Defense Minister Boris Pistorius sees good arguments for general compulsory military service in Germany to strengthen civil protection, the German armed forces and rescue services. “You could show how important these institutions are for the functioning of our society,” said the SPD politician of the German Press Agency in Berlin. The FDP immediately reported legal and political concerns – also because the younger generation was overburdened in the corona pandemic.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) told the dpa: “The young generation in particular has been overburdened by the corona pandemic in recent years.” He therefore considers the discussion about the introduction of general compulsory service to be “completely misguided”. The politician added: “Even from a constitutional point of view, there are serious doubts about such a duty.” The Minister of Justice admitted that there are many good reasons to get involved in these times, in the rescue services, in civil protection or in the German armed forces. However, millions of people in Germany do this out of conviction – and not out of compulsion. In his opinion, it should stay that way.

The deputy FDP federal chairman, Johannes Vogel, also believes that a general duty towards the younger generation is wrong. He justified this with “her extraordinary contribution to the corona pandemic”. “And secondly, it would even get in the way of modernizing our armed forces and the professional Bundeswehr that we need.” A debate about general compulsory service is constitutionally even less tenable than that about reactivation of conscription – and both are misleading,” said Vogel on Wednesday.

Suspended by CSU defense minister

Compulsory military service was suspended in 2011 after 55 years under the then CSU Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, which in practice was tantamount to abolishing military and civilian service. The Russian attack on Ukraine had recently repeatedly triggered a debate on this issue.

The Inspector General of the Bundeswehr, Eberhard Zorn, rejected the reintroduction of conscription according to the old model, but is open to a new type of compulsory service. “Conscription, as we ended up with it, with six months’ service for men only – that’s antiquated,” Zorn told the “Welt”. If it were politically decided that there should be compulsory service again, then this should not only apply to the Bundeswehr, but to all social services in civil society, said Zorn. “I could profitably integrate 10,000 young people into our system every year.”

The defense policy spokesman for the AfD parliamentary group, Rüdiger Lucassen, spoke out in favor of reinstating conscription. All efforts in the last ten years would not have solved the Bundeswehr’s recruitment problem. “Pistorius’ call for universal conscription would be nothing more than the reinstatement of conscription through the back door.” Due to internal party constraints, however, he does not dare to speak plainly.

service to the community

According to widespread understanding, the term general service obligation means that citizens perform a service for the general public for a certain period of time. The Bundeswehr could then be an option alongside other activities, for example in the social sector. In June 2022, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier initiated a debate about the introduction of a social “compulsory time” for young people – but his initiative had been widely criticized.

Pistorius also referred explicitly to the younger generation in connection with compulsory military service. The young people should be heard in the question, he told the dpa. As a 62-year-old, he was reluctant “to burden a generation that already has a difficult future ahead of it with general service,” said Pistorius. “What would speak for it from my point of view? In the past few months, the impression has arisen that some do not have the necessary appreciation for the fire brigade and Red Cross, police and armed forces. The general obligation to serve could help bring people and state organizations a little closer bring together,” he said.

Focus also on civil protection and disaster relief

Pistorius expressed his conviction that defense readiness on the one hand and civil protection and disaster relief on the other hand had to be considered together. “Germany has not paid enough attention to civil protection and disaster relief for too long. For a long time there was a lack of money for disaster relief, for vehicles and equipment. Everyone hoped that it would never be needed,” he said. As with defense, the following applies: “The costs are high without the long-term benefits being immediately perceived.”

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces, Eva Högl, welcomed the defense minister’s renewed initiation of the debate. Because one cannot introduce a “year for society” overnight, she told the SWR capital city studio. “The Bundeswehr would also be overwhelmed: We would have too little of everything: training opportunities, material, rooms in the barracks and trainers.” Since the introduction of compulsory service is a long-term project, one must start making such plans now.