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Germany has conscription (Wehrpflicht) for male citizens. The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany[1] and several special laws (e.g. Wehrpflichtgesetz[2]) are regulating these duties and the exceptions. Men are obliged to serve six months either in the military, which they can refuse, and do alternative civilian service, or honorary service (like any volunteer) for at least six years in a civil protection organisation.

Families of those who were oppressed by the Nazi regime (usually Jews or homosexuals) are exempt from conscription, though a small number do serve.

Although the conscription is of a military nature, nowadays twice as many draftees refuse military service and serve in alternative services.

Women are not part of the draft. They may join the military as volunteers or under the legal construction of a "voluntary conscript".

Military service[edit | edit source]

Draftees who do not state that they are conscientious objectors and do not request service in the civil protection are by default drafted into military service ("Wehrdienst") in the Bundeswehr (German federal defense forces).

Basic training ("Allgemeine Grundausbildung") consists of two months of combat training, then four months service at the assigned post. The conscripted soldier will normally reach the rank of "Obergefreiter" (NATO code OR-3, comparable to U.S. Army Private First Class). During his service he gets free health care, housing, food and a railway ticket. Conscripts get paid between €9.41 and €10.95 per day of basic pay (depending on rank) plus several bonus payments such as distance-from-home pay, additional food pay for days absent from the service and others.

Conscripts cannot be deployed to active service in conflict theatres against their will. The German contributions to forces such as ISAF in Afghanistan or KFOR in Kosovo exclusively comprise professional soldiers and volunteers. Conscripts who wish to partake in such missions must volunteer for a service extension.

Civil Protection[edit | edit source]

Draftees can also opt for service in the Civil Protection, which is by law equal to military service. Today, those are normally medical ambulance organisations and organisations for disaster relief (Katastrophenschutz). This is subject to validation by local authorities, who usually are allowed a certain contingent of such volunteers per year of birth. Thus, organizations such as the Technical Relief Service (Technisches Hilfswerk, THW), volunteer Fire Departments or other emergency assistance and crisis management agencies as the Red Cross are supported in performing their volunteer services in disaster response. In the ambulance services, their service can overlap with the service of conscientious objectors.

Draftees in the Civil Protection get no payment outside of compensations for clothing and transportation fares, doing an honorary service (ehrenamtlich).

Conscientious objection[edit | edit source]

The German "Basic Law" requires that conscientious objection be possible,[3] therefore draftees may elect to perform civilian service (Zivildienst or Wehrersatzdienst). The conscientious objection has to be declared in a personal letter to the local county draft board outlining one's moral objections. Those must be directed against war and military service in general, without regard to the circumstances. If the draftee plausibly states such objections his application will be accepted without further problems today. Alternative service can be more convenient than military service since the draftee can continue to live at home rather than in military barracks.

The objector will perform civilian service, lasting for six months, in which he may find employment with a civilian institution that renders a public service, such as a kindergarten, hospital, rehabilitation center or assisted living facility for the elderly.

Duration and payment[edit | edit source]

The German constitution also requires that the duration of civilian service does not exceed that of military service.

Civil service since 2003 has the same duration in months as military service. Before, there was a rate in hours both services had to serve, which was then divided by the average daily work hours in military and civil service. Thereby, civil service tended to be 1–3 months longer than military service, as the former used to have 50 working hours a week as against 40 working hours in civil organisations. This made four "military weeks" equivalent to five "civil weeks". This practice was abolished when the draft duration was reduced from 10/12 months to 9/9 and later 6/6 months.

As conscientious objectors also receive compensation payment for clothing and lodging (which is provided by the Federal Defence for conscripts), payment is significantly higher for conscientious objectors, making this service more desirable for youths living at home.

Conscientious objection in the past[edit | edit source]

While the option of conscientious objection is required by law, in the past there were several hurdles in place to discourage it. Until 1983 conscientious objectors had to undergo a "Gewissensprüfung" (inspection of conscience), an oral examination before a board that tried their motivations, which could decide to deny them conscientious objector status.

