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Tuesday, September 29, 1998 Published at 18:58 GMT 19:58 UK


Will Germany stick to its guns?

The Eurofighter is one defence project that might be reconsidered by the Schröder government

By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Gerhard Schröder's decision to seek a coalition with the Green Party raises all sorts of questions about Germany's future defence policy.

German Elections

The Greens are ideologically opposed to Nato. And Mr Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD) have made clear their determination to hold a sweeping defence review once they take office.

Whatever the commitments of the past, a coalition government involving the Social Democrats and the Greens is likely to witness the triumph of pragmatism over ideology.

German defence policy is at a cross-roads. The Cold War is over. A full-scale defence review would be a useful exercise in practical terms. It would also have the benefit of postponing, for perhaps a year or so, any difficult decisions.

A review does not necessarily imply significant cut-backs, though questions will clearly be asked about the size of the German Army which currently stands at some 340,000 troops.

Conscription sensitive issue

Major spending programmes like the Eurofighter - now re-named the Typhoon - will also be looked at. The Social Democrats voiced strong opposition to the plane when in opposition but international commitments and the need to secure German jobs in the aerospace sector may lead to a change of heart.

But the key problem for any defence review will be to decide just what the German military is for. Britain and France are rebuilding their armed forces with the emphasis upon mobility, peace-keeping and intervention beyond their own borders.

While Germany is now a significant player in Bosnia, such involvements, for historical reasons, are highly sensitive.

So too is the issue of conscription - which Germany has so far retained, while most other western European countries are abandoning it.

History is once again the problem. Germany has bad memories of a professional military machine. And the new Government may find it hard to abolish conscription even if it wanted to.



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