The war in Europe appears to be causing a rethink among those who would literally be on the front lines if it were to expand westward. The number of conscientious objectors since the start of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine in 2022 has quintupled compared to the previous year. This is reported by the “Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland” (RND).

As a spokesman for the Federal Office for Family and Civil Society Tasks told the RND, a total of 951 applications for conscientious objection were received in 2022. Many justified their applications with the fact that they had not expected a military conflict. For comparison: According to earlier information, 209 people made use of this fundamental right in 2021.

It was already foreseeable in October that the number would increase so drastically. At that time there were already 810 conscientious objectors. At that time, the government recorded a drop in applications for conscientious objection among the 180,000 active soldiers in the Bundeswehr: from 176 to 136.

In contrast, the proportion of those who were completely unserved increased significantly: 23 applications in 2021 became 484 in the first eight months of 2022. The same applied to reservists. A total of ten of them submitted a corresponding application in 2021 – for reasons of conscience. From January to August 2022 there were already 190. In Germany, a total of around 29,000 men and women serve in the reserve.

Conscientious objection is enshrined in Article 4 of the Basic Law and is therefore considered a fundamental right. It says: “No one may be forced into military service with arms against their conscience.”

The article has lost much of its practical importance since conscription was suspended in 2011. Before that, the annual number of conscientious objectors was well over 100,000. Almost half of the conscripts were conscientious objectors to military service.

Even after the de facto end of conscription, anyone can refuse military service with arms at any time, this also applies to active servicewomen and men. For this purpose, a curriculum vitae and a detailed justification of the decision of conscience must normally be submitted in writing to the Federal Office for Family and Civil Society Tasks. The authority then decides on the recognition. An objection and, if necessary, a lawsuit can be filed against the decision. Recognized conscientious objectors can also withdraw their objection.

Anyone who is recognized as a conscientious objector may not be called upon to do armed service in the Bundeswehr, even in times of tension or in times of defence, but may be used for civil defense tasks.

Sources: Germany editorial network, Basic Law, Federal Office for Family and Civil Society Tasks, AFP and DPA news agencies