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Germans Debate Future of Military

June 7, 2000

BERLIN (AP) _ The German military is set to undergo the most dramatic changes in its postwar history, trimming troops to create a more flexible force able to respond to crises abroad instead of defend against possible Soviet attack.

The German parliament was debating today just how far those reforms will go.

Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping’s plan calls for reducing the Bundeswehr by 61,000 troops to 277,000 soldiers, with 150,000 of those serving in crisis-reaction forces. The number of conscripted soldiers would also be dropped from 135,000 a year to 77,000 _ and their time of service shortened from 10 months to nine.

Scharping has also proposed cutting civilian support staff from the current 140,000 to between 80,000 and 90,000.

The changes would amount to a fundamental reshaping of the German military, which has been focused on defending the country from a land attack, to the new realities of peacemaking and peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and elsewhere where German troops have been deployed.

The conscription issue has divided Germany’s governing coalition between Scharping’s Social Democrats and their junior partner, the Greens, who have demanded that such mandatory service be eliminated.

The Social Democrats support conscription, as does the military, which sees it as a way to maintain the interchange between citizens and soldiers _ preventing the formation of a military class and calming fears of past Prussian and Nazi militarism.

The opposition Christian Democrats support Scharping’s plan to keep conscription, but have expressed criticism that the cuts go too far and reforms will cost too much.

The Cabinet is to take up military reform next week.

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