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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Germany's military draft ruled legal
German soldiers on duty in Afghanistan
Germany conscripts about 90,000 men for the army each year
Germany's highest court has upheld the legitimacy of conscripting young men into the armed forces.

In an eagerly awaited judgement, it also ruled that the government, rather than the courts, should take decisions relating to defence matters.

The issue went before the constitutional court after a regional court ruled that conscription was not compatible with the constitution in post-Cold War Germany.

The ruling, six months before general elections, comes amid heated political debate about what to do with the German military as it forges a new role following the collapse of communism.

Since the end of World War II, German men aged 18 and over have been obliged either to serve in the military or undertake community service. Women, however, are not drafted.

Correspondents say that, mindful of its militaristic Nazi past, Germany is eager to ensure its armed forces are bound to civilian society.

Security considerations

The constitutional court was asked to consider the issue after a lower court in 1999 upheld the case of a young man who resisted the draft and questioned its legality on the grounds that the security threats facing Germany no longer required him to serve.

East German soldiers on the Berlin Wall
The case has ignited debate about the military's role
However the Karlsruhe-based tribunal decided that the lower court had failed to show sufficiently in what way the draft was unconstitutional.

"The question regarding how the military functions, including democratic control, the recruitment of qualified candidates as well as the costs of a conscripted or a professional army are so dependent on political and economic situations, they cannot be settled by the court," judge Jutta Limbach wrote in her ruling issued on Wednesday.

Conscription is largely supported by Chancellor Schroeder's Social Democrats and the opposition Christian Democrats.

But opponents of the draft including the Greens - the junior coalition partner - have long argued for a smaller, professional force.

Germany now has 10,000 troops abroad - a five-fold increase in three years.

But while trying to adapt to a larger international role, it has also launched reforms to trim the army, the Bundeswehr to about 280,000 members from 320,000.

See also:

29 Jun 01 | Europe
The death of conscription
23 May 00 | Europe
Battle over German army
30 Jan 01 | Europe
Germany slashes army bases
27 Oct 00 | Europe
Germany votes for women in combat
11 Jan 00 | Europe
German army told to recruit women
27 Oct 99 | UK
Marines 'can ban women'
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