German soldiers in Schleswig-Holstein last February.picture alliance (dpa/picture alliance via Getty I)
A phrase from the new German Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, has been the spark that has ignited the latest debate on security in Germany: "It was a mistake to suspend compulsory military service."
At another time it might have gone unnoticed.
However, one year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and in the midst of a rearmament effort with the 100 billion euro fund announced by Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz, the idea has generated heated discussion.
Should the military return?
Would it be a good way to compensate for the progressive loss of troops of the Bundeswehr (German army)?
Germany sealed in 2011, after 55 years of forced conscription, the end of peacetime conscription.
Actually, it is suspended indefinitely, because it continues to be included in the Fundamental Law in the event of an attack.
The return of the military has defenders among some conservative politicians and members of the army, who ensure that Germany could not defend itself with an active force of less than 200,000 soldiers and are committed to rapidly increasing the number of people with military training, even basic.
However, none of the big parties formally defends a return to the previous system, and neither do the experts see it as viable: “I don't think the military will be restored: it would cost a lot of money and would require personnel that we no longer have.
In general, there is a consensus in the political sphere that going back to what was there is not feasible, and it is not the objective, ”Pia Fuhrhop, a researcher in the field of defense at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, points to the telephone. (SWP).
Despite this, public debate has resurfaced with force as wartime Europe has brought national defense back to the fore.
After decades of underfunding, the German military is in dire straits.
Lieutenant General Alfons Mais described it bluntly a few days after the invasion began: "The Bundeswehr, the army that I have the duty to command, finds itself little less than empty-handed."
Since then, the armed forces have become the priority of the
or change of era, the name that describes the 180-degree turn in Germany's defense and security policies.
Improving the condition of the Bundeswehr is vital, but the government is taking its time.
Eva Högl, the parliamentary delegate for the Armed Forces, presented her annual report a few days ago: a detailed 172-page enumeration that stops at all the shortcomings.
“I will start with the question of material and I will summarize it in one sentence: the Bundeswehr has too little of everything, and it has even less since February 24, 2022 ″, she said during the presentation of the expected count.
And she still gave one more piece of information that leaves the coalition led by Scholz in a bad place: “not a single euro” of the 100,000 million fund approved by the deputies in June of last year has still not been spent.
Lack of staff
There are many shortfalls — Högl revealed that “training, exercises and equipment on the ground” are lacking — but experts highlight one: “We urgently need more personnel,” says Gary S. Schaal, co-chairman of the German Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies. (GIDS).
The Bundeswehr currently has 183,277 soldiers, compared to around 500,000 in the 1980s and 1990s.
“We need to reach between 220,000 and 250,000 to reach the targets set by the NATO structure,” he adds.
Like Pistorius, Schaal believes that the abandonment of the military in 2011 was a mistake, but because of the way it was done: “There was no strategy behind it.
The reason was simply to save costs and cut budget, ”he says in a telephone interview.
It is too late to reverse that decision, analysts agree.
For many reasons.
The army no longer has barracks to house thousands of recruits, nor the personnel to train them.
Modern Armed Forces, which handle the latest generation of weapons, need specialized personnel, who do not train in a few months.
And there are also legal questions.
Before, women were not required to serve in the military.
What would happen now with the obligation?
The Liberal Party, which is part of the government coalition with Social Democrats and Greens, even argues that conscription would be unconstitutional and would go against European law for violating civil rights.
"Young people have already suffered enough from the pandemic," said the Minister of Justice, the liberal Marco Buschmann.
For all these reasons, Schaal believes that the military is "a ghost debate" that obscures the real discussion: how to make the army more attractive for men and women to consider a career in it.
Fuhrhop points in the same direction, and emphasizes the need to offer incentives to women, who account for around 13% of the workforce.
In Germany it is still possible to do military service;
It is one of the options of the voluntary service system that replaced the old recruitment and the substitute social benefit.
Some 8,000 young people choose the army each year, compared to the 40,000 who opt for social institutions (health, education, environment, emergency services...).
“Suppose we institute a year of compulsory work.
We would continue to offer a choice between military and social service.
What makes us think that his choice would be much different in a forced environment?
It wouldn't solve the problem”, notes the researcher.
The reintroduction of compulsory military service is not on any electoral platform, nor is it in Pistorius' Defense Ministry plans, says a spokesman, but there are proposals to impose a year of compulsory labor service for the benefit of society.
They contemplate it, for example, the Christian democrats of the CDU since their last congress, last September.
The service could be provided in the Armed Forces or in hospitals, nursing homes or non-profit organizations, they explain from the leading opposition party.
Feasible or not, the recovery of the military divides citizens, although it is more of a theoretical discussion than a proposal that is on the table.
The majority of Germans (61%) would be in favor of reintroducing conscription, according to an Ipsos poll published in early March.
43% say that it should be applied to both men and women, while only 18% would prefer that only men do the military service.
Only three out of 10 citizens (29%) are completely against recovering it.
300,000 million for the army
The fund of 100,000 million euros that Olaf Scholz announced in his historic speech after the Russian invasion of Ukraine falls far short of correcting decades of neglect with the German Armed Forces.
According to military experts cited by Eva Högl, a “total sum of 300 billion euros” is needed to ensure that the army is fully operational.
“Therefore, the defense budget must grow steadily and resolutely towards the 2% of GDP target requested by NATO in the coming years, starting from the 1.5% reached in the year under review ” , assured the parliamentary person in charge of supervising the Bundeswehr.
Replenishing ammunition stocks and creating new stocks costs "tens of billions," he added.
These sums are not included in the special fund, but will be financed from the regular defense budget.
Inflation, prices in the energy and raw material markets and the increase in international demand for military equipment after the start of the war in Ukraine have ruined the initial forecast.
Defense spending will have to be much higher to achieve its goal, Högl stressed.
Follow all the international information on
, or in
our weekly newsletter
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits
I'm already a subscriber