Germans tout return of conscription and say military service could ‘do real good’ for society

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There is widespread support for reintroducing compulsory military service in Germany - Sean Gallup/Getty Images
There is widespread support for reintroducing compulsory military service in Germany - Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Leaders from across the political divide in Berlin have called for compulsory service to be re-introduced, as Germany re-evaluates its relationship with its armed forces.

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

The debate includes influential voices from the governing centre-left SPD, which is also calling for a return of conscription among men and women over-18.

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

As recently as 2011, all adult German men were expected to perform a year of compulsory military service, although they could opt for service in civil society based on moral grounds.

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

There have been intermittent calls for compulsory service to be brought back 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 deputy leader in the Bundestag, told Die Welt newspaper that military service would be “a chance to find a lot more recruits”. He suggested it could be linked to gaining points in a pension system or eased access to university places.

Wolfgang Hellmich, the SPD defence spokesman in the Bundestag, told a local newspaper last week that compulsory service helps to "promote a sense of community".

He added: "We urgently need to hold the debate on this, as it needs social consensus.”

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have described the proposal as a distraction at a time when the Bundeswehr needs to focus its energy on modernising its outdated equipment.

Florian Hahn, defence spokesman for the CDU in the Bundestag,said: "We need technology and weapons systems, not brains. Conscription is not an issue at this point in time.”

Eva Högl, of the SPD, who is the Bundestag’s Bundeswehr commissioner, also described the proposal as “a theoretical discussion that isn’t helpful in the current situation".

Germany to increase defence spending

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

A report published in January found that just 77 per cent of the German armed forces’ weapons systems were ready for operation.

War in Ukraine has brought the German armed forces' deficiencies into dramatic relief and led to a dramatic pivot - with Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, announcing a €100 billion fund to bring the Bundeswehr back into fighting shape.

Germany has dragged its heels for years on a Nato commitment to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. However, Mr Scholz also confirmed that spending would now rise above the two per cent target.

Christian Lindner, the finance minister who is himself a reserve officer, has promised to turn the Germany army into “the most effective” in Europe.