Template:Conscription Conscription is a general term for involuntary labour demanded by some established authority, e.g, Old Testament commentaries use the term to describe the levies of labour used to build the Temple, but it is most often used in the specific sense of government policies that require citizens to serve in their armed forces. It is known by various names — for example, the most recent conscription program in the United States was known colloquially as "the draft". Many nations do not maintain conscription forces, instead relying on a volunteer, or professional military, although many of these countries still reserve the possibility of conscription for wartime and "crises" of supply.
In the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and elsewhere the term conscription is generally used only during wartime. National Service was the term used during peace-time in the United Kingdom. In New Zealand the term Compulsory Military Training was used. In Japan during World War II, Japanese women and children were conscripted to work in factories.
The term "conscription" refers only to the mandatory service, thus those undergoing conscription are known as "conscripts" or "selectee" in the United States (from the Selective Service System or the Selective Service Initiative announced in 2004).
- 1 History
- 2 Women draftees
- 3 Conscientious objection
- 4 Draft evaders
- 5 Draft resisters
- 6 Countries with mandatory military service
- 6.1 Austria
- 6.2 Belarus
- 6.3 Bermuda
- 6.4 Brazil
- 6.5 Bulgaria
- 6.6 Chile
- 6.7 China (PRC)
- 6.8 Croatia
- 6.9 Cyprus
- 6.10 Denmark
- 6.11 Egypt
- 6.12 Eritrea
- 6.13 Finland
- 6.14 Germany
- 6.15 Greece
- 6.16 Israel
- 6.17 Lebanon
- 6.18 Malaysia
- 6.19 Mexico
- 6.20 Norway
- 6.21 Poland
- 6.22 Romania
- 6.23 Russia
- 6.24 Singapore
- 6.25 South Korea
- 6.26 Sweden
- 6.27 Switzerland
- 6.28 Taiwan (ROC)
- 6.29 Turkey
- 6.30 Ukraine
- 6.31 Venezuela
- 7 Countries that do not currently have mandatory military service (partial list)
- 8 Arguments for conscription
- 9 Arguments against conscription
- 10 Economics
- 11 See also
- 12 External links
Conscription, particularly when the conscripts are being sent to foreign wars that do not directly affect the security of the nation, has historically been highly politically contentious in democracies. For instance, during World War I, bitter political disputes broke out in Canada (see Conscription Crisis of 1917), Newfoundland, Australia and New Zealand (See Compulsory Military Training) over conscription. Canada also had a political dispute over conscription during World War II (see Conscription Crisis of 1944). Similarly, mass protests against conscription to fight the Vietnam War occurred in several countries in the late 1960s. (See also: Conscription Crisis)
In developed nations, the increasing emphasis on technological firepower and better-trained fighting forces, the sheer unlikelihood of a conventional military assault on most developed nations, as well as memories of the contentiousness of the Vietnam War experience, make mass conscription unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Some countries which draft women include the People's Republic of China, Taiwan (ROC), North Korea, Peru, Malaysia, Libya, and Eritrea. In 2002, Sweden's government asked the army to consider mandatory military service for women. Some have considered the practice of excluding women from the draft unfair, because they feel it goes against principles of equality. Some simply argue that women can be militarily useful, and that excluding them places an unnecessary limit on resources. During World War II women were drafted into the armed forces of the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. The United States came close to drafting women into the Nurse Corps in preparation for a planned invasion of Japan; the Japanese surrender made this unnecessary.
The non-egalitarian policy practiced by some countries of drafting men and not women has often been a flash point and source of conflict. This policy is often cited by some masculists as an example of an unfair policy which benefits women over men; however, most avowed anti-feminists are strongly opposed to women in combat. Apprehension about the possible conscription of women was a key factor that led to the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States.
Conscription certainly imposes on the freedom of the individual and although some conscripts feel that they benefited from the experience others feel that their time could have been spent more productively pursuing their chosen studies or career paths See BBC news article on the end of French conscription Individual resentment may also be compounded by the typically low wages paid to conscripts, especially in countries such as Greece. Feminists and others calling for more equal treatment of women in society have rarely extended their demands to include a call for equality for women with regards the draft.
The topic of male-only conscription in the UK was the focus of a large number of books, plays and other literature, most of which portrayed the writers experience of conscription in a very negative way, emphasizing the brutality and tedium of military training. Examples include Arnold Wesker's 'Chips with everything' and 'Ginger you're barmy' by David Lodge . In his book Lodge suggests that the practice of male-only conscription helped to generate sexist attitudes by making it difficult for men to regard those who were excused the rigors of military training as their equals.
