.