January 6, 2011: On January 3rd, the German Army received its last batch of conscripts. These 12,000 young men will serve only six months, so one might say that conscription didn't end, it just faded away. Technically, conscription is not ending, but, as of July 1st, being suspended. Without the six month conscripts, the force will shrink to about 185,000. Currently, about twenty percent of the troops are conscripts, and some volunteered to stay in for up to 23 months. Since conscription was revived 54 years ago, nearly nine million Germans served.
The German armed forces will now only take volunteers. But that is nothing new either. Over the decades, the proportion of troops that were volunteers has steadily increased. A decade ago, the army began accepting female volunteers, and they now comprise over nine percent of the force. Given the problems finding young men healthy and smart enough to join the armed forces, the number of women in the force will probably increase, as it did in other nations that accept women.
After the Cold War ended, the German armed forces began to shrink. The easiest way to do that was to take fewer conscripts. Thus in the last decade, the number of conscripts needed has gone from 160,000 a year, to less than a quarter that number. The amount of time the conscripts were in uniform also began to shrink, due to pressure from potential conscripts and their parents. There was not much you could do with troops in uniform for 6-12 months. Slowly, the public became more accepting of dumping conscription, noting how well this had worked in so many other countries.
With the Cold War over, Germany simply didn't need a large force any more. The taxpayers didn't want to support a large force, and it was noted that the all-volunteer forces did very well in combat, so why have all those people in uniform? Thus the great shrink began. During the Cold War, the West German army was 400,000 strong, well equipped and trained to fight. There were another 250,000 troops in the communist East German armed forces. But the Cold War ended in 1991, the two Germanys united and East German forces were disbanded and the West German military absorbed some of the East German troops. Then the united German forces began to shrink. With the Soviet Union gone, and the former Soviet allies in eastern Europe clamoring to join NATO, Germany no longer had any threatening neighbors. The Cold War German army of Panzertruppen (mechanized troops) had lost its mission. Thus in two decades, German armed forces have been reduced to a third of their 1991 strength of 650,000.
Today, a reunited Germany has an army of peacekeepers. Well, only about 15,000 of them are involved in peacekeeping each year (either overseas or preparing to go). The peacekeepers, particularly in Afghanistan, are getting more modern gear, and the expense of this is another reason for shrinking the size of armed forces. The rest of the force is getting modern gear as well, but the troops in Afghanistan have priority. This is the first war German troops have fought in over 60 years, and there is lots of combat and casualties. Germany had never gone that long without a war, and most Germans would rather keep the troops at home. But since peacekeeping, even if it us done under fire, helps keep the violence (and heroin) from Germany itself, the voters go along. Currently, about 7,000 German troops are overseas in nine peacekeeping operations.