"It is debasing human dignity to force men to give up their life, or to inflict death against their will, or without conviction as to the justice of their action." -- Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, et al, in the "Manifesto Against Conscription and the Military System"
A conscientious objector is an individual whose personal beliefs are incompatible with military service, or sometimes with any role in the armed forces. In some countries, conscientious objectors have special legal status which augments their conscription duties. For example, Sweden allows conscientious objectors to choose a service in the "weapons-free" branch, such as an airport fireman, nurse or telecommunications technician. The reasons for refusing to serve are varied. Many conscientious objectors are so for religious reasons -- notably, the Quakers are pacifist by doctrine, and Jehovah's Witnesses, while not strictly speaking pacifists, refuse to participate in the armed services on the grounds that they believe Christians should be neutral in worldly conflicts (also see Conscientious objection).
The provisions for conscientious objection to the draft have been viewed as unfairly discriminatory, favoring religious objection over non-religious objection, and favoring those who value peace and non-violence over those who value freedom. Alternative mandatory service can assuage objections based on peace and non-violence, but do nothing for those who objections arise from strongly held convictions about freedom.
Not everyone who was conscripted was willing to go to war. Many young people used their family's political connections to ensure that they were placed well away from any potential harm. They would avoid military service altogether through college deferments. Others with political influence often joined the military and served in what was termed a Champagne unit. Others used educational exemptions, became conscientious objectors or pretended to be conscientious objectors. For others, the most common method of avoiding the draft was to cross the border into another country. People who have been "called up" for military service and who attempted to avoid it in some way, were known as "draft-dodgers". U.S. draft-dodgers made their way to Canada or Mexico. Australian draft-dodgers had greater difficulty leaving their country due to the surrounding ocean, but "going bush" worked just as well in the short term for many of them.
Many people looked upon draft-dodgers with scorn as being "cowards", but some supported them in their efforts.
The Vietnam War saw new levels of opposition to conscription and National Service. Many people opposed to and facing conscription, chose to either plead conscientious objection or to evade the draft by fleeing to a neutral country. A small proportion, like Muhammad Ali, chose to publicly and politically fight conscription. In Australia this was known as the Draft Resistance Movement.
Countries with mandatory military service
A number of countries have mandatory military service:
Austria has mandatory military service for fit male citizens from 18 to 35 years of age. Service lasts for 8 months but will be shortened to 6 months in 2006. Conscientious objectors join the civilian service (Zivildienst) for 12 months (reduction to 9 months in 2006).
Belarus has mandatory military service for all fit men from 18 to 27 years of age. Military service lasts for 18 months for those without higher education, and for 12 months for those with higher education.
Bermuda, although a dependant territory of the United Kingdom, still maintains conscription for its local force. Males between the age of 18 and 32 are drawn by lottery to serve in The Bermuda Regiment for a period of 38 months. The commitment is only on a part time basis, however. Anyone who objects to this has the right to have their case heard by an exemption tribunal.
Brazil has mandatory military service for men from the age of 18 to 30. However, conscientious objection is allowed.
Bulgaria has mandatory military service for male citizens from 18 to 27 years of age. Currently (2004) the duration of the service depends on the degree of education. For citizens studying for or holding a bachelor degree or higher the service is 6 months, and for citizens with no higher education it is 9 months. During the last 10 years the duration of service has rapidly dropped (from 2 years in 1994) and as Bulgaria adopts a professional army mandatory service is expected to be replaced with voluntary service.
Chile has mandatory military service for all citizens between 18 and 45. The duration of service is 12 months for the army and 24 months for Navy and Air Force.
The People's Republic of China has conscription for both men and women. Women who are conscripted go into the army for two months and learn to use firearms. In practice, military service with the PLA is voluntary; all 18-year-old males have to register themselves with the government authorities, in a way similar to the Selective Service System of the United States. The main exception to this system applies to potential university students, who are required to undergo military training before their courses commence. An exception is also made for Hong Kong and Macau, whose residents are exempted from conscription as they are restricted from any military service.
Croatian law prescribes military service for male citizens from 18 to 27 years old. The duration of the normal military service is six months (as of 2004), while conscientious objectors can apply for civil service which lasts for eight months. Conscription is regularly postponed for students until the end of their studies, as long as they apply before they turn 28 years of age.
Over the last decade or so, the duration of military service has been halved and civil service was introduced together with the streamlining of the professional army. Should this trend continue, the mandatory service may eventually be completely replaced with voluntary service.
Cyprus has compulsory military service for all Greek Cypriot men between the ages of 18 and 50. Military service lasts for 25 months. After that, ex-soldiers are considered reservists and participate in military exercises for a few days every year. Conscientious objectors can either do 33 months unarmed service in the army or 38 months community work. See official pages by the Greek Cypriot National Guard. In North Cyprus there is compulsory military service for Turkish Cypriots. The Annan Plan for Cyprus that was rejected in the 2004 reunification referendum mandated the demilitarisation of the island and the disbanding of both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot forces.
