Germans tout return of conscription, say military service could ‘really do good’ for society

Leaders from across the political spectrum in Berlin have called for the reintroduction of compulsory service, as Germany reassesses its relationship with its armed forces.

Reintroducing compulsory service would “really do good” for German society and help bring people together, Carsten Linnemann, deputy leader of the conservative CDU party, said on Sunday.

The debate includes influential voices from the ruling centre-left SPD, which also calls for a return to conscription among men and women over the age of 18.

“What we are witnessing at the moment is that peace is not a law of nature,” Linnemann told ZDF television. He added that compulsory service would counteract the polarization of society, with “too many people putting themselves before the state”.

As late as 2011, all adult German males had to complete a year of compulsory military service, although they could opt for service in civil society on moral grounds.

The law passed at the time to suspend national service made it clear that the freeze could be lifted in times of war or heightened international tension.

There have been intermittent calls for mandatory service to be reinstated in recent years. But in recent days, as Germany confronts its pacifist approach to foreign policy in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine, calls for a debate on the issue have grown.

Conscription ‘needs social consensus’

Johann Wadephul, the CDU’s deputy leader in the Bundestag, told the Die Welt newspaper that military service would be “a chance to find many more recruits”. He suggested it could be linked to earning points in a pension system or easier access to university places.

Wolfgang Hellmich, the SPD’s defense spokesman in the Bundestag, told a local newspaper last week that compulsory service helped “promote a sense of community”.

He added: “We urgently need to hold the debate on this, because it requires social consensus.”

But other politicians have described the proposal as a distraction at a time when the Bundeswehr needs to focus its energy on upgrading its outdated equipment.

Florian Hahn, CDU defense spokesman in the Bundestag, said: “We need technologies and weapon systems, not brains. Conscription is not a problem at the moment.

The SPD’s Eva Högl, who is commissioner of the Bundeswehr in the Bundestag, also described the proposal as “a theoretical discussion which is not useful in the current situation”.

Germany to increase defense spending

For years, the Bundeswehr has been plagued with damaging headlines about malfunctioning helicopters and failed assault rifles.

A report published in January revealed that only 77% of the weapons systems of the German armed forces were ready for operation.

The war in Ukraine exposed the shortcomings of the German armed forces and led to a dramatic pivot – with Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, announcing a 100 billion euro fund to restore the Bundeswehr to combat readiness.

Germany dragged its feet for years on a NATO pledge to spend 2% of its GDP on defence. However, Scholz also confirmed that spending will now exceed the 2% target.

Christian Lindner, the finance minister himself a reserve officer, has promised to make the German army “the most efficient” in Europe.

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