Germany has ended compulsory military service, which has been part of society there for the past 55 years. The new law came into effect last Friday. These young men were the latest to be called up, in January, for six months’ training.
Now the federal army, or “Bundeswehr”, will rely on people who choose to be in it as a profession.
The reform sets out to shrink the armed force from 220,000 to around 20 percent fewer personnel — to 185,000 maximum.
The last defence minister, Karl-Theodore zu Guttemberg started the move. Last December, the Merkel government adopted it after long debate within the CDU-CSU-FDP coalition. The Christian Democrats had the most difficulty accepting the loosening of constitutional ties linking the army directly with German society.
Those links were forged to prevent the army founded in 1956, 11 years after the Nazi downfall, from ever again developing into an organ of the elite with its own political power. The other guiding principle — no German boots on foreign soil — meant keeping the soldiers uniquely as a defence force, guarding the integrity of the western Federal Republic of Germany.
This principal was waived several years ago, in 1999, when then Chancellor Schroeder sent German boots to intervene with Nato in Kosovo. As part of the peacekeeping mission, Bundeswehr troops were deployed abroad for the first time since it was created, crossing over through Macedonia.
Then Germany committed almost 5,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. They took part in increasingly offensive operations. 52 of them paid with their lives.
The Bundeswehr today can field 7,000 soldiers abroad. The reform seeks to increase that to 10,000. In comparison, the UK can send 22 000 overseas, and France 30,000.