Denmark has mandatory service for all able men of the age of 18 to 27. It lasts four months, however, some special service will take longer. One will typically receive a letter around the time of one's 18th birthday, asking you when you will graduate, and some time later, depending on when, you will receive a notice on when to attend to the draft office, where you will be tested physically and psychologically. However some may be deemed unfit for service and not be required to show up.
Even if a person is deemed fit, or partially fit for service, he may avoid having to serve if he draws a high enough number randomly. Persons who are deemed partly fit for service will however be placed lower than those who are deemed fit for service, and therefore have a very low chance of being drafted.
Conscientious objectors can choose to instead serve six months in a non-military position, for example in Redningsberedskabet (dealing with non-military disasters like fires) or foreign aid work in a third world country. 
Egypt has a mandatory military service program for males between the ages of 18 and 30. Females of comparable age serve in a civilian program. Conscription is regularly postponed for students until the end of their studies, as long as they apply before they turn 28 years of age. By the age of 30 a male is considered unfit to join the army and pays a fine. Males with no brothers, or those supporting parents are exempted from the service. Males serve for a period ranging from 14 months to 48 months depending on their education; high school dropouts serve for 48 months during which they finish their high-school education. College graduates serve for lesser periods of time, depending on their education, and college graduates with special skills are still conscripted yet at a different rank and with a different pay scale with the option of remaining with the service as a career. Some Egyptians evade conscription and travel overseas until they reach the age of 30, at which point they are tried, pay a $580 fine (as of 2004), and are dishonorably relieved of their obligation to serve in the army. Such an offense, legally considered an offense of "bad moral character", prevents the "unpatriotic" citizen from ever holding public office.
Eritrea has a mandatory military service program for both men and women aged 18 through 40. The term of service is 18 months. There is no alternate service. The Eritrean government is well-known for hunting down and torturing suspected draft evaders. Draft evaders often flee the country to nearby countries.
As of 2004, Finland has mandatory military service for men of at least six months (180 days), depending on the assigned position: those trained as officers or NCOs serve for twelve months (362 days), specialist troops serve for nine (270 days) or twelve months, and other rank and file serve for six months. Unarmed service is also possible, and lasts eleven months (330 days). Since 1995, women have been given the option of voluntary military service. During the first 56 days, women have an option to quit the service without having to provide a reason. After serving for 56 days, they fall under the same obligation to serve as men.
Non-military service of thirteen months (395 days) is available for men whose conscience prevents them from serving in the military. Men who refuse to serve at all are sent to prison for up to 6.5 months (197 days). On principle, male citizens from the demilitarized Åland region have to serve in customs offices or lighthouses, but since this service has not been arranged, they are always exempted from the service. Jehovah's Witnesses' service is postponed every two years until they, at the age of 28, are exempted.
Military service has been mandatory for men throughout the history of independent Finland since 1917. Soldiers and civil servicemen receive a daily salary of 3.60 € (days 1-180), 5.75 € (days 181-270) and 8.25 € (onward from day 271).
After the training part of the service is done, the soldier enters the reserve. The reservists can be called to mandatory refresher exercises. Rank and file serves 40 days maximum, specialists 75 days and officers 100 days. For this, a salary of about 50 euro per day is paid. The service is mandatory; it is not possible to refuse an order to attend the refresher exercise.
The length of non-military service has been criticized as being punitive by Amnesty International because it is over twice as long as the most common alternative, six-month military service. Several motions to shorten it have been made in the Finnish Parliament but none have passed.
- Main article at Conscription in Germany
Germany has mandatory military service of nine months for men. Women may volunteer and are allowed to perform the same jobs as men. A conscientious objector may petition for permission to do civilian "alternative service" (Ersatzdienst) or "(alternative) civilian service" (Zivildienst) instead for nine months, which is usually accepted. A third option is to become a foreign "development helper" (Entwicklungshelfer) for at least eighteen months. Overall, however, during the past few years, the number of men being drafted has declined significantly.
Save for a few exceptions, military service is compulsory for all men between the ages of 18 and 23 years. Those who are engaged in educational or vocational training programs prior to their military assessment are allowed to postpone service until they have completed the programs and can be called upon to perform their national duty at any time thereafter.
- Main article at Conscription in Greece
As of 2004, Greece (Hellenic Republic) has mandatory military service of 12 months for men. However, it is developing a professional army system, and it is widely expected that the mandatory military service will be cut to 6 months by 2008 or even abolished completely. Although women are accepted into the Greek army, they are not obliged to join as men are. Soldiers receive no health insurance, but they can receive medical support during their army service, including hospitalization costs. They receive a symbolic salary of approximately 9 euros per month for privates, 12 euros for the rank of draft corporal and draft sergeant, and 600 euros as a draft cadet. The wages are not sufficient to sustain a draftee serving his tour away from his place of residence and most draftees depend financially on their parents to support them financially while they are on their tour.
