Munich, 20 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Germany's opposition leader, Rudolf Scharping, says his proposals for a smaller German army are partly a response to the forthcoming expansion of NATO to include some Central European states.
Scharping, leader of the Social Democratic party, told the Munich newspaper "Suddeutsche Zeitung" the inclusion of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and possibly others in NATO created a new military situation. NATO is expected to begin negotiations with these three countries next year.
Scharping referred to the 1990 Paris treaty on reducing conventional forces (the CFE treaty) which required NATO and the members of the former Warsaw Pact to eliminate thousands of aircraft, helicopters, tanks, armored cars and artillery - and withdraw their crew. He argued that "the spirit of the treaty" suggested that the widening of NATO be matched by further disarmament. He added: "or should we recommend, for example to Russia, that it should strengthen its military forces."
He agreed when asked specifically if he meant that the West should reduce its forces because of the inclusion of the three Central European countries and possibly others into NATO. He said there were some treaties whose basis of trust should not be damaged.
Scharping has proposed that Germany's army be reduced from the current 340,000 to under 300,000, and that military service for young conscripts be reduced to around six months. He has not clarified whether he wants a purely professional army, or something like the Swiss system in which young men perform military training every year but otherwise work at everyday jobs. Scharping's basic proposals have been sharply criticized by the Government and military chiefs, and received only lukewarm support in his own party.
In his interview, Sharping said the West should not lower its defenses entirely. He said that at the moment he saw little danger coming from the east of Europe. "However, security police should not be short-sighted," he said. "Therefore one cannot and should not renounce the ability to defend the country." He said for that reason it was necessary to maintain the military and national military service for young men.
Scharping told the newspaper that, like the Government and the defense chiefs, he favored a continuation of compulsory military service for young men. The difference was, he said he believes, is that it should be more flexible.
Post-war German governments have practiced a policy of integration between civilians and the military to prevent a re-emergence of an aggressive military caste. The current Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, has frequently argued that compulsory military service brings civilians into closer contact with the army and vice-versa.
In his interview, Scharping did not insist on one particular version of how the current system of compulsory military service could be changed. He discussed a militia similar to that in Switzerland and other possibilities, but said a final agreement needed wide-ranging discussions.