Army in firing line as Germany cuts spending
GERMANY'S defence minister favours shrinking its army by more than a third and suspending compulsory national service, government sources have said.
The government is working on five different models for overhauling its armed forces -- the Bundeswehr -- in order to cut defence costs while modernising the military.
Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg favours a scheme that would see the armed forces reduced from around 250,000 to 163,500, according to the sources.
Nearly all troops would be professionals, with a small programme of about 7,500 short-term volunteers remaining in place of the 60,000 troops that now consist of men doing six months' military service.
The ministry declined to comment on the figures.
Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Federal Republic shied away from participation in armed conflicts and foreign deployment of the army was limited solely to humanitarian aid.
However, in the past two decades, German soldiers have fought in international missions, including in Somalia, Kosovo, Congo and Afghanistan -- where Germany now has the third-largest international contingent among the armed forces fighting the Taliban.
The country has has some 6,700 troops stationed abroad.
However, Mr Guttenberg's preference would not necessarily seal the army's fate, which has been the focus of heated debate within the ruling centre-right coalition.
Many among Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives want to keep mandatory military service, while the pro-business Free Democrats want to abolish it.
The model favoured by Mr Guttenberg would suspend it, rather than abolish it entirely.
The minister is due to present the models to the government's defence experts on August 23.