Israel has mandatory military service for both Jewish men and women not married by the conscription age. All Israeli Jews are conscripted, except Haredim, who can choose to serve but mostly do not. Israeli Arabs are exempt from service, although they can volunteer and some communities such as the Druze, Bedouin, and Circassians do serve.
Young women can generally not serve if they are married, pregnant, or otherwise - Israel is generally very linient with Israeli women when it comes to the draft. However, most that can do serve out of patriotism.
Typically, men serve for 36 months, women serve for 24 months. See also: Israel Defence Forces.
There are limited number of refuseniks who resist military service, particularly in the West Bank, some of them serving short prison terms as a result (no more than a few months). See also: Refusal to serve in the Israeli military.
Lebanon previously had mandatory military service of one year for men. On the 4th of May 2005, a new conscription system was adopted, making for a six-month service, and pledging to end conscription within two years. See Official Information from Lebanese Army.
As of 2004, Malaysia has mandatory national service of three months for a selected group of both men and women. Twenty per cent of 18-year-olds are selected through a lottery system to join this program. Trainees are not trained to use firearms. The first training date was February 16, 2004. See Official Information from Malaysia National Service Training Department.
Currently, all males reaching 18 years of age must register for military service (Servicio Militar Nacional, or SMN) of one year, though selection is made by a lottery system using the following color scheme: whoever draws a black ball must serve as a "disponibility reservist", that is, they must not follow any activities whatsoever and get their discharge card at the end of the year. The ones who get a white ball serve in a Batallón del Servicio Militar Nacional (National Military Service Battalion) composed entirely of one-year SMN conscripts. Those with a community service interest may participate in Literacy Campaigns as teachers, or as Phys-Ed instructors. Military service is also (voluntarily) open to women. In certain cities, such as Mexico City and Veracruz, there is a third option: a red ball (Mexico City) and a Blue ball (Veracruz), which entails serving a full year as a recruit in a Paratrooper Battalion in the case of Mexico City residents, or a Infantería de Marina unit (Navy Marines) in Veracruz. In other cities which have a Navy HQ (such as Ciudad Madero), it is the Navy which takes charge of the conscripts, instead of the Army.
Norway has mandatory military service of 18 months for men between the ages of 18 (17 with parental consent) and 44. The actual draft time is 6 months for the national guard, and 9-12 months for the regular army and navy. The remaining months are supposed to be served in annual exercises, but very few conscripts do this due to lack of funding to the Norwegian armed forces. The decreased funding and greater reliance on high technology in the armed forces has resulted in only a third of the male population completing the service (since the late 1990's). The remaining two thirds have mostly formally been dismissed after medical tests or obtained deferral of the service due to studies or stays abroad. Many norwegians consider it unfair that they are the "unlucky" 1/3 that have to complete the compulsory military duty when so many others are dismissed. The Norwegian armed forces will normally not draft a person who has reached the age of 28. In Norway certain voluntary specialist training programs entail extended conscription of one to eight years. Pacifists can apply for non-military service, lasting 13 months. Women can volunteer for military service in any part of the armed forces.
Poland has a compulsory service term of 12 months for all mature men. However, many of those are considered unfit for mandatory military service during peacetime. Effectively, many tens of thousands of men are drafted each autumn. Alternative service can be requested, e.g. in the police force.
Romania still has conscription. In 2003 an amendment to the Constitution allowed the Parliament to mark the military service facultative and the conscription will end in January 2007. Men serve for 12 months (6 months if they have graduated a form of higher education). As of 2004, conscripts no longer serve in the Romanian Navy.
The Romanian parliament voted in October 2005 to end the draft after the October 2006 "class" of draftees reports for duty. Beginning in January 2007, 20 year-old Romanian men will have to register with the government but the men will only be liable to call up in the case of war. The parliamentary vote formalized one of many military modernization and reform programs Romania agreed to when it joined NATO. By 2012, the age to require to be is 17 year-old Romanian men l have to register for the government.
As of 2002, Russia (Russian Federation) has a mandatory two-year draft but most Russians avoid it by bribing officials and/or talking doctors into signing a letter that the draftee is in poor health and cannot serve. As a result, Russian generals have complained on numerous times that the bulk of the army is made up of drug-addicts, imbaciles, and ex-convicts, which in turn has lead to an overall decline of the morale and function of the Russian armed services. Conscripts often face brutal hazing upon their enterance into the military known as dedovshina, some dying as a result. Suicide among Russian conscripts is at an all time high.
See also Dedovshina.
