Global Insights: The End of the German Draft?

Global Insights: The End of the German Draft?

In addition to potential effects on Germany's economic, energy, and foreign policies, the results of the Sept. 27 national elections raise questions about the future of Germany's longstanding practice of military conscription. Although Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) continues to support compulsory military service more than any other major German party, her preferred new coalition partner, the quasi-libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP), opposes it.

Unlike most other NATO countries, Germany stubbornly adheres to the principle of compulsory military service. At present, all male German citizens are subject to nine months of conscription in the Bundeswehr (the German armed forces) when they reach the age of 18. As a result, the 250,000-member Bundeswehr has both long-term careerists -- mostly officers, noncommissioned officers, and other professionals and volunteers -- and approximately 60,000 short-term conscript soldiers.

In the past, divisive political disputes have arisen over whether to retain conscription. Sharp differences over the issue even delayed publication of a planned German white paper on defense for many years. Only the advent of Merkel's coalition government following the September 2005 elections ended the deadlock, resulting a year later in Germany's first major defense review (.pdf) in 12 years. That document stressed Germany's desire to help solve a broad range of security challenges outside the North Atlantic area, in partnership with the United States, the European Union, NATO and other structures.

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