Conscription in Germany

Conscription in Germany

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Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

had conscription
Conscription
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

(Wehrpflicht) for male citizens between 1956 and 2011. On 22 November 2010, the German Minister of Defence proposed to the government to put conscription into abeyance on 1 July 2011. The constitution, however, retains provisions that would legalize the potential reintroduction of conscription.

The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany is the constitution of Germany. It was formally approved on 8 May 1949, and, with the signature of the Allies of World War II on 12 May, came into effect on 23 May, as the constitution of those states of West Germany that were initially included...

 and several special laws (e.g., Wehrpflichtgesetz) were regulating these duties and the exceptions.
During the last year when conscription was active, men were obliged to serve six months either in the military
Military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

, which they could refuse, and do alternative civilian service, or honorary service (like any volunteer) for at least six months in a civil protection organisation.

Families of those who were oppressed by the Nazi regime (usually Jews or homosexuals) were exempted from conscription, though a small number did serve. Although conscription was of a military nature, in the last days of conscription twice as many draftees refused military service and served in alternative services. Women were not subject to conscription. They could join the military as volunteers.

Military service


Draftees who did not state that they were conscientious objectors and did not request service in the civil protection were by default drafted into military service (Wehrdienst) in the Bundeswehr
Bundeswehr
The Bundeswehr consists of the unified armed forces of Germany and their civil administration and procurement authorities...

(German federal defense forces).

Basic training (Allgemeine Grundausbildung) consisted of two months of combat
Combat
Combat, or fighting, is a purposeful violent conflict meant to establish dominance over the opposition, or to terminate the opposition forever, or drive the opposition away from a location where it is not wanted or needed....

 training, then four months service at the assigned post. The conscripted soldier would normally reach the rank of Obergefreiter (NATO code OR-3, comparable to U.S. Army Private First Class
Private First Class
Private First Class is a military rank held by junior enlisted persons.- Singapore :The rank of Private First Class in the Singapore Armed Forces lies between the ranks of Private and Lance-Corporal . It is usually held by conscript soldiers midway through their national service term...

). During his service, he got free health care
Health care
Health care is the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, illness, injury, and other physical and mental impairments in humans. Health care is delivered by practitioners in medicine, chiropractic, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, allied health, and other care providers...

, housing, food, and a railway ticket. Conscripts got 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 service and others.

Conscripts could not be deployed to active service in conflicts against their will. The German contributions to forces such as ISAF
International Security Assistance Force
The International Security Assistance Force is a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan established by the United Nations Security Council on 20 December 2001 by Resolution 1386 as envisaged by the Bonn Agreement...

 in Afghanistan
Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

 or KFOR in Kosovo
Kosovo
Kosovo is a region in southeastern Europe. Part of the Ottoman Empire for more than five centuries, later the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija within Serbia...

 exclusively comprise professional soldiers and volunteers. Conscripts who wished to partake in such missions must have volunteered for a service extension.

Civil Protection


Draftees could also opt for service in the Civil Protection, which was by law equal to military service. Today, those are normally medical ambulance organisations and organisations for disaster relief (Katastrophenschutz). This was subject to validation by local authorities, who usually were allowed a certain contingent of such volunteers per year of birth. Thus, organizations such as the Technical Relief Service (Technisches Hilfswerk, THW), volunteer Fire Department
Fire department
A fire department or fire brigade is a public or private organization that provides fire protection for a certain jurisdiction, which typically is a municipality, county, or fire protection district...

s or other emergency assistance and crisis management agencies such as the Red Cross were supported in performing their volunteer services in disaster response. In the ambulance services, their service could overlap with the service of conscientious objectors.

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

Conscientious objection


The German "Basic Law" requires that conscientious objection be possible, therefore draftees were allowed to perform civilian service (Zivildienst
Zivildienst
Zivildienst is the civilian branch of the national service systems in Austria and Switzerland. In Germany as well Zivildienst was the alternative service to military service until suspension of conscription in 2011...

 or Wehrersatzdienst)
. The conscientious objection had to be declared in a personal letter to the local draft office (Kreiswehrersatzamt), with an appendix outlining one's moral objections. The draft office then sent this appendix to the Bundesamt für den Zivildienst (Federal Office for Civilian Service) for approval or (rare) denial since 1983; previously, the objector had to defend his seriosity in front of a committee at the Draft Office itself. These must have been directed against war and military service in general, without regard to the circumstances, and, if they had been finally rejected (which was then not at all so rare), he must challenge the decision in administrative court
Administrative court
Greece, as a civil law country has administrative courts. The establishment of those courts can be found in article 94 of the Constitution of the Hellenic Republic 1975, as revised in 2001. The administrative courts are composed from districts Courts of First Instance, district Courts of Appeal and...

.

Those who objected had to perform civilian service, lasting for six months, during which they may have found employment with a civilian institution that renders a public service, such as a kindergarten
Kindergarten
A kindergarten is a preschool educational institution for children. The term was created by Friedrich Fröbel for the play and activity institute that he created in 1837 in Bad Blankenburg as a social experience for children for their transition from home to school...

, hospital
Hospital
A hospital is a health care institution providing patient treatment by specialized staff and equipment. Hospitals often, but not always, provide for inpatient care or longer-term patient stays....

, rehabilitation center
Physical medicine and rehabilitation
Physical medicine and rehabilitation , physiatry or rehabilitation medicine, is a branch of medicine that aims to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life to those with physical impairments or disabilities. A physician having completed training in this field is referred to as a...

 or assisted living facility for the elderly. Alternative service could be more convenient than military service since the draftee could continue living at home rather than in military barracks
Barracks
Barracks are specialised buildings for permanent military accommodation; the word may apply to separate housing blocks or to complete complexes. Their main object is to separate soldiers from the civilian population and reinforce discipline, training and esprit de corps. They were sometimes called...

