BERLIN - Germany's defense minister announced Monday the nation will end conscription in July 2011 and switch to a slimmed-down volunteer military service of some 185,000 troops focused on missions abroad.
The reforms are aimed at realigning the German army to better reflect the nation's post-Cold War needs, Karl zu Guttenberg told a military conference in Dresden. They are a major step for a country that has been reluctant to send its soldiers overseas, mindful of its role in instigating two world wars.
It is the first time Guttenberg has given a date to end conscription and a concrete number of troops. He said his ministry would be finalizing the details of the raft of cuts and changes that will accompany the restructuring in the coming weeks. Parliament is expected to pass the measures in December.
Despite now having 250,000 troops, only 7,000 are currently deployed at any one time, due mostly to the limited term most conscripts serve. Guttenberg underlined that the reforms were aimed at slimming the nation's military and helping it meet 21st-century needs.
The most important change will be that young German men will no longer be called up for obligatory military service. Instead volunteers will serve between 12 to 23 months volunteer term of service, with soldiers able to deploy abroad after six months of service. Guttenberg hopes that will allow at least 10,000 troops to be deployed abroad in the future.
"The measuring stick must be the missions," Guttenberg said. "That is the heart of the realigned army."
The minister also announced cuts to the Defense Ministry's bloated bureaucracy that will result in changes to the chain of command.
Chancellor Angela Merkel urged military leaders in to take advantage of the changes "to make a military service so attractive" that it would be able to pull in sufficient numbers of young soldiers.
Merkel noted the changes were the most significant facing the military since the nation's reunification in 1990, but underlined that they are necessary.
Germany currently has some 7,070 troops abroad - 4,840 in Afghanistan and 1,470 in Kosovo. Smaller contingents are deployed in Bosnia, in anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa and as part of UNIFIL, the international peacekeeping force, off the coast of Lebanon and elsewhere.