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Germany Considers Major Restructuring of Military

Germany's defense minister has proposed shrinking the country's military and effectively ending the draft. The move would dramatically transform the third biggest member of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan.

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has presented German lawmakers with proposals to cut the country's armed forces to about 160,000 troops from about 250,000. In addition to shrinking the German military, Guttenberg wants to end the system where Germans have to do either military or civil service after they finish secondary school.

Guttenberg said his proposals will make the German military smaller, but more functional in operations overseas. The German defense minister says instead of a draft, an attractive military service will draw Germans to join the military on a voluntary basis.

German lawmakers are debating the proposal, which could take several years to implement.

The plan comes as the German government seeks to cut spending. But Guttenberg's ideas also arrive at a time of German discontent with the conflict in Afghanistan.

Carlo Masala teaches political science at Germany's military university in Munich. He said the draft raises questions about what kind of missions the German armed forces should perform. "The whole Afghanistan issue is under debate here in Germany. It is expected that some troops are going to be pulled out to calm down public opinion."

Germany currently has more than 5,000 troops in northern Afghanistan - the third largest NATO presence behind the U.S. and Britain.

In Germany's current system, the military does not send draftees overseas. But Professor Masala noted that ending the draft is part of a historical transformation of the German military's role in the world.

"The draft was a brilliant idea for a country that started the Second World War," said Masala. "With the draft, you made sure the army did not become a state within a state."

Masala said the proposals will make the German military function like armed forces in the U.S. and in other European countries.

"I think explaining to people that Germany's interests nowadays, after the end of the Cold War, sometimes have to be protected in far, faraway countries, would find the support of a majority of public opinion," said Masala.

With several German parties strongly in favor of the draft, Guttenberg's proposal does not remove conscription from the German constitution. Guttenberg said he will keep the draft an option in case it is needed in the future.