In Singapore, the NS (Amendment) Act was passed on 14 March 1967, under which all able-bodied male citizens of 18-21 years of age are required serve a compulsory military service of two years. Upon completion of full-time NS, they undergo reservist training cycles of 40 days a year for the next 10 years.
Singapore, which currently has a mandatory service period of 24 months, used to have one of the longest mandatory military service periods for males, at 30 months. It also has special policies for ethnic Malays, because of possible conflicts in allegiances with neighbour Malaysia. Some of the Malays are drafted into the police or Civil Defense. Further conscription liability in the form of reservist training extends annually for another 10-15 years. From 1 December 2004, it has been shortened by 6 months.
See National Service
In Sweden military service is mandatory for men only. As of 2002, Sweden's government asked the army to consider mandatory military service for women. Less than one third of the country's eligible 19-year-olds are actually drafted each year. See Sweden considers mandatory military service for women. Men may choose to do unarmed service, for instance as a firefighter. Generally, unarmed service is longer than armed.
Switzerland has the largest militia army in the world (220,000 including reserves). Military service for Swiss men is obligatory according to the Federal Constitution, and includes 17 weeks of basic training as well as annual 3-week-refresher courses until a number of service days which increases with rank (260 days for privates) is reached. Service for women is voluntary, but identical in all respects. Conscientious objectors can choose 450 days of community service instead of military service. Medical deferments and dismissals from basic training (often on somewhat dubious grounds) have increased significantly in the last years. Therefore, only about 33% of Swiss men actually complete basic training.
The Republic of China has had mandatory military service for all males since 1949. Females from the outlying islands of Fuchien must also serve. In October 1999, the mandatory service was shortened from 24 months to 22 months. From January 2004, the mandatory service was shortened futher. At this point, the duration of mandatory military service is 18 months. Beginning Jan 1, 2006, the duration will decrease to 16 months and by 2008, it will be shortened to 12 months. ROC nationals with Overseas Chinese status are exempt from service.
In Turkey, compulsory military service applies to all male citizens from 20 to 41 years of age (with some exceptions). Those who are engaged in higher education or vocational training programs prior to their military drafting are allowed to delay service until they have completed the programs. The duration of the basic military service varies. As of July 2003, the reduced durations are as follows: 15 months for privates (previously 18 months), 12 months for reserve officers (previously 16 months) and 6 months for short-term privates, which denotes those who have earned a university degree and not have been enlisted as reserve officers (previously 8 months).
For Turkish citizens who have lived or worked abroad of Turkey for at least three years, on condition that they pay a certain fee in foreign currencies, a basic military training of one month is offered instead of the full-term military service. Also, when the General Staff assesses that the military reserve exceeds the required amount, paid military service of one-month's basic training is established.
Although women have in principle no military service, they are allowed to become officers.
Refusing the obligatory military service due to conscientious objection is illegal in Turkey, and punishable with imprisonment by law.
The options are either reserve officer training for two years (offered in universities as a part of a program), or one year regular service.
In Venezuela, all citizens over 18 should report to the local military authority for evaluation. If the citizen can provide enough proof that they should not serve (They are college students, or have medical reason not to) they are exempt. However if they cannot prove this, they are conscripted and must serve up to 2 years of mandatory military service.
Raids are usually made in night clubs and other nocturnal entertainment places to check whether or not men inside are 'registered' as reservists.
Countries that do not currently have mandatory military service (partial list)
- See main article: History of Australian conscription
Belgium abolished military conscription in 1994.
France was one of the first nations to employ conscription, since during the wars following the French Revolution the army needed men to stop Austrian and British invasions. France abolished peacetime military conscription in 1996, while those born before 1979 had to complete their service (see related BBC News article); since the Algerian War of Independence, conscripts had not been deployed abroad or in war zones, except those volunteering for such deployments.
Hungary abolished mandatory military service by November 2004, after the parliament had modified the constitution, ending a long-standing political dispute. To restore drafting, a two-thirds vote in parliament is needed, which is unlikely in the short term. The country is currently developing a professional army, with strong emphasis on "contract soldiers" who voluntarily serve 4+4 years for a wage.
Saddam Hussein's large Iraqi army was largely composed of conscripts, except for the elite Republican Guard. About 100,000 conscripts died during the First Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm. In the intervening years, Iraq's military suffered from decay and poor leadership, but there was still compulsory service. One program of note was "Ashbal Saddam" known as "Saddam's Cubs" where children were trained to defend Iraq through "toughening" excercises such as firearms training and dismembering live chickens with their teeth. Following the Second Gulf War where the original military was disbanded, the Iraqi Army was recreated as a volunteer force with training overseen at first by the CPA and later by the American presence.
Ireland has always had a fully volunteer military. See the Irish Defence Forces. The threat of conscription being extended to Ireland in the First World War contributed to the creation of the Irish Free State in the 1920s.
