Restart Conscription, Pursue 3 Percent GDP Spending on Defence: German Defence Minister

Foreign Affairs

Belfast: German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius May 16 in Washington called for Berlin and Washington to hit 3 percent GDP spending on defence, while also stating his support for reintroducing conscription to the German armed forces.

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Both statements may raise hackles back in Berlin, as Germany continues to debate how it should rearm itself following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

“I’m convinced that Germany needs some kind of military conscription,” Pistorius told a packed meeting at the American-German Institute. “We need to ensure our military staying power in a state of national or collective defence.” (He did not specify what that would look like, but elsewhere emphasised “some kind” of conscription is needed.)

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The country made a “mistake” by suspending conscription at the end of the Cold War, he added. Berlin officially ended compulsory military service in 2011. It is not the first time Pistorius has indicated an interest om conscription, previously saying that a discussion around a general duty of service for civilians would be “valuable.” But the topic is a politically sensitive one at home, and him giving such an  endorsement is notable.

His comments also come at a time when other NATO nations are considering their own approaches to the issue. In the Nordic and Baltic nations, there is an increased emphasis on conscription as a key part of the military’s toolbox. For example, Denmark has decided to extend military service from four to 11 months and open conscription to women, while Norway plans on building a conscript force of 13,500 by 2036, an uplift of 4,500 personnel.

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But in the United Kingdom, a January comment from Army chief General Patrick Sanders about the need for a “citizen army” led to a firestorm. Eventually Admiral Tony Radakin, Chief of the UK Defence Staff, had to publicly walk it all back, saying: “We are not on the cusp of war with Russia. We are not about to be invaded. No one in the Ministry of Defence is talking about conscription in any traditional sense of the term.”

That Pistorius is even willing to make such a public comment is another example of Germany’s increasingly progressive approach to reshaping its defence posture, which has turned decades old criticisms of acquisition underspending, substandard equipment availability and armed forces readiness on their head.

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However, Pistorius did not give a timetable for when he would like to see that target be reached — and there are potential roadblocks. German lawmakers are currently locked in discussions about how to fund a €25 billion ($27 billion) budget “gap” in 2025, with solutions of social welfare cuts or higher taxation on the table. If a defence spending request made by Pistorius, for €6.5 billion ($7 billion) is not agreed, procurement of new equipment will suffer.