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Berlin correspondent Rob Broomby
"The German cabinet has until mid-June to make a decision"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Battle over German army
Germany soldiers training
Peoples' army to be cut back
The future of Germany's armed forces is at the centre of a fierce debate as alternative plans for cutbacks are put forward.

Defence Minister Rudolph Scharping has produced his own proposals in response to drastic cuts suggested by an independent commission

Mr Scharping's suggestions are less severe - and less specific - than those made in a report by the commission led by the former President Richard von Weizsacker.

The commission's proposals:
Cut manpower from 340,000 to 240,000
Cut conscripts from 130,000 to 30,000
Boost rapid reaction force from 50,000 to 140,000
Reform command structure

Mr Weizsacker told a news conference: "The armed forces are not in a position to carry out the task they have been assigned. There is an urgent need for reform."

Press reports have suggested that Mr Scharping wants to retain 70,000 conscripts, but cut military service from 10 to nine months.

Defence Minister's proposals:
Cut 100,000 personnel over five years
Cuts to come from 460,000 soldiers and civilians

He said the future priority for the German military was to be class and not mass - quality not quantity.

Nazi past

The suggested cut in the number of conscripts has caused a storm of criticism in Germany, where the ideal of the 'citizen in uniform' is still widely supported as an antidote to the Prussian officer caste which promoted the rise of Adolf Hitler.

Germany army soldier
Fewer conscripts needed

The increase in the rapid reaction force is designed to help the armed forces play a bigger international role within Nato.

But most other Nato countries are in the process of abandoning conscription and moving to largely professional forces.

There is an urgent need for reform

Richard Von Weizsacker

There have been suggestions that, unless the army moves towards scrapping compulsory military service for young men and creating a more professional service, it will be unable to fulfil its international commitments as a Nato member.

Quality not quantity

Rudolf Scharping

Until the mid-1990s, Germany's post-Nazi constitution was interpreted as barring it from sending troops abroad.

The country's military weakness was revealed during last year's Kosovo conflict, when Berlin could play only a minor role in Nato's air strikes against Yugoslavia and struggled to equip and deploy peacekeepers there.

Germany Defgence Minister Rudolph Scharping
Defence Minister Scharping favours conscription

The bottom line in all of this is money - Germany badly needs to find significant savings in order to redirect funding into much-needed re-equipment programmes.

Cuts inevitable

But the German defence budget is just 1.5% of gross domestic product - the lowest of any major Nato member.

In December, US Defence Secretary William Cohen called for a substantial increase in German defence spending, warning that a growing gap in allied military capabilities threatened Nato unity.

The German Cabinet has until mid-June to make a decision.

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