Before German reunification in 1990, citizens of West Berlin were exempt from the draft as West Berlin formally did not belong to the FRG. Many young men moved to Berlin immediately upon their high school graduation in order to avoid the draft entirely, and thus did not serve in either the military or in an alternative service.

In the former German Democratic Republic, conscripts who were not willing to bear arms were drafted into the National People's Army as "construction soldiers" ("Bausoldaten"). They were used in public construction projects, and sometimes also to fill worker shortages in various parts of the East German economy, such as the mining industry. Men who served as "Bausoldaten" were frequently subjected to discrimination by the East German state, even after they had finished their service. For example, former "Bausoldaten" were often barred from enrolling in university.[4]

Alternatives[edit | edit source]

Another alternative is to become a foreign "development helper" ("Entwicklungshelfer"), which means that the person will be expected to work in a technical capacity in a recognized "developing country" for a period of not less than two years. To qualify for this option, the candidate has to meet the requests of the chosen agency which includes formal vocational training or an educational program that grants a recognized qualification in a marketable skill making him a useful asset in a developing host country. Many men who choose this option, become so engrossed in the developmental needs of such countries that they stay abroad many years longer than the legal requirement. The disproportionately high percentage of German nationals found in many international aid, conservation, medical and technical assistance organizations active in developing countries may be directly attributable to this trend.

Women and undrafted men may elect to serve one year of voluntary service in a social or environmental institution, called "Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr" (FSJ) and "Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr" (FÖJ), respectively. It is not a real alternative to military service, but for most practical purposes identical to the civilian service that conscientious objectors are required to serve. This includes social security coverage for the term of service and may give the young attendee a direction for his later career as well as a certain improvement in soft skills.

Draft dodgers (totalverweigerung)[edit | edit source]

If a conscripted man refuses to serve in the military and do any alternative service, this man will be subject to legal prosecution and may be sentenced to confinement in prison. In 2007 a 20 year old was arrested by the Bundeswehr for AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave).[5] The sentence is dependent upon the way the conscripted man refuses to serve. In the military it is dealt under military law.[6] In the civilian service it is AWOL.[7] The court is never a court-martial. The accused is often dealt by juvenile law and can be punished by a term of imprisonment of up to 5 years or fined, often 3 months (3 months are not recorded in the "certificate of good conduct" Polizeiliches Führungszeugnis).

Exemption from service[edit | edit source]

Women are not included in the draft, but may serve voluntarily. Since 1975 women were allowed to serve in medical and music band functions. In 2001 the European Court of Justice ruled that limiting women to these functions was against European law. Subsequently all positions in the Bundeswehr were opened up for women.

Men can be exempt from service for various reasons. The most frequent reason for exoneration is a medical exemption ("Ausmusterung"). All conscripts, including conscientious objectors but excluding those exempt for other reasons, must attend a medical examination ("Musterung") at the local county draft bureau ("Kreiswehrersatzamt"). Those who do not fulfill certain standards do not have to serve, neither in the military nor in a civilian service.

Delinquents sentenced to more than a year or charged with a felony against peace, democracy, the state or state security will not be drafted for military service.

Priests will not be drafted. Another provision exonerates everyone from military service who has two siblings who have already served. Same is true for men whose father, mother or sibling died in a military or civil service. Men who are married, living in a registered civil union or have children are also free to choose.

Workers performing tasks in areas of important public interest may be exempt from military service on request. This mostly is valid for policemen, career firefighters and specialists in telecommunication or engineering services.

Political debate[edit | edit source]

The post-cold war downsizing of the Bundeswehr has led to a considerable decrease in demand for young conscripts. Of all men reaching draftable age, currently less than one half actually serve. In 2005 about 15% served in the military, while 31% performed civilian service or some other form of alternative service. More than 36% were screened out for medical reasons. This percentage was lower in the past (15% in 2003), but to avoid drafting more men than needed, medical standards have been raised. The remainder includes those who were exempt for various reasons, but is mostly made up of men who were not drafted because the military had already reached its recruitment goals. This has led to discussions about "draft equality" ("Wehrgerechtigkeit"), which is the principle that the draft should apply equally and non-discriminatorily to all men.

