Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The end of military conscription opens new doors for service in Germany

The German government has decided it’s time for a change. Since 1957, the German military (called the Bundeswehr) has used conscription to keep the military in a close relationship to civil society. Championed by defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and passed by the conservative governing parties, a new plan for reform overhauls a large, inefficient military bureaucracy and replaces it with a smaller and more modern professional defense force—not to mention a budget savings of around 8 million Euros ($10.7 million).

But not everyone is happy about the changes to the system. Major opposition to the reforms has come from the social services sector. The end of conscription signals the loss of a significant source of social labor. Young Germans who object to military service for religious, health, or ideological reasons have historically been given the option to participate in civic duty – a program (the Zivildienst) that attracts as many as 90,000 participants each year. Under the new system, social welfare programs may lose these young men who served community needs in hospitals, at nursing homes, and in schools instead of joining the military. (For more information about Germany’s Zivildienst, please see ICP’s recent publication Youth Civic Participation in Action: Meeting Youth and Community Development Needs Worldwide)

For those concerned with the future of Germany’s civil service sector, the end of conscription does bring some positive results as well. In response to the strong protests of social service groups against the decision, the government has unveiled plans to bolster the voluntary sector. Family Minister Kristina Schroeder proposes national voluntary community service to replace the lost work force. This new program could provide new advantages such as expanding service opportunities for women, who were not eligible for conscription and did not serve civic duty assignments. Service stints would last up to 24 months, with some subsidization provided by the government. The new program could result in a more inclusive voluntary sector with better funding to pay for volunteers, and effectively replace the personnel lost with the end of conscription.

1 comment:

Serafina said...

Interesting post--and it sounds like a welcome change in German policy. The conscription of young men but not women into military or social service, and the requirement of it, has seemed unduly harsh. I'm sure the transition won't be comfortable for social service agencies, but the proposed policy solutions seem to offer promise for a more equitable and sustainable way forward.


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