Until January 1, 2005, Italy had mandatory military service for men between the ages of 18 and 45. Men were usually required to serve for ten months. Anyone objecting to military service for religious or ethical reasons could claim to be a conscientious objector, in which case community service was usually authorised as an alternative to the regular ten months of military service.
The Italian Parliament, by a large majority, voted to abolish mandatory military service from 1 January 2005, and the Italian armed forces will be now be entirely composed of professional volunteer troops, both male and female. .
The Netherlands established conscription for a territorial militia in 1814, simultaneously establishing a standing army which was to be manned by volunteers only. However, lack of sufficient volunteers caused the two components to be merged in 1819 into a "cadre-militia" army, in which the bulk of troops were conscripts, led by professional officers and NCOs. This system remained in use until the end of the Cold War. Between 1991 and 1996, the Dutch armed forces phased out their conscript personnel and converted to ann all-volunteer force. The last conscript troops were inducted in 1995 and demobilized in 1996. Formally, the Netherlands has not abolished conscription; that is to say, the laws and systems which provide for the conscription of armed forces personnel remain in place, and Dutch citizens who completed their military service prior to 1996 can still, theoretically, be mobilized in the event of a national emergency.
- See main article: Compulsory Military Training (in New Zealand))
Spain abolished compulsory military service in 2001. See an announcement by the Minister of Defence. Military and alternative service was 9 months long and in recent years the majority of conscripts chose to perform alternative, rather than military, service.
The United Kingdom introduced conscription during both world wars. For the first two years of World War I the British relied on volunteers. But by 1916 the need for yet more soldiers to replace losses at the front, forced the British Government to introduce conscription.
Ireland was initially exempt from conscription in the First World War, but it was extended to Ireland on April 9, 1918. This was a decisive factor in pushing the country into seeking its independence. The poet W.B. Yeats wrote to Lord Haldane in protest: "...it seems to me a strangely wanton thing that England, for the sake of 50,000 Irish soldiers, is prepared to hollow another trench between the countries and fill it with blood." Also in protest, Lady Gregory declared "women and children will stand in front of their men and receive the bullets, rather than let them be taken to the front." Northern Ireland was exempt from conscription in the Second World War, and was also excluded from the post-war National Service.
Conscription was reintroduced in 1939 at the start of World War II. Not only was conscription used for the three branches of the armed forces, it was also introduced to aid in coal mining with the Bevin Boys, and later in the war with the introduction of conscription of women into the Women's Land Army to help with agricultural production. After World War II, the Government introduced National Service, which was abolished in 1960.
- See main article: Conscription in the United States
The United States has employed conscription intermittently. For example, in 1863 the imposition of a draft during the Civil War touched off the New York Draft Riots. Conscription was next used after the United States entered World War I in 1917. The first instance of conscription when the country was not at war came with the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. Active conscription ("the draft") ended in 1973. Currently, male U.S. citizens and many male aliens living in the U.S., if aged 18 through 25, are required to register with the Selective Service System, which describes its mission as "preparing to manage a draft if and when Congress and the President so direct." 
Arguments for conscription
Some argue that peacetime conscription is an ideal tool for teaching a population basic, important skills such as first aid, swimming, wilderness survival and so on. However, it can be argued that these skills could better be taught in the public school system than during mandatory service.
The draft as protection against democracy-destroying military coups
Some argue that conscription should be connected to democracy. A professional army can possibly become a dangerous state-within-a-state. Military virtues such as obedience to orders and respect for the chain of command can possibly be abused by aspiring dictators. Armed forces can attract - consciously or unconsciously - people who prefer authoritarian systems. The army can even become the only chance for a job and decent life in times of unemployment, or for despised minorities. Such people may come to regard the army as their home and elevate it above the state.
On the other hand, once in power a number of dictators such as Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein have used conscription to drive their undemocratic ambitions. The most significant attempt on Hitler's life was from the professional component of his military.
Small countries have several options to raise a sizeable army. One is to put every able-bodied man under arms. This is how Switzerland managed to stay independent despite repeated attacks throughout history. The Swiss militias were so successful that their fighting style and weapons (especially the halberd) were quickly adopted by their enemies. Many rulers even raised Swiss Guards. The rich Flemish trade cities of the early 14th century raised huge militias that could even defeat armies of knights. The famous Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302) is a good example.
Societies that defend themselves by arming every citizen tend to see military service not as a burden, but as a patriotic duty and even more, as a right and token of freedom.
Other options for national defence include membership in a military alliance like NATO, as is the case for countries like Belgium and Luxembourg. Switzerland started out as a military alliance between independent counties.
Also, a wealthy small country could hire a professional mercenary army. This approach does, however, require wealth and men who are willing to hire on. Moreover, it required some means to control the mercenaries if they became unruly.