The issue of "Wehrgerechtigkeit" is one aspect of the ongoing political debate over whether the Bundeswehr should be converted into a purely volunteer-based, professional army.

Historical arguments[edit | edit source]

Proponents of the draft argue that it conserves the military's firm rooting in civilian society, and warn that a professional army might return to the militaristic, anti-democratic and elitist traditions of the Nazi and earlier eras. Draft service is also considered a tradition dating back to the 1848 Revolution, intended to ensure the continuity of the democratic state.

Military arguments[edit | edit source]

Military detractors of the draft claim that shortening the service to six months, which was necessary to accommodate a constant number of conscripts in a shrinking army, has made conscription worthless because conscripts receive too little training. Military proponents counter that some service is better than none at all, bringing citizens in contact with their military and thereby countering above-mentioned fears of a disconnection between military and society.

Another factor is the armed forces' difficulty to find volunteers for senior positions beyond the conscript level. Currently many soldiers in advanced ranks are recruited from former conscripts who volunteer to extend their service. Abolishing the draft would close this pathway into the military. Therefore military leaders fear that abolishing the draft would lead to recruitment shortages even for higher ranking positions.

Financial arguments[edit | edit source]

Some detractors of the draft expect considerable savings in defence spending from abolishing the draft, because it would allow a downsizing of the armed forces, which owe much of their current size to the need to accommodate large numbers of conscripts. It is arguable how such a reduction in size would affect the Bundeswehr's capabilities. Those in favor of a downsizing claim that it would not affect the ability to act in conflict theatres, since conscripts cannot be involuntarily deployed to such areas, making such missions already today the domain of a quasi-professional army.

Experiences of countries who have abolished draft, especially the USA and France, show that professional armed forces can be more expensive than a draft-based military. Professional armies need to pay their soldiers higher wages, and have large advertising expenses to attract sufficient numbers of able recruits. The above-mentioned difficulties in recruiting soldiers for advanced ranks, as well as difficulties in retaining such higher-ranking soldiers whose term of service time ends, indicates that a professional army might have to make considerable financial efforts to be competitive as an employer.

Civic arguments[edit | edit source]

Civilian detractors argue that the draft is simply anachronistic, instilling an undue sense of militarism in young men, and also delays their entry into the workforce. Others argue that especially young people often detach themselves from their community, consuming its benefits but trying to avoid its duties. The draft obliges male citizens to pay society back through their military or civilian service.

Furthermore, abolishing the draft would also mean abolishing civilian service. A purely civilian compulsory service would be incompatible with the German basic law, which permits the draft only for the purpose of defense. This would cause a considerable drop in the number of people working in the care of children and elderly people. Such care facilities often rely on civilian service to furnish them with large numbers of very low-paid workers.

Apart from that, professional forces tend to be recruited largely from underprivileged groups. As of 2007, a disproportionate number of soldiers (about 4 out of 10) who volunteer beyond their basic service stem from the poorer eastern states of Germany. It is feared that a professional force increases this trend, disconnecting the armed forces from the more affluent groups in society.

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Grundgesetz der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (see wikisource (Article 12a))
  2. The article is based on Wehrpflichtgesetz (WehrPflG) vom Juli 1956, Fundstelle: BGBl I 1956, 651, Neugefasst durch Bek. v. 30. 5.2005 I 1465 (see wording of the law)
  3. Grundgesetz der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (see wikisource (Article 4))
  4. Script of German TV report describing these consequences for the career and university admission (in German)
  5. Bundeswehr hides draft dogers (in german)
  6. Wehrstrafgesetz (WStG) WStG § 16 desertion Fahnenflucht, WStG § 20 insubordination
  7. Zivildienstgesetz (ZDG) § 53 Dienstflucht

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