Germany to phase out military service: report

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Germany is planning to effectively eliminate conscription, a newspaper reported Friday, as part of a major cost-cutting drive that will see troop numbers slashed and military priorities reassessed.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has laid out a compromise plan on military service that was gaining support from the three parties in the centre-right ruling coalition.

In the most controversial aspect of the scheme to date, Germany would retain conscription in its Basic Law but only accept recruits who agree to join the military. The government estimates that would be about 7,500 men per year.

According to official figures, NATO member Germany has almost 63,000 conscripts. Berlin recently cut the length of compulsory military service to six months from nine months.

Zu Guttenberg will present the proposals to Merkel next week and to the defence and foreign affairs committees in parliament on August 23, the Suddeutsche said, citing sources close to the minister.

"The plan is seen has having an excellent chance with the coalition's parliamentary groups," the newspaper wrote.

Several media outlets reported this week that Guttenberg also intends to shrink the armed forces to 156,000 troops from 195,000 today.

But a comprehensive reform is not expected until after a commission makes recommendations on the future structure of the defence ministry, in November.

The defence ministry declined to comment on the report.

Zu Guttenberg came under fire from within his own conservative bloc earlier this month for suggesting that conscription should be phased out altogether, reportedly prompting him to threaten to resign.

Ulrich Kirch, chairman of the Bundewehr Association, an independent group that lobbies for soldiers' interests, said the German military was ready for an effective end to conscription.

"The Bundeswehr must be quick, flexible and nimble and above all, more professional than now," he told the daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

Conscription has been a venerable institution in postwar Germany, seen as an effective guarantee that the military would never again fall into the hands of a power-hungry elite as it did in the Nazi period.

But opponents argue the system is outdated, costly and inefficient.

Germany, chastened by the crimes committed by its military during World War II, was slow to join international deployments abroad but now has the third largest foreign contingent in Afghanistan behind the United States and Britain with some 4,500 troops.

In June, Merkel pledged more than 80 billion euros (98 billion dollars) worth of cuts by 2014 including a 8.3-billion-euro decrease in defence spending.

© 2010 AFP

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