Perhaps the kind of people who most strongly want to be in the military are not the only kind of people you want in it. Conscripts come from various backgrounds and might have differing opinions and views. A diverse group is arguably more likely to succeed at any task. Still, the lower morale and experience of conscripts may make them less useful in actual combat situations, especially in wars of aggression. Above all, this argument casts professional armies in a very dubious light which is not borne out by history.
Of course, personnel diversity might be bad for the army in some ways, by inhibiting communication and increasing social tension, but it also helps different people come together and realize the true nature of an all-inclusive society. For example, it helps them understand the problems of other classes, professions, cultures, and educational levels. Similar arguments have been presented in favor of desegregation in schools. However, in countries that already have desegregated schools, i.e. most of the western world, it is not clear why the armed forces would be more important in bringing different people together than the school system, or could accomplish this in ways in which the school system cannot.
In Finnish conscription debate, conscription is often considered an important equalizer. Every person inducted is equal with his/her peers and the civilian background has very little to do with the choice of men for leadership training. The recruits have, maybe for the first time, a chance to show their personal qualities without being judged by their social background. On the other hand, the service gives everyone a good picture of the common man, even to those who have lived in the upper echelons of the society. This is considered to decrease social tension in the society as a whole. The impact is especially important to the armed forces themselves, because all career soldiers from sergeant to general have begun their careers as conscript privates. However, the counter-argument can be posed that conscription is not an equalizer because it does not apply to the entire population, as women, Jehovah's witnesses and natives of Åland do not have to serve. Another aspect is that it brings the young men together with persons they in the civilian life would like to avoid at any cost, such as bullies, criminals, sociopaths, thieves, substance abusers etc.
The manpower quality of a conscript force is usually considered poor in Anglo-Saxon context due to their experience with draft. However, in some countries with conscription, the personnel diversity of the conscript force is considered its greatest strength. Admittedly, there are persons who would not be employed by a professional force but these are a small majority and can be discharged for medical reasons in extreme cases.
However, the conscript force also receives the best of the youth. Many conscripts are from such social strata that they would have much more lucrative employment or studies, were they not obliged to serve. These persons provide talented manpower that can easily be trained for technical and leadership duties. As junior NCO and commissioned officer positions are filled with leadership-trained conscripts, the size and cost of the professional cadre is much smaller. As these ex-conscripts - reservists - mature and lose their fighting trim, they can be subsequently re-trained and given crisis-time positions corresponding their civilian expertise. For example, a truck company manager who is a reserve officer might serve as a battalion logistics chief during war time. The leadership-trained conscripts can also be recruited to continue on military career.
Political and moral motives
Jean Jacques Rousseau argued vehemently against professional armies, feeling it was the right and privilege of every citizen to participate to the defence of the whole society and a mark of moral decline to leave this business to professionals. He based this view on the development of the Roman republic which came to an end at the same time as the Roman army changed from a conscript to professional force.
The right of the state to conscript its citizens can be founded on Utilitarianism principles. First, we conjecture that the army must never be used for a war of aggression, but only to preserve the state. Second, we conjecture that the occupation by a foreign country would include unbearable conditions, e.g. genocide or destruction of the local way of life. If these two requirements are fulfilled, the greatest good to the greatest number of person may be achieved by sacrificing a number of persons and thus, these persons, the reservists serving in the armed forces, should be willing to make this sacrifice out of altruism. In fact, even without accepting this, the moderate (1-10 %) chance of dying compared to the prospect of living in an occupied country may be preferable.
Conscription can give the conscripts a lasting patriotic view and readiness to die for the good of the whole. Such readiness should be present in a virtuous citizen at all times, but through training, the readiness becomes a grim reality, not rhetoric. This tends to decrease the admiration of the military. On the other hand, the fact that every person understands that a war - any war - means that they themselves, friends, and relatives will be dying or at the least, facing mortal danger, decreases the willingness to enter an armed conflict. In practice, a conscript force cannot be used for an aggressive war for long, as this results in moral degradation both at home and on the front, testified by Afghanistan and Vietnam Wars. This decreases the possibility of the government to engage in foreign adventures, thus preserving peaceful relations to all nations on Earth.
