Germany is to end conscription next year and switch to a slimmed-down volunteer military service of 185,000 troops focused on missions abroad.
The reforms are aimed at realigning the German army to better reflect the nation’s post-Cold War needs, defence minister Karl zu Guttenberg told a military conference in Dresden.
They are a major step for a country that has been reluctant to send its soldiers overseas, mindful of its role in instigating two world wars.
It is the first time Mr Guttenberg has given a date to end conscription – in July 2011 – and a concrete number of troops. He said his ministry will finalise the details of the raft of cuts and changes that will accompany the restructuring in the coming weeks. Parliament is expected to pass the measures in December.
Despite having 250,000 troops, only 7,000 are currently deployed at any one time, due mostly to the limited term most conscripts serve. Mr Guttenberg underlined that the reforms are aimed at slimming the nation’s military and helping it meet 21st-century needs.
The most important change will be that young German men will no longer be called up for obligatory military service. Instead volunteers will serve between 12 and 23 months, with soldiers able to deploy abroad after six months of service. Mr Guttenberg hopes that will allow at least 10,000 troops to be deployed abroad in the future.
“The measuring stick must be the missions,” he said. “That is the heart of the realigned army.”
The minister also announced cuts to the defence ministry’s bloated bureaucracy that will result in changes to the chain of command.
Chancellor Angela Merkel urged military leaders to take advantage of the changes “to make a military service so attractive” that it would be able to pull in sufficient numbers of young soldiers.
Ms Merkel said the changes are the most significant facing the military since reunification in 1990, but underlined that they are necessary.
Germany currently has 7,070 troops abroad – 4,840 in Afghanistan and 1,470 in Kosovo. Smaller contingents are deployed in Bosnia, in anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa and as part of UNIFIL, the international peacekeeping force, off the coast of Lebanon and elsewhere.