June 12, 2010 / 1:34 PM / 7 years ago

German defense minister wants end to military service

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will likely abolish its military service in a move to reform its armed forces and help save money, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told weekly Der Spiegel.

Switching to fully professional armed forces would be a controversial move in Germany, where military issues remain sensitive 65 years after the end of World War Two and Nazi rule.

“Everyone fundamentally recognizes the need to change the structures of the Bundeswehr,” Guttenberg told Der Spiegel in an interview to be published Sunday. “The implementation of this change has simply been accelerated by the need to save.”

Demands on the German military have risen steadily in recent years as the country has shed its post-war reluctance to engage in international operations. It has thousands of troops serving abroad, including in Afghanistan.

Guttenberg, who did his military service with a mountain infantry battalion, indicated he personally supported abolishing compulsory military service but there would be a discussion on the topic over the coming months.

“In ten years’ time, it will no doubt have been abolished,” said Guttenberg. “In a highly professional, top armed and flexible intervention army, you hardly have the capacity to train recruits.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition Monday agreed a package of budget cuts and taxes to bring the structural deficit within European Union limits by 2013 -- measures being touted as Germany’s biggest post-war austerity drive.

“We have to save billions of euros in the coming years. Savings are not possible without reforms,” said Guttenberg.

Germany’s armed forces could be reduced in size by tens of thousands of troops, German media have reported.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates Tuesday cautioned Britain and other NATO allies against cutting troops in response to their budget woes, urging them to try to find cost savings first in other areas.

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