Arguments against conscription
The draft as slavery
- Conscription subjects individual personalities to militarism. It is a form of servitude. That nations routinely tolerate it, is just one more proof of its debilitating influence
- — Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and Thomas Mann in Against Conscription and the Military Training of Youth--1930
Some groups, such as libertarians, say that the draft constitutes slavery, since it is mandatory work. Under the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, slavery or indentured servitude is not allowed unless it is part of punishment for a crime. They therefore see the draft as unconstitutional (at least in the U.S.) and immoral. In 1918, the Supreme Court ruled that the World War I draft did not violate the United States Constitution. Arver v. United States, 245 U.S. 366 (1918) (). The Court detailed its conclusion that the limited powers of the federal government included conscription. Its only statement on the Thirteenth Amendment issue was based on a "supreme and noble duty" argument from nationalism and not legal reasoning:
- Finally, as we are unable to conceive upon what theory the exaction by government from the citizen of the performance of his supreme and noble duty of contributing to the defense of the rights and honor of the nation as the result of a war declared by the great representative body of the people can be said to be the imposition of involuntary servitude in violation of the prohibitions of the Thirteenth Amendment, we are constrained to the conclusion that the contention to that effect is refuted by its mere statement.
In the USSR, most of the conscripts received only very basic training and were used for forced labor unrelated to actual military service - usually digging up potatoes in the field with zero wage cost. The Soviet planned economy system thus had no incentive to produce better combined harvesting machines and Soviet agriculture remained low-tech.
In Soviet-bloc Hungary, more than half of pre-1989 conscripts received a mere few weeks of rifle training and were swiftly assigned to "working squadrons" which usually hand-built rail tracks "for free", and in very poor quality. At the same time, railway tracks in Western Europe were being built to high-quality standards by semi-automatic, rail-rolling factories operated by a professional workforce.
These are examples of a "military" draft used to obtain involuntary labour.They also illustrate one key theme of Adam Smith and other liberal economists that Liberty is the key method of social improvement. When compulsion takes the place of free markets and free Labour the efficiency of the economy is reduced. Compulsion also means that the Wages and working conditions of the Workers is inferior. David Hume points out that this was illustrated by the press gang. The legalised abduction of citizens by the state makes for military inefficiency as well as economic inefficiency and a denial of Constitutional freedom. When Labour is too cheap it will be wasted as other commodities are and this is one reason for the collapse of Communism in the USSR.
The draft as nationalism
The military draft is predicated on the assumption that nations have rights that supersede those of the individual. In the words of Einstein and Gandhi's Anti-Conscription Manifesto, "The State which thinks itself entitled to force its citizens to go to war will never pay proper regard to the value and happiness of their lives in peace." The building of large conscript armies coincided with the rise of virulent nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Draftees can object being conscripted if they are separatists and do not want to support the armies of the state they oppose. On the other hand, some separatist fighters acquire their military skills in the army they will later fight against.
The draft as justification for attacks on civilians
Conscription is a component of "total war," and can also be used as an example of established policy to justify a government's demand that other sacrifices be required of civilians. Once a draft is allowed, Justice Louis Brandeis argued, “all bets are off". Arguably this results in a blurring of the moral distinction between civilians and the military as legitimate military targets, leading to attacks on civilians. Examples would include the indiscriminate bombing of cities conducted by both sides during World War II, or the assertion by terrorist groups that civilians are legitimate targets.
Questions of conscript quality
One of the objections raised is a conscripted force would be of lower quality than a volunteer army. First, short periods of service do not allow for much skill building. Second, there is a possibility of a morale drop in units with conscripts, leading to a reduction in quality as officers and NCO's work to alleviate those problems.
The biggest problem is that the pace of training has to be adjusted to the level of the lowest quality manpower. Combined with the short tour of duty, this renders the skills of the conscripts very low. Certain individuals with poor military and social skills may prove loose cannons in wartime, proving more a liability than an asset to the unit and perhaps risking the destruction of the whole unit. Therefore the elite units of all armies which have conscription, are composed entirely of selected volunteers, such as Parachute Rangers in the Finnish army.
It can be argued that in a cost to benefit ratio conscription during peace time is not worthwhile. A number of months or years of service amongst the most fit subtracts from the productivity of the economy; add to this the cost of training them, and in some countries paying them. Compared to these extensive costs, some would argue there is very little benefit, if there ever were a war conscription and basic training could be completed quickly, and in most countries where conscription is compulsory there is little threat of war in any case.
- Bevin Boy
- Conscientious objection
- Indentured servant
- Involuntary servitude
- Military history
- Swiss Army
- National Service
- Timeline of women's participation in warfare
- Manifesto Against Conscription and the Military System, with an updated list of all signatories from 1993 to 2005.
- Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi. Manifesto Against Conscription and the Military System.
- Campaign to Abolish Mandatory Military Service in Slovakia
- Rangel calls for mandatory military service
- The Association for Injured Officers And Soldiers of Mandatory Military Service, Republic of China
- The European Bureau for Conscientious Objection
- Campaign Against Conscription in Greece
- Australian Draft Resistance and the Vietnam War
- Canadian Newspaper Archives - Conscription
- Anti-Conscription Web Ring
- Refusing to bear arms: a survey around the world, conducted by "War Resisters' International" about conscription and conscientious objection to military service.