.

Duration and payment


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

Since 2003 civilian service had 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.

Conscientious objection in the past


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
German reunification
German reunification was the process in 1990 in which the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany , and when Berlin reunited into a single city, as provided by its then Grundgesetz constitution Article 23. The start of this process is commonly referred by Germans as die...

 in 1990, citizens of West Berlin
West Berlin
West Berlin was a political exclave that existed between 1949 and 1990. It comprised the western regions of Berlin, which were bordered by East Berlin and parts of East Germany. West Berlin consisted of the American, British, and French occupation sectors, which had been established in 1945...

 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
German Democratic Republic
The German Democratic Republic , informally called East Germany by West Germany and other countries, was a socialist state established in 1949 in the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, including East Berlin of the Allied-occupied capital city...

, conscripts who were not willing to bear arms were drafted into the National People's Army
National People's Army
The National People’s Army were the armed forces of the German Democratic Republic .The NVA was established in 1956 and disestablished in 1990. There were frequent reports of East German advisors with Communist African countries during the Cold War...

 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.

Alternatives


Another alternative was to become a foreign "development helper" ("Entwicklungshelfer"), which means that the person would 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 had 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 chose this option, become so engrossed in the developmental needs of such countries that they stayed 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 have elected to serve one year of voluntary service in a social or environmental institution, called "Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr
Voluntary social year
The voluntary social year in Germany and Austria is a voluntary replacement for military service that lasts between six to eighteen months...

" (FSJ) and "Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr
Voluntary ecological year
The voluntary ecological year in Germany is an educational and orientation year for teenagers and young adults of ages 16 through 27. The FÖJ can be attended only once and usually lasts 12 months...

" (FÖJ), respectively. It was not a real alternative to military service, but for most practical purposes identical to the civilian service that conscientious objectors were required to serve. This included social security coverage for the term of service and might have given the young attendee a direction for his later career as well as a certain improvement in soft skills.

Many young men simply consumed drugs to avoid conscription, as this automatically allowed them to be exempted from service.

Total resisters (Totalverweigerung)


If a conscripted man refused to serve in the military or do any alternative service, this man was to be subject to legal prosecution and may have been sentenced to confinement in prison. In 2007 a 20 year old was arrested by the Bundeswehr for AWOL
Desertion
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a "duty" or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning...

 (Absent Without Official Leave). The sentence was dependent upon the way the conscripted man refuses to serve. In the military it was dealt under military law. In the civilian service it was AWOL. The court is never a court-martial
Court-martial
A court-martial is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of...

. The accused was often dealt by juvenile law and could 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


Women were not included in the draft, but they could serve voluntarily. Since 1975 women were allowed to serve in medical and music band functions. In 2001 the European Court of Justice
European Court of Justice
The Court can sit in plenary session, as a Grand Chamber of 13 judges, or in chambers of three or five judges. Plenary sitting are now very rare, and the court mostly sits in chambers of three or five judges...

 ruled that limiting women to these functions was against European law. Subsequently all positions in the Bundeswehr were opened up for women.

Men could be exempt from service for various reasons. The most frequent reason for exoneration was a medical exemption ("Ausmusterung"). All conscripts, including conscientious objectors but excluding those exempt for other reasons, had to attend a medical examination ("Musterung") at the local county draft bureau ("Kreiswehrersatzamt"). Those who did not fulfill certain standards did 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 were not drafted for military service.

Priests were not drafted. Another provision exonerated everyone from military service who has two siblings who have already served. Same was 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
Civil union
A civil union, also referred to as a civil partnership, is a legally recognized form of partnership similar to marriage. Beginning with Denmark in 1989, civil unions under one name or another have been established by law in many developed countries in order to provide same-sex couples rights,...

 or have children were also free to choose.

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

Political debate


The post-Cold War downsizing of the Bundeswehr
Bundeswehr
The Bundeswehr consists of the unified armed forces of Germany and their civil administration and procurement authorities...

 led to a considerable decrease in demand for young conscripts. Of all men reaching draftable age, less than one half actually served. 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 had 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 had led to discussions about "draft equality" ("Wehrgerechtigkeit"), which is the principle that the draft should have applied equally and non-discriminatorily to all men.

The issue of "Wehrgerechtigkeit" was one aspect of the political debate over whether the Bundeswehr
Bundeswehr
The Bundeswehr consists of the unified armed forces of Germany and their civil administration and procurement authorities...

 should be converted into a purely volunteer-based, professional army.

Historical arguments


Proponents of the draft argue that it conserved 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
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 eras. Draft service was also considered a tradition dating back to the 1848 Revolution
Revolutions of 1848 in the German states
The Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, also called the March Revolution – part of the Revolutions of 1848 that broke out in many countries of Europe – were a series of loosely coordinated protests and rebellions in the states of the German Confederation, including the Austrian Empire...

, intended to ensure the continuity of the democratic state.

Military arguments


Military detractors of the draft claimed that shortening the service to six months, which was necessary to accommodate a constant number of conscripts in a shrinking army, had made conscription worthless because conscripts receive too little training. Military proponents countered 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 was the armed forces' difficulty to find volunteers for senior positions beyond the conscript level. Many soldiers in advanced ranks were recruited from former conscripts who volunteer to extend their service. Abolishing the draft could close this pathway into the military. Therefore military leaders fear that the abolition of the draft would lead to recruitment shortages even for higher ranking positions.

Financial arguments


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
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan 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


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

Furthermore, abolishing the draft also meant abolishing civilian service. A purely civilian compulsory service would be incompatible with the German basic law, which permitted the draft only for the purpose of defense. This caused a considerable drop in the number of people working in the care of children and elderly people. Such care facilities often relied 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.

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