Uproar in Germany over plan for conscription

Call to stockpile food and water for use in an emergency also slammed as fearmongering

BERLIN • German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet yesterday gave the green light to the first civil defence strategy in 21 years, with conscription being considered as a temporary measure in the event of a national emergency.

The approval of the 70-page plan comes at a time when Germans are particularly on edge after two Islamist attacks last month and several much larger-scale attacks in France and Belgium this year, according to Reuters.

In a crisis, civilians should also be ready to help the military with tasks such as directing traffic, finding accommodation and providing fuel.

The plan, which replaces a previous strategy laid out in 1995, does not ask for compulsory military service on a permanent basis. But it has nonetheless stirred up controversy in the country.

"Conscription must not be brought back, there is no reason to do that. It is absolute nonsense," Social Democrat lawmaker Eva Hoegl told rbb radio.

Germany ended conscription in 2011 and switched to fully professional armed forces with some 178,000 active troops, The Telegraph reported on Tuesday.

Also under attack is a proposed measure that asks civilians to stockpile food and water for use in emergency situations, with critics dismissing it as fearmongering by the government, according to German broadcaster DW.

The plan recommends people buy five days' worth of water and 10 days' worth of food in the event of a national crisis. It also outlines the need for a better alarm system, improved protection for buildings and medical care, Reuters reported.

The hashtag #Hamsterkaeufe, meaning panic-buying, has been trending on Twitter, with the media mocking the plan for encouraging Germans to hoard like hamsters.

Although the report was commissioned in 2012, security is shaping up to be a major campaign issue before two regional votes next month and next year's federal election. Proposed measures include boosting spending on police and a ban on the burqa.

The strategy unveiled yesterday outlines precautionary steps for scenarios such as terrorism, the use of chemical weapons and cyber attacks. The Interior Ministry says it is not linked to an immediate threat.

"The plan outlines the framework for adjustments needed in a changing security climate and the demands for civil defence and emergency provision," said the report.

Mr Wolfgang Kast, a public health manager with the German Red Cross, said the intense debate about stockpiling showed that "people have become less and less prepared for an emergency".

"We've got accustomed - not least because of the Internet - to having everything available at all times," he was quoted on Tuesday by the BBC as saying.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Uproar in Germany over plan for conscription'. Print Edition | Subscribe